Sunday, April 5, 2009

Something Good: Trustworthy

When I get angry, I tend to rant and rave. I raise my voice a little, my arms flail around as I gesticulate, my eyes flash, and I become ridiculously over-the-top articulate.

Jeff does not rant and rave. When he gets angry, he becomes silent as the tomb. His lips form a thin line, he pulls an injured look, his shoulders slump, he folds his big, burly arms across his massive chest, and he pouts.

Who's being more mature? Him or me? Right. The answer is neither. Both methods of handling anger are inappropriate. Mine is aggressive, Jeff's is manipulative. Each of us is attempting to control the other by forcing them to acknowledge and change our emotions. "Make me feel better." Not gonna happen.

Our favorite marriage guru, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, pointed out this "crazy cycle" in our marriage. He helped me understand that when I rant at Jeff, he feels disrespected, and then he can't hear what I'm saying. And he helped Jeff understand that when he stonewalls me, I feel rejected and unloved, and then I can't properly read the nonverbal signals he is sending me.

I am learning to communicate my hurts calmly and respectfully. Jeff is learning to communicate his hurts verbally. Both the opposite of our childhood coping mechanisms, but entirely possible with the help of our great God.

One thing we've discovered about changing the way we communicate is that our expectations regarding change are totally unrealistic. We simply haven't stopped our unhealthy communication patterns cold turkey. Shocking, I know. What is happening, however, is that we are beginning to come back from our gut reactions a lot more quickly than we used to.

For example, Jeff and I are taking some time to carefully examine our roles in marriage. I am working to let him lead, and I am also studying what his leadership style looks like so I don't miss it. He is learning to remember that even though he has a plan, I am not going to know what it is unless he opens his mouth and uses words to communicate that plan to me. And I am learning to believe he has a plan even if he doesn't communicate it. And the more I trust Jeff for that, the more attracted I am to him, because "The Man With the Plan" is definitely my idea of sexy.

So last night, I stated an opinion in my black-and-white, imperative way that I just expect the whole world to acknowledge is really just my little opinion. Realizing I was ultimatum-ing my husband, I paused and asked, "What do you think?"

Jeff replied, "I don't know."

Irked, I immediately snapped back, "Yes, you do know!"

Surprised, Jeff looked sharply at me. Then he frowned. Realizing I'd hurt him, I quickly retracted my attitude, turned toward him, and said softly, "I guess I should explain where I'm coming from. When I ask you what you think, I'm asking you to lead me. When you respond by saying you don't know, what I hear is, 'No, I'm not going to lead you.' And that makes me feel scared, insecure, and not worth your trouble."

As this speech unfolded, Jeff uncrossed his arms, replaced his frown with a look of concern, and leaned forward in his chair -- all physical demonstrations of openness toward me. I finished off my explanation by saying, "But I bet you didn't know that's what I was hearing, did you?"

"No," he replied gently, "I didn't know that." Understanding that "I don't know" was sending the wrong signals, he rephrased his initial response. "I haven't thought it all the way through yet."

That's fair. I relaxed, knowing he would think it all the way through, and when he did, he would let me know. And he did let me know. And his opinion was totally trustworthy and affirming. Just what I needed to hear to feel secure and loved. (And no, he didn't just blindly agree with me to avoid conflict. He didn't actually agree at all, but he understood where I was coming from and addressed the heart of my issue, which proved he was listening, which was really all I wanted.)

After our conversation ended, I reflected on the grace of God that changes us over time. Last week, A year ago, we would have had a snit. Last month, Two or three years ago, we would have had a blowout. Over my one little snappy disrespectful response.

So my "Something Good" is this: God. The grace of God. Only God is powerful enough to take an aggressor and a manipulator and transform them into honest, open, respectful communicators. (Of course, it helps immensely that my husband is so stinkin' trustworthy.)

What about you? Tell me something good about your marriage.