Communication is required in any relationship, whether it is with your spouse or parent or child or friend. Good communication fosters mutual understanding and respect, and it increases love while reducing conflict. This is true intimacy, and it includes thoughts, feelings, acts, and desires – all of which are shared both verbally and non-verbally (from “Strengthening Marriage“).
Since getting cochlear implants last year, I have experienced an onslaught of sound, so much louder than the non-verbal cues of the Deaf. When I learned ballroom dancing, it was without words. When I was loved into the gospel, it was without words – except for the thousands of text messages. But those messages, those words-of-love and words-of-teaching are what got me baptized.
So, when we do use words, we need to use them carefully.
Words are powerful.
Words can inspire or degrade, uplift or knock down, heal or wound, create or destroy.
President Kimball said, “There is magic in words properly used. Some people use them accurately, while others sloppily. Words are a means of communication, and faulty signals give wrong impressions. Disorder and misunderstandings are the results. Words underlie our whole life and are the tools of our business, the expressions of our affections, and the records of our progress. Words cause hearts to throb and tears to flow in sympathy. Words can be sincere or hypocritical. Many of us are destitute of words, and consequently, are clumsy with our speech.”
We are far too often clumsy, or even careless with our words.
Four common destructive patterns of communication that we CAN change are these (from “Strengthening Marriage“):
- Criticism – attacking someone’s personality or character, usually in a blaming way
- Contempt – insulting or demeaning the spouse
- Defensiveness – responding defensively to complaints, criticism, or contempt by making excuses, denying, arguing, whining, or counter-blaming rather than trying to solve the problem
- Stonewalling – withdrawing physically or emotionally from the relationship when disagreements occur, becoming like a stone wall or placing behavioral walls between you
But NOT doing destructive things is not enough. We must also do things that are life-giving and strengthening, positive things that not only heal but also improve our relationships.
In fact, research says we need a 5:1 ratio of 5 positive interactions for each negative interaction if we want our relationship to be healthy and stable.
Positive interactions include:
- Showing interest in the other person, their experiences, their ideas, and their feelings
- Being affectionate in tender ways
- Showing you care by small acts of thoughtfulness, kindness and frequent communication
- Showing appreciation by expressing thanks, giving compliments, and expressing pride in their accomplishments and contributions to the relationship
- Showing concern when the other person is troubled
- Being empathetic – understanding and feeling what the other person is experiencing
- Being accepting – accepting and respecting the other person, even when you disagree
- Play – joking around and having fun without being offensive
- Sharing joy, excitement, delight, and development
How do these things show up in our day-to-day interactions with others?
We cannot communicate positively while engaging in negative thoughts that distort the weaknesses of the other person.
Destructive thoughts often involve feelings of innocent victim-hood or self-righteous indignation.
People who are “innocent victims” often fear their spouses, and feel unfairly accused, mistreated, or under-appreciated. They use this victim stance to “avoid responsibility for saving their marriage”.
People who are self-righteous feel “hostility and contempt” toward their spouses for hurting them. They feel their anger is justified, and do not want to use good communication skills because they do not care about listening or trying to understand.
Both of these approaches, outside of actual danger, are self-centered and focused on self-gratification. They blame others rather than accept responsibility for problems, and may deny the extent of their behavior or its impact on others. They may spurn or belittle their spouse for not meeting their selfish expectations” (from “Strengthening Marriage“).
What’s the healthy way?
- Be interested and attentive when the other person is talking. Maintain eye contact, without staring, and pay attention instead of appearing distant or bothered.”
- Ask questions to invite the other person to talk.
- Listen actively by rephrasing what you hear; this provides an opportunity for the other person to clarify if something was misunderstood, and they know you are paying attention.
- Share intentions before approaching difficult topics or tasks.
- Use “I” statements (such as “I feel angry” instead of “you make me angry”, which is blaming)
- Agree with the piece of truth inside criticism or blame. Taking responsibility for mistakes, while denying truth will intensify problems. Apologize sincerely, and let the emotion of the criticism go. Just let it go.
- Give honest praise.
- Clearly state preferences and expectations. Whether it’s about dishes or the garbage or jobs or children or what to eat for dinner, when you have a preference, share it. When you have an expectation, communicate it. It’s not fair to just assume the other person already knows, and it cruel to punish them for not knowing when you never told them.
- Remember that not all requests are appropriate. Appropriate requests are specific, asked at an appropriate time, direct and brief without being watered down, and non-demanding.
- “Would you please take out the garbage?” is better than “I wish you would be more helpful.”
- “I’d like a kiss goodbye before work” is better than “I know it’s a lot to ask and sometimes you’re not fully awake, but it would help me if…”
- Identify and reign in control behaviors. It may seem more efficient, but it provokes resentment and resistance because of the lack of tenderness.
- “My spouse shouldn’t do anything without my permission…”
- “If things are to be done correctly, I have to be in charge. I can’t trust anyone else to do anything right around here…”
- Share Decision-Making when it affects both people or others in the family. Independent decisions are fine sometimes. But if the decision affects others, consult them and receive their counsel. The more you do this, the more others will gain confidence that you will more likely represent them well when making big decisions. Practice with the little things.
- Husbands, preside in righteousness. This means you interact with your wife through righteous example, persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love, and kindness (D&C 121:41-42).
- Wives, be nice. We are to nurture, and that requires kindness.
The Savior taught what we say comes from our heart: “those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart” (Matthew 15:18). So we cannot change our words or the way we communicate until we first change our hearts.
The “Strengthening Marriage” manual says, “This softening of the heart needs to take place in both spouses, even though one may be principally at fault for the problems. While you can never force your spouse to change, you can change. You can choose to love and forgive no matter what else happens. The result will usually be a change in your spouse’s attitude and behavior as well.”
A “mighty change of heart” includes overcoming anger.
In fact, President Hinckley said we should “walk without anger”.
“Anger is [used] to control others. Some people have learned this art very well. They get what they want by becoming loud and angry. … Anger thus has the unrighteous goal of attempting to diminish the freedom of others” (Burton C. Kelly, “The Case Against Anger,” Ensign, Feb. 1980, 10).
There are several ways people express anger:
- Aggression – physical violence (hitting, biting, kicking, hair pulling, throwing things, destroying property)
- Emotional and verbal abuse (yelling, name calling, swearing, threatening, blaming, ridiculing, arguing, provoking, intimidating, manipulating, and demeaning)
- Sexual abuse (rape, incest, harassment – even within marriage, is still illegal)
- Internalization – directing anger towards self, depression, self-damaging acts or behaviors, putting self at risk or harm’s way un-necessarily
- Passive-Aggressive behavior – anger expressed through in-direct actions (tardiness, irresponsibility, stubbornness, sarcasm, dishonesty, irritability, discontentment, blaming, criticism, procrastination)
(Ladies, see this “Mothers of Israel” talk I gave a few weeks ago.)
Anger is a choice.
We do not have to choose anger.
We can choose the atonement.
The story of King Lamoni and his Queen give us an example of choosing the atonement instead of anger.
(CLICK HERE for the full talk about King Lamoni and his Queen, including the Temple pattern and the spiral staircase of repentance.)
This story closely parallels the New Testament story of Lazarus and his sisters.
It brings us from where we were to who we are to become, like the story of the prodigal son being embraced by his father. This is the at-one-ment.
Look also how this parallels with their neighbors after Aaron has gone there to convert them – look in Alma 23:6 and 7.
They never fell away because they became a righteous people!
This righteousness is the “Great Exchange” of Isaiah 22:23,25 – the “curse” or burden (message) of judgment being “cut off” by the atonement, and so we are “saved” because of the removal of that condemnation… the actual exchange is our sins and transgressions for HIS righteousness.
This is change in us is what makes us HOLY (set apart). It is what makes us become people of the covenant, people of HOLINESS, of the House of the Lord. It is what makes us at-one with Him, and with each other.
So Alma 23:6-7, in the context of communicating in relationships, defines for us what made them as a people (as a family!) righteous (holy and at-one).
- Laid down weapons of their rebellion
- Did not fight against God
- Did not fight against each other
We must lay down our weapons. We have to stop making things worse, and we have to stop injuring each other. We have to stop using our words “clumsily” and carelessly.
This is critical: we are not to use our words to harm and destroy.
We are to use our words to testify.
That’s our first covenant, our premortal covenant: that the Savior would atone for us, and we would testify of it. He has done our part. Our words and behaviors should testify of Him, so that all are invited to also know Him.
This is what happened in this chapter of Alma. If you look down in verse 16 and 18, you see the depth of conversion and what happened as a natural result of it. They were so changed that they were given a new name, as is always done when a people become covenant people, as is always done when taken from who you were to who you will become (Revelation 2:17).
The became a new people because they opened a correspondence with the Lord.
They developed a relationship with the Lord.
Because they developed a relationship with the Lord, the curse of God no more followed them.
Instead, they followed the Lord. The Savior led them, like His sheckinah in the wilderness, into the blessed state of peace and joy which He promises to all of us.
THAT is the plan of happiness!
It is hard work.
But we are not alone.
We have the example of Heavenly Parents who show us the way, one step at a time. It’s like an eternal dance of learning to love and be loved, and how to communicate well with words – and without words. And to love well requires knowledge, and to know requires listening and responding. This is our dance, whether we are interacting with our spouse, children, friends, or in the workplace: to listen well, and respond in a tender and knowing way.
No pushing, no stepping on toes.
Just listening and responding.
5,6,12The Family: A Proclamation to the World, first read by President Gordon B. Hinckley as part of his message at the General Relief Society Meeting held September 23, 1995, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
7 Chapter 20: The Eternal Union of Husband and Wife,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 173
9 “Lesson 30: Developing and Teaching Self-Mastery,” The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part A, 223.
13 Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954–56], 2:177
19 Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde G. Williams. 1996, 256-257.
24 Spencer W. Kimball. The Miracle of Forgiveness. Bookcraft: Salt Lake City, 1969.
26 Matthew 15:18
27 D&C 121:41-42
28 President James Faust in Conference Report, April 1981, 17; or, Ensign, November 1977, 10.
29 Strengthen Marriage (Instructor’s Guide). 2006. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.