Communication Tools That Work
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Rob and Gina Flood talk about the communication skills they learned that turned their isolated marriage into a relationship of true oneness.
Communication Tools That Work
Bob: Have you ever, in the middle of marital conflict, called a timeout/taken a break? Rob Flood and his wife, Gina, say that’s a great technique to employ when we’re not communicating well with one another.
Rob: Just because a conversation has started doesn’t mean it has to end. If it goes south, it doesn’t mean you have to keep going in that direction. You can pause; go to your neutral corners, if need be, for 15/30 minutes. Come back together; say, “I don’t know how the conversation’s going to go, but I’m ready to take your hand now.”
Gina: I think those ten or fifteen minutes, how you use that time, is key. If you use that time to nurture bitterness/anger—rehearse unhelpful, unkind words—you’re going to come back and you’re still not going to be ready to continue or move forward in the conversation. I think that time really needs to be used with the Lord, and laying that out there before the Lord, so that He can soften you.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 1st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There are tools or strategies we can employ, as husband and wife, that can help us do a better job of loving one another when we’re not communicating well. We’ll talk about what those are with our guests, Rob and Gina Flood, today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I forget where I saw this or heard it, but somebody had an illustration one time—there was a couple pictured in conflict with one another—they’re shouting at each other; and somebody says, “You need to calm down.” The other person says: “I can’t calm down! I’m just angry!” Then the phone rings, and the person who’s in the middle of it—you’ve seen this; right?—
Bob: —[In a pleasant voice] “Hello.” All of a sudden, “Hello,”—something about the phone ringing or the doorbell—they can, all of a sudden, stop the anger that they were in.
Dave: We all do it; we all do it.
Bob: We’re talking this week about communication and about how we can do better in marital communication; because if you’re not communicating well, you will be in isolation in marriage. Communication is one of those fundamental skills we spend time, at the Weekend to Remember® getaway, talking about communication all weekend long; because this is not something that we receive a lot of formal training in. Yet, there are some things that the Bible says about communication that can absolutely be a paradigm shift for your marriage and move you from isolation back toward oneness.
We’re got Rob and Gina Flood to talk about this. Rob/Gina, welcome back.
Gina: Thank you!
Rob: Thanks for having us.
Bob: Rob and Gina were a part of FamilyLife® staff back a decade ago. Rob has written a book called With These Words, where you unpack five communication principles or tools that you learned over the course of your marriage.
We’ve talked about a couple of the tools this week. The tool of First Response, which you said was the ability of the other person in a communication engagement—the second person really determines how that engagement’s going to go—right? How you respond to whatever your spouse says determines whether things escalate or de-escalate.
Dave: You know, one of the great things about that principle—a lot of people don’t talk about that—because you always think, if somebody starts something, you just respond and it goes somewhere—but when you’re in a marriage or you’re in a situation, and your spouse or somebody says something that hurts or starts to escalate—right now, because I now have this tool of First Response, I’m now in decision mode.
Rob: There’s a lot of power you have right there, Dave; there’s a lot of power.
Dave: Yes, I have a choice to make! It isn’t, “I have to react”; it can be like: “Wait, wait. I’m the first responder. I’m going to determine where this goes.”
Now, everything in me is going to say, “Okay, here we go,”; but maybe it’s like, “Oh, no; I’m going to pause; I’m going to pray,”—which is the second tool—and it could change everything.
Rob: That’s right.
Bob: Prayer, as you said, is that second tool; and that’s praying for our spouse, that’s praying with our spouse, and making that central to what we do.
The third tool you talk about is the power of Physical Touch. There is something in reaching out and taking the other person’s hand in the middle of communication that somehow changes the scope of our communication.
Rob: Yes—not only in the middle of communication—if you know you’re going to be sitting down to a difficult conversation, taking someone’s hand—or it could just be sitting close, where you’re touching; it could be we’re on opposite sides of the couch, but her legs are stretched across mine—some type of nonsexual, intimate touching, where it’s safe and you’re connected.
When the conversation starts to go south, the first thing you’ll notice is that you shift your position so you’re not touching. It won’t be raised voices, typically; it won’t be harsh words. You want some distance to make room for the sin you’re planning to deliver. [Laughter] It’s instinctive; it’s hard to stay intimately connected to somebody you’re about to attack.
So, when you realize, “We’ve stopped touching,” it’s time to call, “Time out,” and apply tool number two: “Pray that the Lord would restore unity. Somehow we’ve started to get on different sides of this thing.” Pray, reconnect, and start over again.
Gina: You know, I have noticed, over the years, that if I feel like I want to move away, I will tell him; because I could force myself to sit—I mean, here I am with the guy who created this tool; right? [Laughter] There’s no way I’m moving!
Ann: And you want to say, “Don’t touch me!” [Laughter]
Gina: That’s right. There’s no way I’m releasing his hand or moving my feet, so I will tell him—I’ll say, “Okay, I want to release your hand; so let’s back up and figure out where we are.”
Dave: You guys actually do this.
Ann: So you are close enough that you are taking one another’s hands as you are talking.
Rob: Yes, absolutely. We’ll sit at the same table. All the Italians do their serious conversations at the kitchen table.
Sometimes it’ll be on the couch. If we are talking in the car we’ll reach across the console and take hands if it’s going to be a difficult conversation. Or if we sense I didn’t expect this to be hard but it’s starting to get hard let’s take hands and let’s start to monitor how we are doing in this conversation.
Bob: There is something profound and powerful about this but you imagine a couple in a situation if it’s escalated and if one spouse says, hang on, come here. Let me hug you for a minute. There is something de-escalating just about that.
Rob: It is important to say that this tool ought not be forced on a spouse.
Rob: It could be that you’ve gotten to a place in the conversation that applying this tool—the opportunity for it was 20 minutes ago. You don’t want to force this on somebody. There are other tools we can start using that can really help once things really blow up; but if the spouse is open to it, it’s very restorative/very de-escalating.
Dave: Yes; is there ever a time you feel like it’s too early? I’ve said something that’s really hurt her—hypothetical, because I’ve never done this—[Laughter]—or I’ve been hurt by her; and she’s reaching out to say, “Let’s hold hands as we…”; and I’m like, “I can’t; I’m hurt.” Maybe ten minutes/fifteen minutes, there’s a moment, where like: “Okay, she heard my hurt. She’s starting to realize how hurt I am,” and then there’s a—so I’m asking you and, then, I’m going to respond.
Again, I’m not feeling like I’m being disobedient; but I’m just not ready to touch her hand yet, because I’m really living in pain. Talk about that. Could it be too early? I love the fact that you say, “Ask; don’t just force it.”
Rob: Yes; ask and be honest. I’m thinking, in that illustration you just gave, the greatest mistake we make is we actually aren’t honest in love. We’re honest in anger: “You hurt me; I’m not allowing you in to do that.” But wait a second; if you can be honest in love and say, “I know what you’re doing there, and I appreciate it; I’m not ready for it.”
It’s okay; call a timeout. Just because a conversation has started, doesn’t mean it has to end; right? If it goes south, it doesn’t mean you have to keep going in that direction. You can pause; go to your neutral corners, if need be, for 15/30 minutes. Come back together; say, "I don't know how the conversation’s going to go, but I’m ready to take your hand now.”
Gina: I think those ten or fifteen minutes—how you use that time is key. If you use that time to nurture bitterness/anger—rehearse unhelpful, unkind words—you’re going to come back, at the end of those ten to fifteen minutes, and you’re still not going to be ready to continue or move forward in the conversation. I think that time really needs to be used with the Lord, and laying that out there before the Lord, so that He can soften you.
Bob: That’s so good, because you’re absolutely right. In a timeout, somebody can go: “Okay, this is a recess from the court proceeding. I need to get my notes together and put my case together so that, when we come back, I’m ready to persecute and prosecute more,” instead of saying: “Okay, I have a timeout. I’m going to spend time with the Lord. ‘Lord, what do I need to do in this situation?’ and ‘How should I approach this?’” Time in the Scriptures—even opening the Bible and just reading passages from Scripture as you process this—and let the Lord soften your heart.
I’m guessing that both of you are not stuffers—who, in conflict, will just kind of go quiet on each other—but that you’re both expressive with one another/passionate people?
Rob: We are expressive and passionate. We aren’t yellers, but we’re both very articulate and eager to be so. [Laughter]
Gina: Now, he’s far more articulate than me. That was something that I needed to learn, when we were first married; because we would have conversations, and he was so articulate and so persuasive. Every single one—I would lose every single conversation. Until, finally, after a time, I’m like: “Wait a minute; wait a minute; wait a minute. I think this is just how he’s communicating.”
I think we had one conversation, where I said: “Uh-uh. No, no, no. I am right, and we’re not done with this conversation until you agree that I am right.” [Laughter]
Rob: But she did say, “We have to slow down, so my mind can figure out why.”
Gina: Yes; he needed to learn—that’s so good, babe—because we needed to learn how to communicate with each other. He needed to learn that I need that time to process what he’s saying; I’m not going to come up with a quick response. I need silence, so I can think about what he said. He needed to learn to get comfortable with that silence; so that, I could have that space and time to think and not be anxious or angry because I was being forced to come up with an answer so quickly.
Dave: And you need to give your spouse, or the other person in this communication or conflict, time; right? The question is, “How long?” I know for Ann and I—she would be you, Rob—she would be better and quicker to know what she’s feeling in this conflict. As we’ve said earlier, she would blurt it right out, without thinking.
Ann: And I would know what I felt right away—I know what I’m feeling; I know what I did feel; and I think I know what I’m going to feel tomorrow; you know? But I would say to Dave: “What do you think? What do you feel? What’s going on?” He would say, “I don’t know.”
Gina: That was too many questions.
Dave: I can remember, early in our marriage, she would just say, “So what do you feel right now?” I felt like, “I’m the dumbest guy in the world, because I don’t know.” She would be like: “Yes, you do! You know you know! What is it?!” I’m like, “I actually don’t know.”
But guess what? I discovered I knew an hour or two hours—sometimes I knew after a good night’s sleep. We had this idea that Ephesians 4—“Do not let the sun go down on your anger,”—meant that you couldn’t ever go to sleep without resolving this thing. I realized one night, at nine o’ clock—I’m like, “The sun already went down; I have till tomorrow night!” [Laughter] You know, “I’ve got a whole almost 24 hours.” But no; it was like: “If we can talk about this in the morning, I will know what I feel; and now we can communicate.”
But you don’t want to let it go a week; right? You have to deal with it pretty quickly.
Rob: It goes into that bigger picture: “What are you a part of?” If you realize we’re building something for decades, it’s okay if the conversation takes an extra day.
Bob: Yes; let’s talk about the last two tools. The tool of Mirroring—explain what that is.
Rob: That’s slowing a conversation down enough to make sure what has just been said to me is understood in the way it was meant. Gina will say something; oftentimes, couples—including us—can end up fighting about something that was never really meant to be communicated. Gina will say something; if I read tone or intention into that that’s not accurate, I end up having an argument with a woman I’m not even across the couch from, because she didn’t even mean that.
If we find ourselves tripping over communication regularly, this can be a great tool to put into place. Gina says something—she says, “You know, Rob, I’d love for you to come up with a plan to work with one of our kids.” I’m hearing, “You think I’m failing,”—and so—“What about the plan I came up with last time?” I just responded in a harsh way, that’s escalated, and took this in totally different direction than she was hoping.
The tool would say: “Okay, so are you saying that I’m failing, again, as a dad?” “No, no, no; that’s not at all what I’m saying.” This tool is only successful if we give the power of interpretation to the person who actually said it. If she realizes, “Okay, I chose the wrong words; because Rob’s giving me a meaning I didn’t intend,” I’m giving her a chance to restate it/to say it differently.
Bob: I love it how you talk about this in the book. You said, early on, when you started trying to practice this technique of mirroring, you would say something; and Gina would say, “Here’s what I hear you saying,” and you’d hear it back and you’d go, “That sounds harsh, and that sounds rude.” You tried to re-explain, and she’d say, “Well, this is what I’m hearing now.” “Well, that sounded harsh and rude.” It took you awhile to recognize, “I’m sounding harsh and rude!” [Laughter]
Rob: Right! She was right; she was right. She was interpreting me far better, even, than I was; but she was patient to let me try four or five different times instead of saying, “You idiot,” and then escalating. “No, we’re going to keep working this tool. We’re going to keep doing this, because we trust that God’s going to work through this”; and He did, but it took my dense head four or five times to hear, “Wait a second; maybe she’s right.”
Bob: The last tool you talk about is the tool of Proper Timing. This is an important part of making sure we’re going to be heard well; isn’t it?
Rob: It is; it flows out of those four words in Ephesians 4: “…as fits the occasion.” There’s actually a time/a right time for words. If this is an important conversation, we need to have it at the right time: “Have I just come back in from work? Am I just acclimating to the family?—is that the right time?” “As she’s getting dinner prepared,” or “As we’re getting our youngest ready for bed, is that the time to crack open into a big conversation?”
Bob: And “Am I ready to express myself in a godly way?”
Rob: That’s absolutely right.
Bob: “Have I prayed about this? Have I really meditated on what’s the best way to say this?”—rather than just—“I’m feeling it right now; therefore, we must have this conversation right now.”
Gina: —because you may feel different. If you have to wait, that is God directing you—for whatever reason, God is directing you—and sometimes that may be because God has things to do in you before you have that conversation.
Rob: There are times, when something invades our family—a crisis or where you just can’t choose the time—where this tool becomes unhelpful; you just don’t get to use this tool. Then is the best time to take hands with the tool of Physical Touch, to pray, and to deal with this thing that can’t be put off. Sometimes the timing can’t be altered, but the other tools are there to help.
Gina: There was a time, where we had been doing these tools—sometimes consciously; sometimes unconsciously—but he is a night person; I am a morning person. I am not a night person; so we’re lying in bed, and he’s telling me about a struggle that he’s having. I’m so tired! [Laughter] I’m like: “Okay, honey, can you just tell me what you want? Do you want me to ask you questions and draw you out?—or can I just tell you what your sin is?” [Laughter]
Dave: What was your answer?
Rob: Oh, I wanted the latter; because I needed to get there eventually. [Laughter] I knew what she was saying: I knew it was late; I was struggling and felt like, “Okay, I want the counsel of my wife; but I don’t have time for her careful counsel”; so she just went for the zinger.
Gina: We wouldn’t have done that earlier in our marriage, but we are in a place, by the grace of God, that we can have that now.
Ann: Hey, let me ask you—I had a phone call with a woman yesterday—she’s been married 15 years. She’s been working on her marriage with a husband that has been not very involved; he hasn’t been applying a lot of the truths you’re talking about. They both go to church; but in her words, “I’m really the one doing everything, and I’m tired and I’m weary of being the only one that’s working on our marriage.”
What would you two say to that person, that’s listening, thinking, “I’m tired of being the only one, because my spouse really isn’t investing anything”?
Rob: Not knowing her situation specifically—just broadening and generalizing that—first of all, I want to have compassion on that; because that’s a real place. There are lots of couples out there, where each spouse is not shouldering an equal weight. I’d also want to encourage her that she belongs to a Savior, who sees, and who knows, and is eager to give her a double portion of grace to shoulder the load that’s been given her as she walks with Him.
Then to encourage her on the ways we’ve seen her grow—to let her know that all of this labor is not in vain. I don’t know if this one has children or not, but how it’s setting a wonderful example, where the kids will remember a mom who was careful with her words, a mom who woke up each day and was willing to walk with Jesus and entrust this difficult marriage to the Lord.
I would also encourage her, if she hasn’t done it already, to ask her husband if they can go for help—if they can bring this up in a small group, where there could be a mentor there that could help, or a pastor that could sit and help walk them through some things—bring some help, equipping, and accountability to her husband that doesn’t have to come through her. Those are the some of the thoughts that come to mind.
Dave: Yes; I love everything you’ve written in your book. I think these tools are very, very practical, biblical; they’re really going to help couples. You know, as I got to the end of your book, one of the things I loved was the vow/sort of the communication vow. I thought, “Why don’t you read it?” This is something we should post on our website, and couples can put up on the fridge or frame it and remind themselves of the vow of communication.
Rob: With These Words, a “Communication Vow”:
With these words, I will seek to build you up rather than tear you down.
With these words, I will do all I can to reiterate what you mean in a way that honors and respects you.
With these hands, I will touch you caringly, seeking unity, even through the hardest conversations.
With these eyes, I will look on you tenderly, avoiding judgment and scorn.
With these ears, I will listen intently to understand what you’re trying to say.
With this heart, I will seek to love the Lord first and foremost, loving you all the while.
With these words, I will share grace, mercy, and forgiveness as it has abundantly been shared with me by our Savior.
With God’s help, our communication will draw us more closely together for the good of our home and the glory of God.
Gina: You do that so well. We didn’t start there, but you do that so well.
Bob: That’s the message—that: “If you’re not there, you can get there.
Rob: That’s right.
Bob: “You can move from where you are to a place where this is how you’re going to communicate with one another: by applying God’s Word, with the power of the Holy Spirit, humbling yourself, saying: ‘This is what we want. This is what both of us are aiming for, so let’s approach our communication differently. Let’s do it differently than our passions tell us to do it, than our instincts tell us to do it, than our family baggage tells us to do it. Let’s do it the way the Scriptures tell us to do it, and let’s watch the transformation happen in our relationship.’”
Guys, thank you for the time; great to see you. Thanks for writing the book.
Gina: It has been such a treat!
Bob: Great to have you guys here.
Gina: Good to see you.
Bob: Yes, you too.
We have copies of Rob’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go online to get a copy of With These Words: Five Communication Tools for Marriage and Life. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY. Again, the book is called With These Words by Rob Flood. You can order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy.
These are days when all of us need to be re-anchoring our hearts and minds in the truth of God’s word in God’s providence and His providential care for us. It’s easy to become fearful or anxious. Jesus in the sermon on the mount said, “Don’t be anxious about your life. About what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink or about your body what you will put on it. Life is about more than food, and the body is about more than clothing.”
He’s reminding us that we need to be spiritually minded in the midst of present challenges that we are facing in this life. I hope all of us during this season of heightened anxiety in our lives and in our culture are pointing one another and pointing people in our community to the only real source of hope we have. Our hope in Christ.
You may have heard of a document from church history called The Heidelberg Catechism. The very first question in that catechism is, “what is your only comfort in life and death?” We are living in life and death days. The answer to that question is I am not my own but I belong with body and soul both in life and death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. He’s fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood. He’s set me free from the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head. Indeed all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.
That’s where our hope is found. In Christ. I hope during these anxious days you are renewing your mind and setting your mind on things above not on things of earth. And rejoicing in the reality that you belong to Christ. Let me just say if you don’t know Christ let me encourage you to go to our website familylifetoday.com. There’s information available there about how you can deal with your anxiety and find comfort by becoming a child of God by surrendering your life to Jesus Christ. Again, go to our website familylifetoday.com or call us if you’d like to know more about what it means to be a Christian.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about one of the ways that life can get complicated for blended families; and that’s in the area of finances and money. Ron Deal, who gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended®, is going to be with us to talk about how blended families can be proactive to make sure money doesn’t become an issue in their blended marriage. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. He got some help from our friend, Mark Ramey. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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