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A Situation That Occurred Early In Their Marriage:
The cordless phone hit the ground with an audible “thud” as I (Laura) hiked it across our front yard. ‘I can’t believe him, he should understand why I’m upset!’ I spouted, making a fool of myself in front of God and the neighbors.
I was in crisis mode. I was newly married, and I just couldn’t cope. He was supposed to “get” me. He was supposed to make everything right.
I was so wrong. At twenty-seven, I may have seemingly married later in life, but in reality I was spiritually immature and at the time, incapable of having a conversation on the phone with my husband without launching it like a missile.
Less than two years before I had prayed that God send someone in my path to live life with. Well, He sent someone, and I was ready to send him back.
Fast-forward twelve years later to today. We’re still married and have a one year old and surprise, surprise!!! WE’RE MARRIAGE COUNSELORS! I no longer throw phones or spatulas for that matter—different story, maybe for a different day!
What changed? I had a heart condition. No, not a literal ailment of the cardiovascular system, I had a problem with my figurative heart.
I had unwittingly allowed years of negative coping mechanisms build walls up in my heart. A past trauma had planted a seed that was deeply-rooted within me. Everything I did to avoid the pain of confronting it walled me off from my husband.
Our marriage was in jeopardy. I was faced with taking anti-depressants and therapy. I didn’t take anti-depressants. I did, however, do a lot of hard work in therapy.
In my therapy work, I acknowledged a very simple fact that I had not allowed to be a part of my reality: Jesus had been with me during the trauma. His presence seemed more real than ever. Not only had He been an eyewitness, He longed for me to reach out for Him. He also wanted to be a part of my marriage.
This was a turning-point for our marriage. I had dug to the root of the problem, and with the Lord’s help, replaced it.
I developed greater compassion and empathy for others who are hurting and became a therapist. As a spouse, I learned to take a frank look at myself in the mirror and take personal responsibility for what I said and what I did. I became aware, through the Lord’s help, of certain behaviors that were detrimental to my marriage, and was able to become a better communicator to my husband.
Ironically, when I look back at that day I made our phone a yard ornament, I realize that I wanted so much for my husband to “get” me, when I didn’t even “get” myself.
No matter the kinds of trauma you have experienced in your life, you can unlearn negative coping mechanisms. It may take the help of a counselor, pastor, or godly friend, but it can happen.
If you’re like me, it may start with being confronted by your spouse. Rather than playing defense, remember you’re on the same team.
Are you like I was, exclaiming, “he should ‘get’ me?” If you are, there are plenty of people that struggle with this common communication error. It’s called “misattribution” and it is one of the most detrimental problems we see couples facing in marriage counseling.
What is “Misattribution?”
Misattribution is mind-reading. It is thinking that you know things about someone without them telling you. It can also mean that you think others should know things about you without you telling them.
Often a mind-reader jumps to conclusions without asking for the facts. A lot of assumptions are made without clarifications. This results in thinking that someone has negative motives.
In my example that I (Laura) mentioned just a few minutes ago, I was pulling double-duty; I was mind-reading that Vincent should mind-read me! Ultimately, I pinned Vincent as the villain because I was not direct with him. I made a lot of assumptions about what I thought he should know.
Oh No, I’m A Mind-Reader, What Can I Do About It?!?!?
First, it’s important to recognize that you may have a history of mind-reading or using misattributions. This could have built up some walls in your relationship.
It will be very important to learn to ask yourself “Do I need more information?” “Could I be missing something?” BEFORE confronting your spouse.
Struggle for Men
A big misattribution for husbands is to assume that their wife is mad at them and that their wife wants them to fix a certain problem. The wife complains to the husband about the issues she faced during the day – maybe the kids, a broken appliance, or the in-laws.
The husband hears these complaints and thinks she wants him to fix it. Sometimes this may be the case, but many times she just wants him to listen. She wants to be understood.
It will also be important to learn to be assertive. This means learning to be direct in a loving manner. It means expressing your feelings clearly without yelling or browbeating your spouse.
Many times people have talking down pat, but they are not good listeners. Consider what the Bible says about confrontation:
Proverbs 25: 8 says, “Do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame?”
Solomon is talking about how foolish we appear when we accuse others or make assumptions about others without getting the facts. He’s also saying we get ourselves and others into unnecessary trouble when we do this.
James, the brother of Jesus, gives instructions on how to talk to anyone, he says:
James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
When we are quick to listen, it means we get more facts. IT DOES NOT MEAN think about what you’re going to say next while the person is talking. You’ll miss out on pertinent information, if you do this.
“Quick to listen” is giving a summary to the other person which shows them that you either understand or not. Don’t tell the person, “I understand”; instead show them you understand with a summary.