Book Excerpts

Can We Talk

Dressed in a fetching black jumpsuit, I was prepared for an evening of a lifetime to commemorate my 30th birthday. Visions of family and friends, good food, and good music danced in my head as I intuitively suspected my husband of whisking me away to a surprise party he had planned.

Married for three years, I was sure my husband had learned hospitality 101 from me by now. I was the “Party Diva” Every special occasion from birthdays to promotions was a reason to celebrate and I threw some great ones. From luaus to fiestas, you name it I’d done it. You never knew what to expect when you came to a Donovan party. But, much to my dismay, this party bug had not yet infected my husband. In fact he hadn’t even developed a fever. How could he not notice all the love and thought I put into each of my grand productions? Down to the last detail. Even the toothpicks in the fruit matched the theme of the event. Identifying the likes and dislikes of the honoree, I always tried to make each gala special by incorporating something special into their day; surprise guests, specially planned meals, all orchestrated to perfection. Now it was my turn.

Traveling the brightly lit roads to our destination devilish thoughts entered my mind. My horns appeared as I heard the voice inside my head say’ “This isn’t the way to the Roof my favorite R&B club. How could he not be taking me there? He knows how much I love it and how much fun we have there. Well, all I know is, if he isn’t taking me to the Roof, he must’ve found something better. After all I only turn 30 once.”

Pulling into the parking lot of a club I didn’t recognize, my thoughts exploded like a time bomb in my head. “Where are we? What kind of place is this? Why did he bring me here?”

I still had high hopes for the evening, but those hopes were soon shattered into tiny pieces like glass from a fragile crystal glass. At this point I wanted to pick up those pieces and cut somebody. My attitude had gone from “kid in the candy store” happy to “woman scorned” evil in a matter of seconds.

The club was loud and brazen, not anything I was accustomed to. The guest list was admirable, but with invitations going out only two days before the event everyone had other plans. The refreshments were okay, but what’s this, my name is misspelled on the cake. “Oh my God, we’ve been married for three years and he doesn’t even know how to spell my name! Could he have put any less thought into this? Think of me any less? He could’ve taken me to Whataburger and bought my favorite Whatameal™ and I would feel more special than I do right now! At least it would’ve required some thought about what I like!”

The honeymoon phase: laughter, love and excitement everyday was over. Reality hit us like a ton of bricks causing us to swell to hideous proportions under the compromise, conflict resentment and deepening frustration that was our marriage.

But wait a minute, had I ever really articulated my wishes to him, my likes, and my dislikes? No, like most women, I expected he would instinctively discern my needs. I wanted him to read my mind. I had broken all the rules of communication. Not having added the proper ingredients of communication, I was now boiling over like a pot of steaming water. The predictable conflict would end as it always did with blaming, yelling, and withdrawing.. Just like other couples, I was a woman and he was a man and we communicated and received information differently. Disagreements were literally unavoidable: finances, sex, priorities, in-laws, and parenting, take your pick each could be selected from the menu as the argument of the day. Sometimes you could get two for one.

I was operating from a preconceived idea that somehow by osmosis, my husband would pick up my penchant for hospitality. The party however was just another piece in a long chain of surface issue arguments that really stemmed from a lack of true discourse. We were disconnected because we didn’t really know how to talk to one another about what was going on in our lives. We were unsure about how to get our points across or how to express ourselves. Eager to say what was on our mind, we rarely took the time to listen. Our comeback was formulated before the other person could finish the sentence. Proverbs 18:13 He who answers before listening that is his folly and his shame “You always” and “I never” were consistent elements of our repertoire: Poor word choices of course because they were too vague and caused us to tune one another out. Both worthy opponents in the blame game, we both new it took one person to start the argument, but neither of us, with our winner take all attitudes, wanted to take responsibility for our contributions.

Rehashing the past became a science for me as I craftily mixed one part reality with one part emotion and came up with a volatile concoction aimed at destroying my husbands fortitude for standing up under the pressure of his past mistakes. Sarcasm and mocking became my weapons of choice. In an attempt to get him before he got me, I used these weapons like a knife going for the jugular every time. Neither of us really thought about our words and how devastating they could be to the other person until well after the squabble was over; our war of words had as its spoils hurt emotions, weakened spirits, and disillusioned minds. These destructive patterns of disagreement from the past left behind emotional scars that were difficult to heal

Struggling often to put my feelings into words after an emotional battle, I would withdraw and shut my husband out with silence just to avoid conflict. Submerging my differences of opinion instead of dealing with them honestly I tried to sidestep the argument because it was painful. I didn’t feel free to discuss frustrations and disagreements with my husband because I didn’t like the outburst it produced. I held back because keeping peace with Keith kept him in a good mood. I had always resisted discussing problems it often left me empty an exercise in futility because efforts to resolve our differences ended in silence or shouting matches, experiences I didn’t care to repeat. So, I’d just sit in my little stew of resentment trying not to raise any sensitive subjects, fearing the resulting argument would degenerate into a verbal battle.

Stemming from feelings of being overwhelmed, threatened, provoked, criticized, or just misunderstood, there were other times I would let go with the force of a charging herd of elephants not caring who was in my path. This out of control self expression can only be likened to the fool mentioned in Proverbs 29:11.

Feelings buried so as not to provoke Keith only stayed buried for the short term. They eventually came to a head. I remembered situations much longer than Keith did, but I made sure to remind him during these tirades. My passive aggressive behavior of nagging and blaming was just as dangerous to our marriage as Keith’s more aggressive behavior. On many nights this led to my lying as far on my side of the bed as I could and Keith would do the same. I’d be thinking about the terrible things Keith said to me spending most of the night unable to fall asleep. Keith on the other hand, exhausted from the raging anger he displayed and thinking about how unreasonable I had been drifted off to sleep. We had developed a habit of allowing our arguments to get out of control. Not resolving the problem gave us an initial feeling of peace and harmony, but it was like a wound that heals on the surface when underneath there’s an infection that needs to be released. No one enjoys lancing the wound, but real recovery can’t take place otherwise. Keith was left with no choice but to assume what was wrong and draw his own conclusions. 99% of the time he was wrong and this only made matters worse as the frustration and negative feelings built up like an old pressure cooker inside me exploded in an uncontrollable fit of venomous verbal assaults because of his inability to figure it out.

Confronted once more with learned behaviors for dealing with marital conflict we had to reframe our thinking, realign the way we handled disagreements to better reflect the pattern God wanted to see. Instead of justifying our behavior we learned how to properly react to disagreements no matter how intense they were or who was at fault. We learned to see through conflict and search for the real issues that were submerged under the surface of our shallow pool of volatile emotions. Bringing God into the conversation didn’t hurt. His wisdom always helped when we couldn’t find the answer on our own. Looking for mutually beneficial solutions and resolutions and calling a time out when one of us was too emotionally charged to continue diffused the situation and led us to calmer more quiet discussions. Each time we worked out a disagreement this way we were better equipped to deal with the next one. It fine-tuned our relationship:

Then there were the times we couldn’t agree. No matter how much we tried we could not come to a mutually satisfying conclusion. Each of us wanted to win the battle and be right. For me conclusion was everything. But we’ve learned over the years every difference of opinion doesn’t have to be settled. We no longer expect to agree on everything. Remembering that our relationship, not the issue, is the most important thing we often ask ourselves if our motives for the disagreement are selfish. If they are we pray about our differences and let them go. After all it was our differences that attracted us to one another in the first place. Just because we had differing opinions didn’t mean we weren’t compatible or that we were drifting apart. We became willing to not get defensive nor to insist on winning at all costs. Agreeing to disagree helped us to appreciate one another’s uniqueness.

Developing and strengthening our relationship was the only refuge for our vacillating marriage: Proverbs 27:17 “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” The iron we were sharpening was cutting away at our marriage rather than strengthening it. Taking the first step, Keith suggested counseling.

Revelation upon revelation came pouring out when we recognized communication as a primary function of marriage. Phil 2:1-4 If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Personal development in the areas of self discipline Proverbs 25:28 Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control and objectivity soon followed.

Focusing on my way as the right way (and sometimes the only way) people do it differently we feel it necessary to correct them. But learning to control our tongue will make a huge difference in our relationship with our husbands. The key to this step is to learn to accept your husband’s differences and to understand that different does NOT mean wrong. If you continue to criticize your husband or redo what he’s done, you undermine your attempts to let him lead.

The other side of controlling your tongue is learning to give praise on a regular basis. You need to learn to look for the good in this man that God has blessed you with, and be open with your praise. Make a conscious effort to look for things that he does or traits that you see in him that are praiseworthy and shower him with these comments. Say things that let him know that you trust and respect him and his ability to lead your household. These statements will make him start to feel like the man of the house again and like the man God created him to be.