During my junior year of high school, I took an AP Language and Composition class with one of the most infamously difficult teachers in the school. It was the hardest class I had ever taken and the one B I got in high school (not that I’m still bitter or anything). Throughout the semester we had a fair number of large writing assignments, many of which required a double-digit page count. But oh how I I loathed writing! Any time I would try to make decent headway, it wouldn’t be long before I was stuck and frustrated. Worn down by the struggle, I went to my teacher for help and this is the input she gave me.
You cannot brainstorm and organize a paper at the same time; it is two separate steps.
First, you have to write any sentences, phrases, and/or ideas that come to mind. Don’t focus on if they are contradictory, extraneous, or grammatically correct. Remove your filter. They don’t have to be logical, sequential thoughts; they can simply be bullet points. Just get everything out on the paper.
Then, you can take those ideas and actually start organizing them. Group your thoughts and see how they fit together to support your conclusion. Consider things you wrote that might seem in opposition to help refine, or even change, your point of view and solidify your perspective. Determine if there are areas that may be lacking support or places where questions remain unanswered; narrow your efforts on filling in those gaps to help lead you to a robust and satisfying conclusion.
That advice saved me many a late night in college and, surprisingly, it has saved me many a late night in marriage.
I’ve realized, the hard way, that this same principle is applicable to the way my husband, Louis, and I approach communication, especially in the context of conflict and decision-making.
Just like writing a paper happens best in two steps, effective conversation does too! If not, as I’ve learned before, the result is cumbersome communication, frustration, and a poor conclusion.
In a conversation, brainstorming often looks like…
Uncovering expectations | Revealing insecurities | Unloading jumbled thoughts | Changing opinions | Expressing raw emotions | Making judgments | Sharing perceptions |
On the other hand, organizing often looks like…
Articulating facts | Assessing pros and cons | Considering solutions | Raising objections | Dispelling emotions | Making decisions |
If you are a brainstormer like me, you love to externally process. You enter a conversation raw and will follow wherever the conversation leads. If you are an organizer like Louis, you love to internally process. You enter a conversation with a set perspective and a set goal. And even though sometimes I don’t act like it, one is NOT better than the other; they are both very necessary steps toward intimate and effective communication. However, just like with writing high school papers, if we try to brainstorm and organize at the same time, it is not long before we become frustrated. Then, in our frustration, we give into our selfishness, become quick to speak and slow to listen, and end up farther from resolution.
But, with quality communication being a mutual goal, Louis and I have been able to find solutions that help us harness this difference so that it is an assent, not a nuisance, to our marriage. To do this, we have addressed the problem at the root and are learning how to approach conversation as a two-step process. The newlywed stage of marriage has been wonderful, but has also been very difficult in various ways, some of the most notable being the lack of community and the difficulty of finding mentors who can speak wisdom into the difficulties we are facing. So, being mindful of that, I want to share some of the tips we have learned.
For one, it is helpful to have conversations dedicated to brainstorming that way we can be quick to organize when we need to. One way this happens is by Louis’ intentionality in engaging me with emotional and introspective questions on a regular basis (which can be very challenging when we are both so busy and tired at times). Additionally, I am more intentional about being forthcoming and vulnerable, rather than selfishly and sometimes, stubbornly, withholding until he asks.
Also, it is helpful to deliberately set aside time at the beginning of discussion to simply vocalize perceptions, opinions, and ideas without the pressure to present logical points and move toward an immediate solution. This has made a huge difference for us! We have agreed to give each other grace and allow raw emotions to be expressed, resisting the urge to interpret comments as personal attacks. Allowing space for us both to feel heard diminishes the need to be defensive and lets us truly listen to the other person’s point of view, so we can more easily move toward resolution.
Then again, there are other times when we start a conversation and then realize it would be most beneficial for us to pause and take time for us to each internally process on our own and then come back later to finish the conversation. This is especially helpful when emotions are charged, because it allows us to unpack our emotions individually and then come back together when we are less heated and ready to listen and be humble.
Finally and very simply, I have had to change the way I view miscommunication. I’ve had to learn to appreciate that often times, all that needs to happen is to simply recognize miscommunication for what it is and then, move on. It is destructive to overthink it or turn it into a big, emotional deal. As a result, my tone, attitude, and motives are much improved when addressing Louis if something does come up.
Learning to communicate well with one another is a long journey and we are far from perfect at it. To be honest, because Louis and I are complete opposites, it has been quite a challenge for us, being especially difficult to truly understand the other person’s approach and reaction. However, with God’s grace and our unwavering commitment to one another, we are slowly but surely learning, adapting, and growing to be better communicators as husband and wife. The longer we have been together, the more we understand the roots of some of the communication issues we have encountered, allowing us to target the problem at the source and find solutions that work for us.
One day I anticipate Louis and I will get the hang of this communication thing and then we will look back at this post and laugh at our newlywed selves. Until then, we will choose to find joy in the learning process and exchange advice along the way!
Now it is time for you to share your advice! What are some tips that that have helped you and your spouse learn to communicate effectively??