Jeff and I are reading a book called Speaking the Truth in Love by Ruth Koch and Kenneth Haugk. It's turning our communication style on its head. Or rather, planting our upside-down communication style firmly on its feet. We hope.
So far, all we know for sure is that we have a long way to go. We've gone through three bits of the book so far. The first appendix, the prologue, and the first chapter.
We've learned that there are basically two unhealthy communication patterns. Passive and aggressive.
"Passive behavior," say Koch and Haugk, "is behavior that moves against the self. Passive behavior says, 'I'll give up anything to avoid displeasure and to gain approval.' Passive people frequently give up important parts of their own personalities to avoid disapproval or criticism so others will like them" (16). Examples of passivity would be avoidance, addiction, withholding feedback, lying, hinting, pretending to understand, or saying, "That's okay," when something is not okay.
On the other hand, "aggressive behavior is behavior that moves against others. Aggressive behavior says, 'I have the right to patronize you, put you down, dominate you, or humiliate you in order to get what I want.' The aggressive person has few internal restraints and recognizes few external limits" (18). Examples of aggression would be physical violence, using facial expressions or gestures to communicate rejection nonverbally, insults, put-downs, profanity, blaming, sarcasm, and passive aggression.
Passive aggression is the sneakiest. It is "a subtle kind of aggression, an underhanded way of moving against another person or manipulating others to get one's own way. Those who use passive aggression... use undercover means to get their way, to get even, and to express what they're not willing to say in a straightforward manner" (22). Examples of passive aggression would be procrastination, forgetting, dawdling, pouting, the silent treatment, and manipulative tears.
Twice in our reading I've set the book aside, declared it to be useless, and stumbled as fast as possible to the farthest corner of the house.
1) It defines and validates the pain I've carried as a result of some of Jeff's behaviors toward me.
The pain I try to avoid and stuff and pretend doesn't exist.
2) It defines and validates the pain Jeff has carried as a result of some of my behaviors toward him.
(I would use stronger language, but you saw that the book says profanity is a sign of open aggression.)
The book also says there's no such thing as not making a choice. Choosing to do nothing is choosing the status quo, with all of its consequences. But taking it a step farther, sometimes choosing to do nothing is choosing not just the status quo, but also the acceleration of chaos.
Take the laundry, for example. When I choose not to do the laundry, it doesn't just sit there maintaining the same status of the same number of dirty clothes. No indeedy. It multiplies and becomes more chaotic.
So... I've been doing a bit more laundry lately. So... that's happy.
During the writing of this blog post, God showed me that unhealthy communication patterns are just like dirty laundry. Choosing to do nothing about poor communication isn't just choosing the status quo; it is choosing the acceleration of chaos.
Well, Jeff and I are not choosing chaos anymore. We are choosing to learn to communicate with each other in a healthy way. This choice has brought all of our poor communication patterns right to the surface. Hence my verbal rejection and flight from our book about healthy communication.
But there's hope.
Each time I've put the book down, made openly aggressive statements about it, and passively aggressively given it the silent treatment, I've come back and picked it up again.
1) There's a healthy way to communicate: Assertively. Assertive communication is motivated by love. Somehow, and I don't know how yet because we're only at the beginning of Chapter 2, assertiveness apparently allows a person to stand up for themselves while simultaneously respecting and valuing those around them. According to Koch and Haugk, "Assertive behavior is behavior that honors the self while honoring others. The assertive person authentically cares for others and at the same time engages in God-pleasing self-care" (23).
I know, right? Weird. But also something I long for.
2) God is the One who makes it happen. "God will show you how to maintain your Christian integrity as you follow the model and direction of Scripture in learning to think and behave assertively" (Koch and Haugk 9).
Such a relief that change doesn't come from me, but from God. And His changes last.
"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work (2 Cor 9:8).
So... here's hopin'.