Fall in South Florida is challenging for those of us who long for the splendor of the leaves while dreaming of a crackling fire and meaningful conversations. The temperature and humidity are often smothering, so we lower the degree on our AC and light a candle to set the mood.
Our health is often measured by our body temperature. When it rises above 97.8 we begin to exhibit symptoms associated with an illness, go to a physician and often begin some type of medication to treat the symptoms and the disease. When it drops below 97.8 we begin to exhibit symptoms of death and again are treated with medications to improve our condition. Neither is positive. The ideal is 97.8 and usually is an indicator of physical well-being.
Like the seasons and our health, marriage has a relational temperature. Some days are frigid with a stony silence, some are filled with scorched earth verbal exchanges, and others are moderate temperatures with clear skies and happy smiles. Similar to the how global warming (if you are a believer) affects the earth, communication affects our marital relationship temperature.
Research indicates that communication is the number one reason cited for divorce. Men and women have different complaints about their partners’ communication skills. In a recent survey, approximately 70 percent of men who said their marriages ended due to communication problems said that nagging and complaining were the primary issue. About 60 percent of men identified their partners’ failure to show appreciation as the leading communication factor. Over 80 percent of women, however, said that their relationships ended because their partners did not do enough to validate their feelings and opinions. In addition, almost 60 percent of women said that their partners were self-absorbed.
Dr. John Gottman, a nationally-recognized psychologist, states that he can predict with about 90 percent accuracy whether or not a couple will remain married based on how they respond to one another. His premise is that couples regularly issue bids, gambits of sort that invite conversation, laughter, or some response. After years, of videotaping couples in their homes, he found that couples that divorce respond to roughly 33 percent of their spouse’s bids while those who stayed married were responding to their partners bids 86 percent of the time. Couples that responded to 86 percent of their spousal bids also built up a reservoir of positive emotions that allowed them to manage conflict without it escalating and made amends quickly. The amount of time or depth of the communication wasn’t the factor. It was the number of times they responded to one another that made the difference. It was their engagement in one another that determined a long lasting relationship. The frequency of our communication matters.
Webster defines communication as: a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs or behavior. You notice there’s nothing in the definition that says it requires speech. Body language is actually our loudest voice. It’s the unspoken element of communication that we use to reveal our true feelings and emotions – our gestures, facial expressions and posture. Albert Mehrabian undertook an experiment in 1971 concluding that communication, on a face-to-face basis, consist of three separate elements: Words, Tone and Body Language. Words account for 7 percent of the overall message, tone accounts for 38 percent of the overall message and body language accounts for 55 percent of the overall message. Many marriages communicate very loudly in silence. The goal is to grow our communication from silent body language to a verbal conversation that creates an environment of understanding and communion; communion being an intimate fellowship or rapport.
One of the cornerstones of Live the Life is to teach the HOW. Again, most of us know what we’re supposed to do. Life is busy, time is fleeting, so many of us communicate with one syllable words because we’re trying to get to the next place. Our tone is misunderstood because our words are over a text message. Our body language is only as detectable as our connection with face time. So, how do we regulate the temperature of our marriage? How do we go from icy cold or blistering heat to fewer storms, 72 and sunny?
Here’s the How: Daily Temperature Reading
Couples should spend a minimum of 15 minutes per day in an uninterrupted, no phones, focused conversation. The Daily Temperature Reading is a communication tool. It isn’t a tool for a conflict although it will prevent many misunderstandings. This is a simple, yet profound tool for staying in touch that keeps your mole hills from growing into mountains. The word “daily” is key, every 24 hours. Your posture should allow you to set the stage for active listening. Sit knee to knee, maintain eye-to-eye contact and address these seven touchpoints of the Daily Temperature Reading:
- Appreciation – Express at least one appreciation for what your spouse has done in the last 24 hours. No “buts” allowed.
- New Information – This isn’t a time for confession, but in the absence of information, most people assume the worst and our assumptions are often wrong. This is more of an update: “I ran into so and so and they said….” or “I have a board meeting after work and will be late for dinner tomorrow.”
- Puzzles – Don’t assume that you know the answer. If there are things you don’t understand, ASK. “I don’t understand why….” “Please explain what you want me to do again….” When questions and puzzles go unanswered it can lead to trouble.
- Complaints with a Request for Change – This is non-nuclear and should be used as “Instead of THIS, would you do THAT?” Along the lines of “Would you please put your dishes in the dishwasher rather than leaving them in the sink?” No complaining without a request for change. This is limited to a single item not a list.
- Apologies – This is a sincere request for forgiveness for your own mistakes. It’s not the time to point out what your spouse needs to apologize for. “I’m sorry I snapped at you this morning. Will you forgive me?” This expresses humility and honors the other person.
- Prayer Request – Research indicates that couples who pray together stay to together; it’s like pouring super glue all over your marriage. Something specific such as “Please pray that God will establish my thoughts as I prepare for my deposition.” “Please pray about where we should send Mary to school.”
- Wishes, Hopes and Dreams – This can be as simple or extravagant as you’d like. “One day I’d like a home in the mountains” or “I’d like us to have a date night once every two weeks with no one else; no double dates.” Wishes, Hopes and Dreams point to your future together.
This can be accomplished by the speaker going through each step and then your spouse taking a turn or each of you going point by point. (I prefer point by point) Close with prayer and conclude with a kiss. If this is done on a daily basis, there will be days that you don’t have new information or some of the other touchpoints.
Like most concepts Live the Life teaches, the Daily Temperature Reading (DTR) is SIMPLE. Good communication is one of the antidotes for marital stress. Give the DTR a try and monitor the weather of your marriage; a temperature of 72 with sunny blue skies could be the forecast.
I’ve shared what some of the research says about communication.
This is what the Bible says: “But you must put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from our mouth” (Colossians 3:8).
“…for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech” (I Peter 3:10).
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6).
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18: 20-21).
Live the Life has a card the size of a credit card with the Daily Temperature Reading touchpoints on it. We give it to all the couples that participate in one of our classes. We tell them when someone asks them “What’s In Your Wallet?” the answer should be the DTR card. It saves marriages and money!
If you’d like a card, please email me at [email protected] with your contact information and we’ll put one in the mail to you.
Thanksgiving Blessings to you and yours. Next month we’ll explore what it means to listen.
Lisa May is the Executive Director of South Florida for Live the Life South. Live the Life exists to strengthen marriages and families through healthy relationship education beginning in middle school through senior adults. For information visit LivetheLife.org.