Monday, March 18, 2013

The Art of Communication

What image comes to mind when you think of 'art'? Do you see a Monet or Di Vinci? A painting or a sculpture? Whatever the piece is, I'm sure its the beautiful, breath taking finished product that's in your mind's eye and not the chaotic artist's studio that the work of art came out of. Communication, especially communication in marriage, is very similar.

Mr. Awesome and I receive comments and compliments on our teamwork all the time. People see us respecting each other, valuing each other's opinions and supporting each other. What they don't see is the chaos that has lead up to the harmony, the hours of hashing things out so that we can be a team, the endless conversations that frame our respect. Last night, we stepped into the artist's studio, we made a mess but this morning we were able to enjoy our latest masterpiece.

That sounds so poetic and constructive and lovely, how I said that just now, but the truth is we had a heated discussion. An intense fellowship. A forceful conversation.


We argued.

Yes, its true ... This Random Mother and Mr. Awesome still argue. We often disagree and we don't always keep our cool during those times and last night was one where we broke all the rules, or very nearly broke all the rules.

During our first year of marriage we went to marriage counselling and a large part of the time we spent there was dedicated to learning how to communicate with each other and how to disagree with each other. We were given a few simple rules about how to argue and live to love another day. Over the last 15 years we've added to these rules from our own life experience and now we have some set boundaries on how to work out disagreements. This works for us. Usually. When we follow the rules.

It took us a while but we did get back on track last night and we were able to go to bed without anger and with a better understanding of what we each need from each other. The turning point in our argument was when we both started remembering the rules and returned to 'fighting fair'. So, if this helps someone, awesome, if not ... just chalk this up to more ramblings of a random woman. But here it goes ...

Rules of The Artist's Studio (aka How to Fight Fair)

1. Don't dive in after dark. We try very hard to stick to this one. We have realized over the years that nothing good comes out of bringing up an emotionally charged issue after a long day of working, parenting and spousing. Rarely is an emotional issue urgent, its usually something that pops up in your marriage time and again so its safest to table these issues to when both partners are not exhausted and more apt to say something less than constructive.

I get this is a tough one when you have kids because you're never alone until they're in bed but here's a few tips we've done through the years to stick to this rule. We call an 'Out of Bounds,' which is basically a grown up time out. We let the kids watch TV or a movie and we go to our room to talk. We also schedule lunches together while the kids are at school or for several years we had a standing 90 minute date once a week at the neighbourhood Starbucks. However you do it, carve out purposeful time when both people are alert and ready. Bedtime is not the time for heavy conversation.

2. Stay on topic. Admittedly, I have a hard time with this one because in my mind one thing leads into another and another but before you go off chasing rabbits to make your point remember what the issue is in this moment and stick to it. I've discovered that once I go off topic and start grasping at straws to build my case I make it nearly impossible to find common ground again. We have a saying in our house, "We all can't go to Crazytown, someone has to stay behind to show us the way back!" and I assure you, straying off topic during an argument is the first step toward Crazytown!

3. Know Your Purpose. Why are you arguing?

Do you genuinely disagree on a certain topic or incident or are you just being cranky and argumentative? Be honest.

Are you having this discussion to put your partner in their place, to prove how wrong they are or are you trying to communicate your perspective and your needs? Be honest.

Are you fighting to win or are you striving to make your relationship better, stronger, healthier? Be honest.

If you are just being cranky, are trying to put your partner in their place or are just plain going for the win stop talking. Exhale. Apologize. Move on.

If you genuinely disagree, are attempting to communicate your needs or are trying to improve communication in your relationship  stop talking and ask yourself if what you are saying is honest, respectful, necessary and affirming. If the answer is yes, then make sure your tone is communicating as loudly as your words. If the answer is no then revisit the purpose question.

4. Fight the flight. Maybe its just me, but whenever Mr. Awesome and I really get into it I would rather sleep on the floor of the garage than next to him and the very last thing I want to do is make gentle physical contact with him but this rule is an absolute for us. We do not sleep apart out of anger and if things are really getting emotional then one of us has to be the bigger person and reach out to the other. Hold a hand, rub a shoulder, something to bridge the gap.

We have found that if we reach out to each other physically during an argument that the whole situation deescalates. There is healing power in physical touch, there is an instant reminder of safety, friendship and family when your partner reaches out to hold your hand even though you're angry. Try it. Seriously.

5. Choose your weapons carefully. Words have power so we have a strict no name calling, no personal jabs, no tear down rule when we are in conflict. Absolutely none. Not ever. We're grown ups and like it or not we have to act like it. Even when we're mad.

So last night, things went off the rails for a while but in the end we remembered the rules, we remembered that we really do love each other, respect each other and want to create art with our lives. And like I said, art is created in the middle of mess and chaos but the artist always has the finished product in mind

So do I. And So does Mr. Awesome.

A happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. -Ruth Bell Graham

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