A few days ago, I introduced the topic of effective communication in relationships, and how integral it is for a healthy, happy, fruitful home. You can read that post here.
As they say, it takes two to tango, so obviously these tips work best if both you and your spouse or teen read them and apply them also. But even if you alone learn from this, it will still benefit your relationship and help you in your communication skills.
Today, I’m going to teach you about setting a time and place or becoming more intentional with your discussions. (This post is primarily about when you’re in the role of the speaker, and next time it will focus more on listening skills.)
One thing I often hear from people is that their spouse or parent doesn’t have time to talk or they are distracted when they try to talk. They may say something like, “He never has time to listen to me” or “She doesn’t even care what I say” or “He never puts down his phone when I try to talk to him”. (I’m going to assume for this post that the family members do actually love one another, but there is a disconnect in how that love is shown through communication.)
If you are the speaker, and you feel like you’re not heard, then the disconnect may stem from you not being intentional with your discussions. It could be an issue of not clearly stating that you need to talk, or not setting a time and place for the discussion. However, if you are the hearer, and others claim that you don’t really listen, then the issue is again, not setting a time and place to talk or not being intentional in hearing. I’ll illustrate with an example.
Imagine that the children are finally in bed, after a long exhausting day of squabbles, sicknesses, burned dinner, and laundry piled up sky high. Fred is on his computer, and then Betty comes over, sits down beside him, and starts talking with tears in her eyes: “I am so overwhelmed. I just feel like I can’t get anything done. The baby is so cranky, and the toddler is throwing tantrums and peeing on the floor, and I burned the dinner, and no one helps me clean up! I just don’t think anyone even cares about how I feel. Does anyone even love me?” Betty looks over at Fred expecting, wanting, to see a sympathetic look and attentive eye contact, and instead Fred is still looking at his computer with a focused look in his eyes, typing an email. Now Betty is angry, she feels even more hurt and she yells very harshly “I just spilled out my heart to you and you don’t even care!!!” Fred looks up, confused by what just happened, because he sees Betty crying, but doesn’t even know why. He goes back in his memory bank and vaguely remembers maybe hearing something about burned dinner and pee on the floor, but why is she crying?!
What’s going to be the result of this situation? Betty will come away feeling hurt that Fred didn’t listen, and Fred will be wondering why she’s so upset. This situation taught Betty to not even try sharing her feelings with her husband who never seems to even care, and it’s taught Fred that Betty is irrational and unreasonable at times, and he has no idea why Betty blew up at him. It’s a lose/lose situation. And something like this happens everyday in homes everywhere.
There is a better way. Now, imagine instead that after the rough day, burned dinner, laundry piled up, etc, Betty came over, sat down by her husband, put her hand on his arm (physical contact always helps gain listening ears), and said to him, with tears in her eyes, “do you have a few minutes to talk? I’m really having a hard time.”
Now, unless Fred truly does not care a bit (in which case the marriage issues are much bigger than simply ineffective communication), then he is either going to immediately turn to Betty, give her eye contact, and be fully present, hearing what she’s saying, OR he can say something like, “can you meet me in the kitchen in 5 minutes to talk? I really want to hear you, but I’ve got to send out this email for work.”
You notice in this that now Betty is being intentional about the discussion. She’s requesting an appointment to talk. He is being intentional by either attending the discussion immediately, or setting a time in the near future when he can be fully attentive. The only difference between the first scenario and the second was the simple opening line “do you have a few minutes to talk?”. This sets up the expectation that she has something to say and she needs him to listen, and so both speaker and hearer are ready to fully engage. In this example, the issue needs pretty immediate attention. Betty is distraught right now, and so she needs to be comforted, heard, and loved, right now.
Now, speaker, please give grace to your hearer, and allow a future “appointment” if the hearer is already engaged with something. Typically, we can exercise at least a few minutes of patience here. If it truly cannot wait, then say that clearly. For example, “I need to talk right now – It cannot wait. Please put down your phone and listen.” Don’t expect your hearer to read your mind. And hearer, if the speaker is distraught, or if they say this cannot wait, then please attend to the discussion as soon as possible.
A side note, and this is a generalization, and not true all the time, but oftentimes women and/or teens just want to get things off their chest. They don’t want advice. So if that is your situation, then say something like “I just need to get this off my chest – I don’t need advice though”. Men often want to give you a solution to your problem. They tend to like to fix problems. But sometimes we as women don’t want a solution or advice- we just want to share how we feel. Sometimes teens stop sharing feelings because the parents are always telling them what they need to do. If you do not want advice, but only want to be heard, then make that clear.
Okay, lets go a little lighter now. Many times, our discussions are not needed immediately as in the situation above. Perhaps its an ongoing issue or something that you know will take a long time to discuss. In these types of situations, set up a time to talk. Ask your spouse or teen if they can meet you to talk tonight or tomorrow at 7pm about the issue of how much screen-time to allow, or which church to attend, or to work on your family budget, for example. Perhaps even make it a date and plan to go out for dinner with your spouse to talk about schooling options for the children, or take your teen to dinner to discuss college. That way both partners come into the conversation ready to talk and listen. If it’s an issue that needs to be prayed about, it allows both parties adequate time before the discussion. This works great for issues that have been bothering you or issues you need to get answers on but they don’t need to be addressed right this minute. By setting a time for the discussion, it will allow more effective communication to take place.
In addition to the time, consider your location too. If you’re going to have a talk about the birds and bees then a crowded restaurant is probably not the place. If you want to talk to your spouse about the current bombings in the Middle East, then the living room around your young children is probably not the place.
Now, for the heaviest stuff, for extremely emotionally charged topics – maybe the parents found out the teen has been drinking, or the husband has discovered that the wife has been doing something immoral, or maybe the husband has been overspending and getting into massive debt. These are likely going to be hard, difficult discussions. Please hear me on this: If you are angry with your spouse or teen right now over something he/she said or did, then right now is not the time to talk about it. I know you may feel an almost overwhelming need to blurt it out right this second, but if you do that, then there will be a fight. A blow up. Someone may stomp out and slam the door. It is not going to resolve anything, and will likely exacerbate your problems. You’re not in a state of mind to clearly share your feelings, and your spouse/teen is not going to be ready to humbly hear what you have to say. And so the result will be harsh words, harmful tone of voice, and a feeling of hurt for both. The MUCH more effective way to handle these situations, is to calmly say, “can we please talk tomorrow night at 9? I need to talk to you about your overspending. But not right now, because I’m too angry right now. Please pray about it and we’ll talk tomorrow.” It gives you time to get your thoughts in order, and to pray for your heart to be pure and humble. Your hearer will be much more likely to clearly hear you if you are calm and not angry or harsh.
“Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” Psalm 141:3
And lastly, most of the time we are merely making quick comments, not requiring much time, thought, or preparation. Examples like “What do you want for dinner?” or “I think it’s supposed to be warm today”. These types of comments obviously do not need a particular time or place. If you notice that your hearer is not listening, try laying a hand gently on their shoulder before making your statement.
In conclusion, the concept of setting an appointment to talk may seem unnatural or contrived when we start, but it will help so many of the misunderstandings from happening in the first place. Let your conversation be at the right time, the right place, and set an appointment if needed. Be intentional with your discussions. And give grace to each other.
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Proverbs 25:11
Be fruitful, friends.