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Marriage 911 03/19/18

Be Slow to Speak, Quick to Listen

Couple listening to each other

"You're talking like a crazy man," a woman said to her husband during a recent couple's counseling session.

It was true. He was talking like a crazy man, where only minutes earlier he had been compassionate and caring.

 "See what I mean?" she said, looking at me. "I never know when he's going to flip and I can't keep riding this rollercoaster."

 "C'mon," he retorted angrily. "Let's be fair. He hasn't heard you scream at me. I'm not the only one that can lose their cool."

His wife shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes.

 "You can act like it's all me," he continued. "But, you know that behind closed doors you're just as mean."

"Whatever," she said, waving him off.

I watched a scene unfold that I'd seen far too many times in my career—two people shouting each other down, making snide comments about the other's character and only agitating one another.

To get help for your marriage from Dr. Hawkins and his qualified staff, please visit The Marriage Recovery Center website or call 206-219-0145.

As I watched this man and woman function from their "reptile brain' I'm reminded about one of the reasons Scripture implores us to "be slow to speak, quick to listen." I know one of the reasons why God created us with two ears and one mouth.

The woman continued blaming the man while the man blamed the woman. Each built a case as to why the other was at fault. Truth of the matter was this: I couldn't possibly make an assessment of how this had all developed. Was he "a crazy man' like she alleged? Did she have a hot temper as well? I had to take a much more detailed history to get a more accurate read on their situation.

Regardless of their history, one thing was extremely clear now: this way of communicating only served to agitate the other more. Blaming and shaming each other was hurtful. Ridiculing the other was disrespectful and only aggravated the situation. No communication could take place from this state.

Knowing a bit about how our brains work can help us step back and consider another approach. When agitated our primitive brain kicks into gear—fight or flight. We can process information very quickly, but only as if we were facing danger. Our frontal lobe, where we plan and execute methodical processes, is much slower.

What does this mean? When threatened we are more likely to affix blame, attack, and say hurtful things. Our "compassionate brain' is out of order.

The implications for marriage are clear: we must be vigilant about what part of our brain is speaking. Are we calm, clear and compassionate or are we threatened, attacking and "making a point?' Are we utilizing one of the fruits of the Spirit—self-control—or are we trying to win? Are we listening and learning about our mate, or are we preparing our case, defending our point of view?

Knowing the difference and being aware of those differences will make all the difference in the world to our marriage and to staying emotionally connected.

What else can you do to tame our primitive brain? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Cultivate awareness.

You cannot make progress unless you learn about yourself and your mate. You must know what "triggers' you as well as learning about what "triggers' your mate. You must also know which part of your brain you are functioning from. As you cultivate this awareness, you will have more choice over how you respond to any situation.

2. Slow things down.

We can always slow things down so that we are really thinking. Too often we plow ahead, thinking we are making progress when in fact we're having a horrendous fight. Agree to slow things down, taking breaks to simply reflect, pray and consider what is happening.  

3. Tune in to your mate.

We can help our mate function from their "best self' by listening well to them. A little empathy and compassion go a long way to ending a fight. What has upset them? What are they trying to communicate? Are you really considering their welfare and the welfare of your marriage? Take time to understand your mate.

4. Solve real problems.

Fights occur because of real problems. In fact, repeated fights often occur because issues are not being fully attended to and resolved. Take time to determine the issue at hand, each taking a turn to share their concern and perspective.  

5. Cooperate, collaborate, communicate.

Make sure you are really communicating. If you are not working together, you are likely working against each other—fighting. If fighting, stop, step back, and start over some time later. As you communicate well, collaborate well and cooperate with one another, fighting will diminish and connection will increase.      

Do you know when to call a "time out?' Do you use self-control to ensure fighting is minimized?

We'd also love to hear from you. Share your feedback below or send a confidential note to me and my team and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center and my Marriage Intensives on my website: www.marriagerecoverycenter.com. You'll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.

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