Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It's Just The Wiring

When Dennis and I were engaged, I told a close friend who knew us that we were realizing that we needed to work on communication. She told me that she was glad to hear that, since she noticed that Dennis and I were terrible communicators. She was suppressing a guffaw, I sensed, as she said this. In other words, she was telling me that when I said that "we needed to work on communication" I was making a giant understatement. It would have been far more accurate if I had said that we needed to do some hard labor like a chain gang in the middle of a Mississippi summer on our communication.

After awhile, well into four years of marriage, whatever I was attempting to do with communication had totally run its course. All the books and marriage seminars wasn't getting me anywhere. I needed help and I needed it fast. So, I went to a counselor. We talked about my family stuff and how I perceived it. And the fact that others in my family perceived things differently. And that there was room for that without it diminishing my point of view. But I had lost a connection between my heart and my lips. I had kept quiet about so many painful things that I lacked a trust in what my own eyes saw and what my own self felt. And what my own brain was thinking.

When you are disconnected to yourself, it creates a huge difficulty in being able to connect to others, and hence, communication problems. You can't form words to express things to someone else if you can't form words to express those things to yourself. I had to learn how to identify what I thought and felt.

For instance:

I am feeling isolated and cut off, and I am feeling a need for intimacy. My husband comes into the room, flops down on the sofa and turns on tv. I feel horrible but I don't know why. I don't know what I'm feeling. I want to reach out and connect but I'm feeling frustrated. So, I start up with negative comments about tv, about how my husband watches too many ball games, really, can we turn off the tv? It's noisy. So, my everloving hubby might turn off the tv but most likely any warm fuzzy feelings he feels towards me have evaporated. He might snap at me and leave the room, grumbling. Or he might make the arguement that this game is important and I have to leave the room. Either way, I succeeded the opposite of what I actually desired. And I feel even more isolation and after awhile, it really chokes me and my relationship.

So, I go to my therapist, who really is a professional listener. She asks me about how I'm doing. I'm not sure, but I want to work on it. Where do I want to begin? Well, we watch too much tv in my home. Oh really? Yeah, just the other day Hubby wanted to watch a ball game, it was noisy, and it lasts for hours. How does it make you feel when he watches a ball game for hours? Well, it sucks. I feel lonely. What do you want? A kiss and a hug, that's all. A bit of attention. So how did you go about getting it? Hmmm...I nagged. How did that work for you? Hmmm...not well.

So, if I were to do it all over again, how would I get what I want?

Well, I would go over to the sofa, lie down with my Hubby, ask for a kiss and a cuddle and turn down the volume a bit and fall asleep in his arms. I guess that's what I really wanted.

After awhile, I learned that the direct approach is pretty effective in asking for what I need from Dennis. He can't read my mind and he can't translate "Turn off the darn tv" to "Kiss me, love me." Or the various ways I talk in elaborate circles and expect him to read between the lines. This was actually hard for me to learn, but as I found it more and more rewarding, it got easier and easier to apply.

There's a lot of complicated theories to explain how I turned out to be such a terrible communicator. Or disconnected to my own heart. Or scared of my own ideas and thoughts that I bury them. Or too frightened to speak up when I disagree. Or become a bitch when all I want is to be loved. Or go through all the wrong array of choices to meet my own needs. Or push people I love away from me. Or build walls that keep people I love from coming too close. Or allow other people's walls keep me out. And I'm not saying that there's not more work for me in any of these issues.

I think that I still have to summon some courage to say to a sister, hey, I want to get to know you better despite our tumultuous history because I love you and I think you are an amazing woman. Yep, a lot of courage. Why? Because I'm opening myself up to further hurt and I'm asking her to take the same risk. But we have to look at the gains, not the costs. One gain is having to work through the hurts and getting closer to intimacy and understanding. We wouldn't get closer by vigilant over self protection because of distrust. It also depends on much value is placed on intimate relationships. Real relationships. The higher the value, the more risks seem to be worth it.

For some, all of this is a no-brainer and will wonder how something so simple, like being loved and giving love, could be made to be so complicated. If you come from a normal and resilient family, yeah, there is nothing to try to figure out. I'm always amazed with the families in our church for whom all of this is seems easy. And if I happen to meet the preceding generation, who aren't too far away usually in Michigan, it doesn't take too long for me to how it works out. If the family of origin is stable and supportive, the kids tend to marry younger, start families sooner and stay in touch with extended family tighter. If the family of origin has parents who know how to work through conflict, forgive and move forward, they create families who pick up the same relationship skills, without any further counseling, reading a ton of books or lots of seminars, who whether married or not, bring these skills to their future families or communities or fellowships. They may struggle, but doing relationships and communication is a part of life's ebbs and flows, and worth more than careers, travel and hobbies. Everyone knows how to ask for a kiss and a hug in an appropriate way with an appropriate person.

So, how did I get so mixed up in my relationship wiring?

I found out that asking how isn't as worthwhile as asking myself if. That is, sometimes wondering how something happened to me can waste my energy and time. But asking myself if I've got a problem leads me down a path that leads to solving it.

Like, gee, I wonder if I got mixed up in my relationship wiring? What do I do to get it functioning?

If it is a problem that is totally new to me, then counseling or books or the right seminar might help. If it sounds a lot like what I already know, a conversation over a cup of joe or some time in prayer or a bit of journaling might be more helpful. In other words, previous experience has shown me that I can trust myself to let myself explore and be guided by God and listen to others to get their feedback.

For instance, when I am feeling distant from my dad and miss him, I find myself argueing with certain individuals who remind me of him (usually not Dennis). So if you are a male friend older than me who is a bit opinionated, analytical, authoritative, cerebral, and also unretractable at times, don't be too shocked if it seems like we always clash. It has nothing to do with you and usually my fault and despite what it looks like, I do respect and like you. Since I don't run across too many people who remind me of my dad, you know who you are. And since talking with you might be a rare occasion, I don't know how I'm coming across until it's too late. The email is sent, the comment is posted, and the retort is made faster than I realize what I'm doing. And since I don't run across too many people who remind me of Dad, I haven't worked on a vocabulary or an even tempered approach to refine my way of putting things.

Oh, yeah. Did you know that my dad and I are a lot alike?

Just pray that I would call him. And that we'll focus on more than the weather when we talk.

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