Selfishness vs. Listen with the Desire To Understand
This last communication killer is so common it’s actually part of our culture. We’re encouraged to look out for ourselves, to be self-focused. We’re also naturally inclined to respond to our own desires, feelings, and whims. We’ve been doing it since we could breathe. Maturity comes when you can keep your selfish tendencies in check, thinking and acting as if others are important too.
In a way your husband has sworn to the department that he will set selfishness aside, that he would lay down his life to save another. This is unselfishness at its best, real hero quality. You, as his wife, have agreed to share him for the greater good, another unselfish quality.
But in the day to day, we each have needs and wants that call to be met. We have dreams to pursue and goals to accomplish. So it’s a dichotomy, making sure that we take care of ourselves but also tending to the needs of our husbands, kids, work, etc.
If we really want an outstanding relationship, we will make a choice to listen with a desire to understand each other. But it requires character—humility, even—to set yourself aside for a time to listen.
Roger Williams, Director of the Mount Hermon Conference Center once said, “Selfish people will never live in unity.” In marriage, everything needs to be filtered through us. Not “me,” but “we.” And the “we” includes you both—sometimes him, sometimes you, and sometimes both. There’s a give and take here. And it takes practice.
This is a difficult chapter. Good communication requires responses that don’t always come naturally. It takes courage and inner strength to speak the truth in a way that doesn’t leave our partners wounded. But understand something, ladies: you have power. You have the power to crush your husband, to let your frustration fly in his face, or slowly, methodically undermine him. Either way, it could reduce him to shreds. The closer you grow, the more dangerous you become. You and I both know some women who are very good at this.
But you also have an opportunity to use your power to do something incredible. You have a choice to build him up into the man he deserves to be. Your love and respect can build strength and confidence in him. You can strengthen that thin blue line, indirectly, through careful, proactive words and actions—words that encourage, even heal; actions that respect who he is.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" February 25th, 2013
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
Unkindness vs. Setting Speech Boundaries
As a law enforcement family, there will always be pressures as we looked at in the first chapter. Unfortunately the easiest place to release that pressure is on those closest to us. And the closer you get, the worse it can be. Because we are so entwined, when our spouses go through stuff, it affects us and vice versa.
Earlier I mentioned a brush that went flying through the air at Brent on Christmas morning. The pressures at that moment were very great; we were newlyweds, we just moved, we didn’t know anyone, we didn’t have any money, and he was dealing with people on the road for the first time—it was nuts. That pressure really built up in me, and then when we fought Christmas morning, look out! She’s gonna blow! And blow I did.
But it doesn’t always go that way. What about when we’re irritated with each other, or the kids, or the neighbor’s dog that kept us up all night? Unkindness has a way of creeping in. We start treating each other poorly. Little digs here and there, our voices raise a bit, our patience wears thin. It gets old quick.
After our argument on Christmas morning, Brent and I settled down enough to decide that we needed to implement some ground rules. Here’s what we came up with:
The first thing we decided was to never use divorce as a threat. We have friends who do, but we decided that this was too big of a withdrawal for us both. Brent’s parents divorced when he was young, so divorce is painful for him. I came into our relationship with trust issues caused by philandering ex-boyfriends. We chose to treat this topic as taboo. The commitment that we made has helped us to do this. We never go there.
Second, we don’t use sarcasm. When there are unresolved conflicts in a relationship, sarcasm is easy to muster. But it is also a cowardly way to throw insults. Someone says something mean and then laughs it off as a joke. It’s not a joke. It hurts just as much. And usually sarcasm is used when other people are around. Let me just say if you use sarcasm against your spouse in front of other people, you just created an embarrassing situation and cast a shadow on your own character. They’ll think you’re a jerk whether you are or not.
The third boundary we set is that we will never insult each other. This includes name calling, comparing with other people, and just being mean.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t joke or tease. But jokes and teasing are not meant to cut someone down but rather to lighten up. In fact humor is an excellent way to release some pressure.
One last thing. Something that comes really easy to us women is nagging. Many times our guys don’t get things done in a timely manner whether it’s because they tend to procrastinate or their schedules just don’t allow for it. Either way, nagging is destructive. It won’t get us what we’re hoping for, which is action. Because my husband’s job is so high velocity, he needs down time on the weekends and time with our kids. Weeks will go by with his honey-do list untouched. I am so tempted to nag, nag, and nag some more!
But over the years I have learned to combat this urge with these two ideas:
1. I’ll ask supportive questions like “I know you’ve been working so hard lately. Is there anything I can do to help you get this done?” Many times there is a reason he can’t get it done. Perhaps he has to research how to do it, or the hardware store didn’t have the right part. Many times I might be able to help him get past the obstacle, and then it gets done.
2. I tattle on him to my journal. It may seem a little silly, but it works. When I get to the point where I want to nag (or release frustration in other ways), I write it out and then throw it away. Actually, when I do this, it helps me work through the emotion so I can see the deeper issue. Then I’m in a much better position to communicate constructively.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" February 18th, 2013
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
It’s there on the headstones, barely noticeable. A birth date; a death date. And a little mark in between. The dash – so simple, so seemingly insignificant. Yet it represents a life. It represents relationships. It represents values and words and actions that left a mark on the world.
Last week I attended a memorial service for a beautiful girl with spectacled brown eyes. There were about 2,000 young people with me who dressed in purple, and wiped their eyes as their friends talked about this very bubbly, very fun person whose life was cut short by a car accident.
Her dash represented seventeen years.
Her dash represented a survivor whose father committed suicide just four years earlier.
Her dash represented love and friendship and faith.
Her dash made its mark on many lives – at least 2,000 of them.
What will my dash represent?
This morning I watched a video of the funeral of Chris Kyle, the Navy Seal Sniper who gained worldwide recognition through his bestselling biography, American Sniper.
His dash represented 38 years.
His dash represented a warrior whose devotion to country and service for God ended the terror of many wicked enemies.
His dash represented a man whose love for others brought laughter and security.
His dash made its mark on thousands and thousands of lives.
What will my dash represent?
Will my dash leave a mark? Will that mark be positive?
What is my life about, and who makes my life worth getting up for in the morning?
Will people remember me in the sunshine or in the music?
What will be the consequences of my life be?
My young brown-eyed friend left her mark at seventeen. So few years to make such an impact.
My fellow countryman, Christian brother and military hero left his mark all over the world at 38. His years continue to make an impact through the lives that he touched.
What will my dash represent?
Lord, give us wisdom to choose lives that leave the world better than it was before
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" February 16th, 2013
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Unforgiveness vs. Keeping Short Account
When our unspoken expectations are not met, it is very easy to develop resentment. We take it personally. It’s an affront! But that really isn’t fair, is it? How can our husbands know they did something wrong if they don’t know the rules?
Years ago when Brent was working swing shift, he’d normally get off around midnight. One night in particular, he called me from the office to say that he had to write some reports and wouldn’t be home for awhile. About two thirty a.m., I woke up and discovered he wasn’t there yet. So I called the office. They told me he’d left about a half hour earlier. Because I assumed he’d be there any minute, I waited up for him. In the meantime Brent stopped to fuel up on the way home and struck up a conversation with the gas attendant. They had a very deep, meaningful conversation that lasted about two hours. By the time Brent drove up, I was convinced he was dead and then decided he was having an affair. Either way he would need a funeral! And, of course, I’d planned it all out.
After I unleashed my full fury on him, he told me what happened. He apologized, and I forgave him. Now we laugh about the string of obscenities that flowed from my mouth when I rarely cuss. And that is that.
Unforgiveness will not only kill communication, it will kill your relationship and could eventually kill your soul. No matter how you look at it, you lose. The thing that will keep communication flowing is keeping a short account. Let the anger go.
Brent calls this the emotional bank account. When we spend time together, do favors for each other, have good sex, etc., we are making deposits into the relationship. Arguments, harsh words, unspoken or demanding expectations, slamming doors, etc., are withdrawals from your relationship. Just like money, you look at your account at the end of each month, and hopefully your account is in the black. But too many withdrawals will cause it to fall into the red.
The currency of your relationship isn’t cash; it’s trust. When there isn’t enough give for the take, you run into problems. When Brent was unaccounted for late into the night, fear consumed me. It was a big withdrawal. But when we decided he would phone home if a situation like this came up again (and it did), we made a deposit into our account. When I decided to let it go by forgiving him, we were in the black again. He learned from it too and never made that type of mistake again.
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" February 11th, 2013
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder
Go Easy; It Takes Time
I once heard a couple who had been married for over forty years say, “We didn’t really get each other until we’d gotten the first twenty years out of the way.” Now that Brent and I have been married over twenty-three years, I understand what they were talking about. Entwining two lives into one takes time and patience. It takes being lifelong students of one another. And as soon as you think you have him all figured out, he’ll change. So will you. It’s the adventure, and it’s never dull!
This reminds me of good ol’ Shrek and his conversation with Donkey. Shrek refers to himself as an onion. He has layers—really rough on the outside and soft and pliable on the inside. I can look back now and see that our marriage has been like this. We dealt with rough, unattractive stuff early on in our marriage, then, year after year, we continue to enjoy the good stuff.
A Tactical Approach: Communication Killers and Keepers
Learning to speak each other’s language is a lifelong pursuit. It’s the big picture, a little something to keep in the back of your mind year to year. But what about day to day? That’s where the bulk of our communication lies.
There are behaviors and mindsets that will kill the ability to communicate, and there are attitudes and boundaries that will keep the communication flowing. Brent and I call them communication killers and keepers. In the following pages, I explain each killer and it’s opposing keeper.
Unspoken Expectations vs. No Givens
If you want to learn each other’s language, you have to speak. So much of miscommunication is unspoken. We develop assumptions based on our own personal views and values. We have assumptions about how relationships operate, how they should be, and then these assumptions turn into expectations. But when those expectations are not talked about, there’s trouble.
I was brought up in a home that taught if you weren’t fifteen minutes early, you were late. Brent was brought up in a home where perpetual lateness was the norm. This became a huge issue for us, especially because of the nature of his crisis-driven career. I was offended and frustrated time after time because we could never get anywhere when I wanted to be there. After many discussions and tearful arguments, we learned to talk about the expectations each other had about time management.
Newlyweds Mark and Rachel had guests over for the evening. The weekend before, Rachel spent extra time cleaning the house, and she planted flowers in the backyard. Then she took off work early and prepared an appetizer to go with the drinks, made up the meal ahead of time, and put together a beautiful dessert. While the guests were there, Mark offered up some drinks and talked with the guys while he grilled the meat. All had a great evening with lots of laughs. Once the guests had gone, Mark declared he was exhausted and that he had to get up early for the day shift. He promptly went to bed. Rachel, who also had work the next morning, stayed up late cleaning up after everyone, fuming. She didn’t talk to Mark for two days.
Before you get too angry with Mark, you must understand something. His mother was a stay-at-home mom who did everything for her family. She cooked dinner every night and cleaned up afterward without batting an eye. He had absolutely no clue how much work goes into entertaining, much less thoughts about helping to clean up. His unspoken expectation was that Rachel would handle it. Rachel, on the other hand, neglected to voice her expectation that he help with clean up because she assumed he would. His ignorance and her anger were both a result of unspoken expectations that neither of them were aware of.
Expectations do not kill communication; failing to express them does.
Mark and Rachel would have had a much different outcome had they taken a few minutes to discuss each other’s responsibilities beforehand. It wouldn’t have been much for him to clear the table and load the dishwasher while she rinsed. The whole evening was a success until Rachel was offended by her own assumptions.
Take the time to understand expectations for events, your job, even day-to-day things. Then negotiate solutions to those expectations. There are no givens!
Victoria Newman - "A CHiP on My Shoulder" February 4th, 2013
Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder