“The biggest problem with communication is we do not listen to understand. We listen to reply.” Unknown
A couple of blog posts ago, I shared inside one of our arguments titled, I’m Posting on Friday Because … This week I’m sharing more about communication between John and me. I wouldn’t put much of this in writing if I thought we were just one couple in a few. We’re not. I’ve talked to enough friends to know there are a lot of us out there who have difficulty talking with our spouses.
John and I grew up in families who didn’t communicate except to yell and throw things or be quiet and fume. Families like ours also didn’t talk about feelings unless we were having a scene. Even though John and I were teetotalers raising our kids, we lived by at least two of three rules in alcoholic families:
1) Don’t talk
2) Don’t feel
3) Don’t trust.
Living by these rules didn’t mean we didn’t talk and feel. It meant we talked about others instead of ourselves. It meant we didn’t get in touch with our real feelings. We’d sulk when we wanted attention, we’d get quiet when we had a lot to say, and we would fly off the handle when we were scared. We’d eat a row of Oreos to numb out or practice some other destructive habit instead of dealing with our emotions.
John’s family yelled, so he wanted our home to be quiet. My family fumed, so I wanted us to talk. John thought being quiet would fix everything or at least it’d keep him from having to hear what he did wrong. I thought talking would heal us even though I had no idea what I was feeling or how to talk about it, so I talked about him and what I thought he should fix.
John got quieter. I got louder.
He wasn’t talking at all by the time I was yelling and it was mostly about why he wasn’t talking. He was quiet in hopes that I would be too. I talked because I didn’t know what else to do. We lived this way for a lot of years, which wasn’t as bad as it sounds because we had kids and parents to distract us from each other and our issues.
A conversation with our son served as one wakeup call about our lack of communication. He said, “Why would I want children of my own when it’s been so hard on you?”
I thought, Oh my gosh, you and your sister have been the JOY in my life, not the hard part.
I said something like that to him while trying to settle down from our exchange. John and I were three decades into our mess and at least one of our kids thought he was the problem, just like I thought with my parents. And it wasn’t true of him or of me.
My family of origin talked a lot less than John and I talked, although he and I were 30 years into the same conversation – one that we had over and over and to no avail.
“I don’t want to talk anymore about what’s wrong. I just want us to learn how to get along and have fun,” John said four million times.
“I wish you’d listen and hear what I’m really saying. That’d probably help with all the ‘getting along’ you keep talking about,” I said for the four million and oneth time.
John’s wanted to skip through fields of daisies instead of dredge up anything unpleasant. I’ve wanted to dig to the bottom of our pain because we’re both in it. Communication’s the answer, but we didn’t know how to do it. We didn’t have examples to follow, so we’ve fought our way to it.
I’ve been scared and scary and I’ve screamed a lot. I’ve been depressed and quiet. I’ve faced demons of living in silence as a kid, then trying to do it again as an adult even though I’ve known I needed to talk. I’ve talked in the wrong ways and about someone else because it’s scary to talk about myself and what’s going on with me, but I’ve learned to talk anyway and, yes, about myself and what’s going on with me.
John’s faced demons of living with a mom in a lot of pain and now a wife who is also, and both of us very noisy about it. We told him what’s wrong with us and what’s wrong with him and what’s wrong with everyone around us. He’s hidden out from all of it, but if he’s going daisy skipping, he has figured out he has to show up sometimes to listen and to talk.
Fast forward to this week and keep in mind change takes time. I’ve been sick for weeks, which I believe is the result of not being heard for years. Our unattended emotions wreak havoc on our health. Writing on my blog about our lack of communication, talking honestly and free of judgment with a friend, and recognizing what it’s cost us and our family when we haven’t felt worthy of being heard have made me sick and tired and ready for change.
This week, John and I talked twice about our pain. Neither time did it have much to do with each other. We talked about things we think about and what we’re afraid of and how confused we get when we don’t talk and listen to each other. I cried a couple of hours, and then felt really relaxed – a first after one of our discussions. John went to bed exhausted (not a first), but knowing he listened the right way … to understand, not to reply.
We made headway in #GettingYourOwnLife #whileLovingthePeopleinIt.
In This Together,
An early blog post brought to you by Claire’s upcoming visit. Thanks for the images, Pixabay.com.
Next week, I’ll blog about George Bernard Shaw’s quote, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”