Choosing the right phrases when speaking is the key.
By Trish Russell
Have you ever wondered, “Why did we get married?”
I would like to say this question only arose after children were born and we were drudging through the exhaustion of raising small babies. But no. This question arose in the first weeks and months of marriage. Looking back I know a lot of the turmoil and uncertainty were rooted in my recently diagnosed and untreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I finished my commitment with the military, got married, and moved to a new town. A lot of stressors compounded my mental state and led me to doubts.
If you are like me and have ever questioned your marriage, then you know the subsequent thoughts can take a very dark turn. Little did I know a mental exercise could change my outlook and ultimately my connection with my husband. This one thing has made me a better, kinder, and stronger person. More of the person I want to be in difficult situations.
One rule shifted my marriage.
The mental shift that changed my relationship was the way I spoke to and thought about my husband.
This may not seem revolutionary but stick with me for a minute. Do you ever say or think about these phrases?
I wish you would…
Why doesn’t s/he….
None of these phrases are life-giving or the start of a kind thought. Here are some ways to turn those phrases around.
Instead of “I wish you would…” take a few moments and center yourself. Sometimes it takes me an hour or five hours to find a peaceful place inside myself. Don’t rush this step, take your time. When I can speak kindly one of the phrases I use is, “It would really help me if you would…” Then, and this is key, I don’t expect a response or change in behavior. My goal is to communicate my wishes in a loving and kind way. After I’ve done this one, I can do it again. Yes, I’ll have to repeat myself and possibly for the rest of my life. However, I’ve been assured by therapists that this is a normal aspect of relationships. I’ve learned that if I communicate consistently and lovingly change does slowly take place, for both of us.
Instead of thinking “Why doesn’t s/he…” or “If only…” I usually turn on music or a podcast. There really is never a “great” way to channel thoughts like this into a productive place. I’m usually very hurt by what’s happening or am so frustrated I start the comparison game, which never ends in a happy place. If I do choose to say something I’ll say, “It really hurt my feelings when X happened.” And again, I don’t expect a response or change in behavior the first time I communicate. My goal is to make sure I’m using my words well.
Over three years ago I went cold turkey in how I thought and spoke to my husband. The guidance came from the book, “The Love Dare on Day 1”. The first part of this dare is fairly simple. Although love is communicated in a number of ways, our words often reflect the condition of our hearts. For the next day, resolve to demonstrate patience and to say nothing negative to your spouse at all. If the temptation arises, choose not to say anything. It’s better to hold your tongue than to say something you’ll regret. If you’re looking to nurture your marriage or a close relationship, I dare you to take up this challenge. While I still slip, even three years later; I never doubt sharing my thoughts or hurts because I’ve worked out how to accomplish my goals. For the first three months, I just kept my mouth shut, which gave me space to figure out, “How can I share this frustration without being hurtful?”
It’s not easy. You feel like a doormat for awhile. Surprisingly, a few months in, I found the feeling of being a doormat had more to do with my pride, expectations and perceptions. Today I’m a better communicator with my husband who partners with me in pouring into our marriage, rather than feeling like the only one showing up in the day-to-day. In the end, this exercise has helped me reframe the way I see a situation and not only my husband’s actions but other people in my life. The work has been worth it and incidentally has rewired how my brain responds in emotionally charged situations.
NOTE: I am not recommending this for anyone in a verbally or physically abusive relationship.