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Developing Good Communication

Christian – Biblical Communication

Introduction

This paper will explore how marital and family communication can be improved. It will look at some of the ways that communication is distorted in unhealthy families, and how it can be improved. By improving a couples or families guality or guanitity of communication, there will normally be a lessening of conflict, more marital satisfaction, and a generally healthier family system. Communication is accomplished by both verbal and nonverbal means. The healthy family will have to pay attention to both areas. We will also look at how mothers and fathers can communicate in positive, upbuilding ways, which will help to raise their childrens self-esteem.

What is effective, healthy communication? Effective communication says Mack (1991) is, ". . . the process of sharing information with another person in such a way that the sender’s message is understood as he intended it. Unless the sender and reciever have come to a common meaning, they haven’t communicated effectively" (p. 55). Mack is saying that whether the communication is verbal or nonverbal, it must communicate to the reciever, what the sender wants to communicate. Both the sender and reciever must agree on the meaning and substance of what was communicated, or there may be misunderstandings and conflict.

The communication must not only be effective, but it also needs to be healthy communication. Communication that is degrading may be effective in having its intended effect, but will not build a positive family system as praise, and positive, valuing communication would. We will now take a look at nonverbal communication and how it can contribute to the health of a family system.

NonVerbal Behavior

Nonverbal communication can take many forms. It involves everything we do or do not do with every part of our body. Let us take a look at some forms of nonverbal behavior.

One part of our body used to communicate is our eyes. If we look directly at someone as they are talking to us it shows interest and a valuing of the person who is speaking. If we were to continue watching TV, or not look at the person as they talked, they might wonder if we were listening or not. Mack (1991) says:

With our eyes we communicate with one another by the way we look or don’t look at each other. If I avoid eye contact with you I’m communicating. If I roll my eyes when you’re talking to me, you get a particular message. We communicate with our facial expressions, whether a stern look or pleasant. My frowns, my smiles, my smirks, my pouts, my worried or angry or fearful facial expressions all convey a message to you (p. 57).

A spouse can also communicate by what they choose to wear. A spouse who refuses to wear anything their spouse would like them to wear may be saying something. A spouse who cares about his or her spouse may be more likely to dress in a more flattering manner or wear things which please their spouse.

A counselor may look at how clients arrange themselves in his office. They may be saying something important by where they sit, and by whom.

Mack (1991) also says:

People also communicate by their use of time. Show me how you use your time and I’ll know a lot about your values. . . . your actions speack more loudly than words. If you say your family is important to you, but you don’t have time to spend wth them, I’ll know your family is not important enough to you. . . It could be argued that we do more communicating nonverbally than verbally. And since communication involves everything we do as well as say, we are communicating all the time. Even our attempts to avoid communication send their own kind of message. The question is not Will we or won’t we communicate? but Are we communicating effectively? That question can’t be answered affirmatively unless we are sending and recieving the right kind of nonverbal messages (p. 59).

Having seen that everyone communicates either positively or negativily, what are some things that a spouse can do to improve their nonverbal behavior, and to make it say what they really want it to say? The first thing the client must do is realize that they may not be properly interpreting what their spouse is saying not verbally. They have to admit they are fallible. The client should pay attention to his facial expressions. He may be displaying a facial image that others interpret as anger whey he may only be in deep thought. The family needs to work towards a congruence of emotion/thought and outward expression. The client may want to ask his spouse to tell him what they think a certain face means. If they can work towards displaying a congruent nonverbal behavior, then their spouse is more likely to be correct in their interpretation. The person also needs to be honest in their responses to others questions. If they look depressed, and really are, but deny it when asked, they will tend to confuse the person with their incongruent verbal and nonverbal communication. One example might be the way we are conditioned to say everything is great when asked how we are doing. We may be walking around with our heads hanging down, but we feel we must say everthing is going good. Mack (1991) says:

Renaming or relabeling our feelings is another way we evade the truth about them. Instead of acknowledging that we are very bitter, resentful, or angry, we use euphemisms such as, "I’m a little hurt," or "I’m disappointed," or "I’m just concerned," or "I don’t understand." To protect ourselves from unpleasantness, we minimize the seriousness of what we are experiencing. We may even loose touch with our true feelings, insisting that we’re not annoyed, irritated, or angry, when indeed we are. . . . To communicate effectively with other family members, you absolutely must be honest about your thoughts, desires, and emotions (p. 71).

The reciever of nonverbal communication also must be careful of their interpretations of this behavior. It is best to not make a judgment if the reciever is unsure. The healthy family will display congruent and positive, growth inducing behavior. This may include such things as giving lots of hugs, spending quality time with family members, doing things with each other that their spouse likes to do, etc. The counselor will also need to help the family develope a more positive, empathetic way of expressing themselves verbally.

Verbal Communication

Everyone communicates to some degree verbally. The way a person communicates has a lot to do with how they were raised in their family of origen, and the experiences they have had. There are many ways that verbal communication can occur that can lead to either a growing, healthy marriage and family, or to emotional estrangement and disfunction. We will now look at some common pitfalls of verball communication that may contribute to disfunction within a family.

Lack of Verbal Communication

Mack (1991) says, "Perhaps the most common manifestation of "small talk" or what I sometimes call "undertalk" is simply a lack of words" (p. 80). This simply means that a family must actually talk with each other in order for growth to occur. These are the kind of spouses who may come home from work, prop their feet up, and watch TV without saying more than a couple of grunts to their wives. Without talking, they married couple and family will never grow close together. They need to talk not just about the weather, but about "deep" things like what hurts them, future goals, etc. They must disclose that deepest part of themselves, that part which people find scary and a risk to disclose. Closeness will not come without risk.

When a couple first start dating, before marriage, they will often spend hours talking and discussing their most intimat e selves. The problem comes when after marriage, the talking tends to taper off, and the couple start to drift apart. They need to take the time to tell each other such things as what bothers them, how they truly feel about things, "I love you", etc.

Avoiding Topics

Another communication pattern that causes problems is when certain topics are not discussed within the family. These topics sometimes are: sex, child discipline, in-law relationships, finances, job changes, or similar problems. The more certain topics are avoided, the more anxiety and unresolved issues continue to build up. At some point there probably will be a breaking point. The counselor can help the couple to explore these areas together in the safety of his or her office. By exposing the topic to broad daylight, the couple can work together at resolving whatever the relational issues happen to be.

Apathetic Communication

Mack (1991) says:

The message "I don’t care what you think or feel or want or say" can be communicated literally, or it can be conveyed indirectly by a blank expression, inattention, or a lack of enthusiasm in your voice when a family member shares his interests or concerns. In one way or another, the message comes across that you really don’t care what the other person is saying; you are indifferent to him and his ideas (p. 83).

In a healthy family the members will tell each other that they are valuable, worthwhile persons. Part of this healthy communication involves actively listening to each other. This may mean turning the TV off to have a discussion, going for walks together, and anything else where positive, quality communication, can take place. The family members need to acknowedge each other when each has something to say. Each family member must believe that someone is willing to listen deeply to them, and finds what they have to say to be important. If one person makes a verbal contribution to the family, but no one pays attention, it will have a negative affect, especially if it is a habitual phenomenon.

Continuing, Mack (1991) says:

"Small talk" also manifests itself in families suffering from chronic deficit in expressions of appreciation. In such homes family members routinely take each other for granted, seldom if ever thanking one another for simple kindnesses. They act as if they deserve the help and consideration they receive from each other. Favors are considered to be the other person’s duty (p. 84).

If a spouse or family member is treated like a slave long enough, resentment sooner or later may set in. People will try harder, and work harder when they feel appreciated. What are some of the reasons that a family may be experiencing a lack of positive, edifying communication?

Reasons For Lack

One reason people do not communicate as much as they should is fatique. The person may be tired of putting out the effort required to have guality and quanitity communication. The family needs to learn that even if they are tired and do not feel like talking, they should push themselves past the resistance point. Once they start communicating it will get easier.

Another reason is stubborness or a desire to have only what they want. The couple need’s to learn how to focus on the other as being as important as they themselves are. Another reason says mack (1991) is because of a sense of inferiority:

A person feels he has nothing worth saying. He develops the idea that everybody else is much smarter than he is. He is afraid that if he opens his mouth, he might sound foolish, so a sense of inferiority keeps him from talking (p. 85).

The parental coilition needs to prevent this from happening by building their childs and their own self-esteem as early as possible. In order for a family member to disclose feelings and fears, they have to be able to trust that they will not be critizised or degraded in anyway. A child who is constantly degraded and put down, may grow up to do the same things to their own child someday.

Another reason a family member may choose to talk little, is fear. Mack (1991) says:

People hesitate to speak freely because they fear that others may use what they say against them. They realize that if they keep their talk on a superficial level, there isn’t much risk, but if they really open up and share their innermost secrets, others might laugh at them (p. 86).

Christians often feel they must always be spiritual and not admit weakness or sin. Families may also not communicate sufficiently because of what they have learned from their past training, while growing up. They may have been taught as children to be quiet and stay out of the way. A healthy family will not keep certain members from talking or interring into discussions. Family discussions should be common, and the children should be treated with respect, and allowed input. If children are treated with respect, and as worthwhile individuals, they will feel more inclined to offer positive input.

Another factor that may lead to a lack of sufficient communication is being too busy. Mack (1991) says:

The person who continuously uses his busyness as an excuse for "small talk" either doesn’t want communication or is ignorant of it’s importance in his life and family. . . . In reality, the person shows that there are a lot of other things that are more important (and perhaps enjoyable) to him than communicating with his mate and children (p. 88).

A person’s spouse and family will not feel very important to another family member if that member does not talk and communicat adequately with them. If the family sees the father spending more time with his friends or work than with them, conflict may errupt in the family system in various ways or pathologies.

What can a family or marital couple do to help prevent this from happening? Here are a few ideas. First the person wanting to communicate better must do just that: want and desire to overcome the problem. If they are not sure, the counselor may want ot show or teach them how much of a difference it can be. It will also help if the client can pray on a continuous basis about it. This will not only allow God to interact with the client, but it can help just because the client is expressing their feelings, pain, etc., to another person, God. By learning to be open and honest with God, it becomes a little easier to be open and honest with people. The client also may want to read different books and materials that he or she may find of interest. They then have something interesting to later discuss with their spouse or family. They could also think about interesting things that have happened to them growing up, which can be shared. This means of course that the family must be willing to listen to what is being said. If one member in the family system is trying hard to communicate, but no one will listen or work themselves on better communication, it will be difficult to bring growth. If it continues, it is very possible that the client may cease trying to change.

The family might also try something like writing down any questions they may have so that they can be asked during family times. Asking good questions of a spouse or child can make them feel important and happy that you value their opinion, and thoughts, enough to ask. The clients may also want to watch some good video tapes on communication, or observe friends or other they may know who are good at communicating. Any of these new skills the client learns in order to improve communication, must be used on a consistent basis. this new, improved way of communicating may not stick, or be permanent, if it is not practised as often as possible, for a sufficient length of time. The clients may also want to have some kind of a date night each week where they can have several hours in which to talk at length and depth about their relationship, feelings, opinions, etc. The married couple also may want ot set aside a shorter time period each day in which to talk and keep current with each other. It is a lot easier to prevent spouses from drifting apart (if they communicate properly), than it is to repair the damage to the relationship caused by neglect and emotional distance. If the family has nightly devotions together, this time can be a used for quality communication and growth.

Not only does the spouse need to commuicate more, but it needs to be positive communication. Wright (1991) on speaking about how to say positive things to children:

I call them toxic weapons-those cruel, caustic, bitter, degrading and judgmental words we use to hurt our children. They both contaminate and wound, poison and destroy our children emotionally. Our words are often launched as verbal missiles to attack a child’s behavior, appearance, intelligence, competance or value as a person (p. 96).

The apostle James in chapter three, verses eight to twelve says:

. . . but no man can tame the tonque. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poisen. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water (NIV).

Not only can the spouse or family member wishing to communicate more improve by doing certain things, there are also several things the listening spouse can do to encourage the other to communicate more. The spouse will want to pray about the matter and their spouse. The person can pray for God’s help in freeing their spouse from whatever is holding them back. Next the listening spouse needs to provide an atmosphere or system in which the spouse will feel acceptance and respect, without being critisized, or made to feel inferior. Mack (1991) says, "If you want people to communicate openly and freely, you must make it safe for them to open up to you" (p. 93).

Too Much Talk

The opposite of not communicating enough can also occur. Too much of anything can cause problems. There are several ways that too much of the wrong kind of talking by one family member can hurt the family. One way is if one spouse totally dominates the families conversations. A monologue is not what the counselor needs to help them to develope. If someone is constantly talking, it means they cannot be listening as well as they to to be for a healthy family system. If this monopolizing is not corrected, the persons spouse may either stop listening to them, or become resentful that they are never allowed to participate in discussions. This same sort of idea, in a different way, holds true with seminary students. Those classes that allow free discussion, and expression of ideas, tend to be more interesting than if one person talks in a monotone voice for an hour.

Another form of talking too much is the person who gossips about others. Sooner or later the one who is being gossiped about may find out. They may feel hurt or betrayed by the gossiper. They may lose trust in the person who is gossiping. Mack (1991) has a great story:

When I was much younger, a wise individual warned me about a person who was sharing some juicy tidbits with me: "Wayne, remember that the dog that will bring a bone will carry a bone as well." At first you may think you are priviledged in having this person share private information with you. Later you will discover that you have been "had," because you find out that this same person has been spreading evil reports about you to other people (p. 100).

A person can also "communicate" too much if all they do is try to defend themselves. Defensiveness and self-justifying speech on a continuous basis, without proper acknowledgement of faults and sins, leads to imbalanced and unhealthy communication. If a person can not learn from the admonition and insights of others, they cannot grow. Another formof too much (of the wrong kind) of communication is called "take over" speech by Mack. Mack (1991) says as an example, "You’re having a conversation and suddenly the other person interrupts: "wait a minute, you were wrong about some of the details, and you missed some important facts" (p. 102). This is the person who wants to be in charge of a conversation, who wants to be the center of attention, or to feel more important than they are. This lack of boundaries and respect for others can lead to resentment, anger, and withdrawal by the hurt partner.

Another form of too much communication is the person who just rattles on constantly over trivial, insignificant details and things. This kind of person may not allow another to get a word in edgewise. Pretty soon the talking may continue, but real communication will cease as the quiet spouse looses all interest in listening or paying attention. Another problematic way of communicating occurs if a spouse badgers the other spouse, or a child, over a specific topic. Mack (1991) says, "Such a person thinks that persistent harassing is the way to get other people to agree. Initially that may seem to get results, but eventually it is very destructive" (p. 104). Nobody likes someone harrassing them at every opportunity. Someone who is badgering can end up doing this to such a degree that positive communication and affirmation are not spoken.

Some people will only over talk depending on the situation in which they find themselves. I am this way if someone brings up, or asks, which Bible translation I prefer, or which greek text is the best. These are like topic "hot buttons." The problem with this is that others may not be allowed to share the insights they have. This also may cause resentment among others. If a person’s speech is too self-centered, it also can cause problems. The self-centered person does not contribute to commucating effectivily. How can they listen and feel empathetically what others are feeling if they can never take their eyes or thoughts off of themselves.

Reasons For Over-Talk

There may be several different reasons for a high quanitity but low qualitity of communication occurring. One reason is pride, their desire to be the center of attention. Selfishness is also a reason, as is fear of silence. The spouse or client may have a strong anxiety response to pauses or slence in a conversation. This can also hold true for counselors: we must become comfortable with pauses and silence in our counseling sessions. We must work to overcome the anxiety that we feel during those times. Generally, those who talk to fill up silence tend to talk along, or on, negative topics (Mack , 1991, p. 106). People will also sometimes talk too much because they are lonely. They want so badly for someone to care that they are often will talk even more if they do not get the results they want. A spouse may also talk a lot because that is what they were exposed to in their family of origen. These habits or ways of expressing themselves can be hard to change, but it can be done. The counselor may have to work diligently at pointing out when the client is talking too much in an unhealthy fashion. The client may not grasp it quickly at first, but it is vital that they do. Another contributing factor says Mack (1991) is poor listening. For example says Mack (1991):

. . . a poor listener encourages other family members to nag. If a wife were sure her husband listened to her message the first time, she wouldn’t need to repeat it. That doesn’t excuse her nagging, because the Bible forbids such talk. But it does explain the tendency of one person to overcompensate for the other perso n’s inattentiveness by piling up words (p. 107).

Another reason may be a desire for control. They may not seem in control if they allow you to talk. They may be afraid you will talk about an issue they do not know anything about, and as a result they will appear dumb or stupid. They may also use this as a way to avoid talking about specific issues like sex, money, etc.

Prevention

The counselor can help the client in several ways. First the client can be shone if the they have a problem in this area. The client with this problem will also want to pray for God to grant insight and strength to make a change. Next the counselor can help the client to explore the cause or reasons behind their behavior and speech. As the client gains insight into their unhealthy speech patterns, they can then work towards a solution. The client could try such things as paying attention to to their self-talk. The counselor could try using structured communication for both over and under talkers. Friesen and Friesen (1989) in talking about structured communication say:

A technique that can be useful for such couples is structured communication. In this technique, the couple identifies the problem area or topic to be discussed. One partner is assigned the role of the speaker and the other becomes th listener. The speaker gets five minutes to present thoughts-not accusations, blames, or judgments, but why it is important, what are the concerns, and how they might accomplish whatever it is. The listener’s task is to listen. That means he is not talking, nor is he planning what he is going to say in rebuttal. . . When five minutes are up, the listener gets a couple of minutes to ask clarifying questions only. Clarifying questions are ones that ask for more information. . . When clarification is completed, they exchange roles (p. 98).

If the counselor is doing premarital counseling, this is a very good time for the couple to focus on their communication styles and work on ways to prevent problems in the future. Wright (1992) says:

A new but critical goal in premarital counseling involves the communication style. The counselor needs to be able to communicate with the people he/she is seeing and help them to learn to communicate with one another. One of my own personal goals in counseling during the initial session is to discover the person’s style of communication and communicate back to the person or couple in the same way. The principle is very simple. If I speak their language, we will understand one another and real listening will occur. And by doing this, I will have a platform for teaching a couple the importance of speaking one another’s language (p. 81).

References

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Gottman, J., Notarius, C., Gonso, J., & Markman, H. (1976). A Couples Guide to Communication. Champaign: Research Press.

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