In this week’s episode, Matt and I cover 8 common communication barriers that most couples encounter and then explore 7 ways to overcome them.
Because let’s face it: sometimes communication can be difficult. Between the busy-ness of everyday life to major stressors that are bound to occur, it’s not always easy talking to the person who’s going through life by our side.
Eight Common Barriers in Communication:
While these lists are, by no means, exhaustive, they definitely cover some of the major topics that we’ve either seen, experienced or heard other people talk about.
Physical and Mental Health Issues
Changes in Sexual Relationship
Changing Hobbies and Interests
Loss and Grief
Seven Practical Ways to Overcome Communication Barriers:
Scheduling time for both fun and difficult conversations to take place
In the middle of a crisis, put everything else on hold
Keep a Captain’s Log
Take time to really listen
Honor and respect one another’s vulnerability
Own your own issues
Avoid passive-aggressive behavior
To hear how these ideas are fleshed out, tune into this week’s episode.
“Life is full of little mercies like that, not big mercies but comfortable little mercies. And so we are able to keep on going.” – Alma Winemiller
Tennessee Williams; Summer and Smoke
We were sixteen years old when we met.
He was a transplant student, having arrived part way through our Junior year of high school. I was introduced to him along with a group of my friends, as we sat at our usual lunch table. Our theater teacher led him over and told us we had a new student in the drama program, would we please take him under our collective wing and welcome him into our group.
It wasn’t hard to do. He had shaggy blond hair, golden sun-kissed skin and dimples that melted my heart with his first smile.
Within that first year, we did a scene together from Tennessee Williams’ play, Summer and Smoke. He played the naughty little boy, John and I played Alma, the sweet minister’s daughter next door. (Our roles should have been reversed.) In that scene, we had our first kiss, a quick peck on the cheek.
Six years later, we walked down the aisle and promised to love, honor and cherish each other till death do us part. What easy words to say and mean when you’re caught in the throes of love and wonder.
Slightly harder when reality crashes in and you’re suddenly met with the very real fact that your life now includes caring for someone else’s needs more than your own on a daily basis. Oh, sure, you still mean what you said that hot June day, but actually living it out is harder than you’d imagined it would be.
And then one day, those vows get lost in the selfishness of your own desires and soon, the life you’d always imagined you’d build together begins to crack in a thousand different ways until you’re looking at nothing more than a pile of rubble.
When we sat across from each other 15 years into our marriage and decided that we were going to stay side by side and fight for what we’d built, we started with a very practical exercise.
We went back to the beginning.
What made me “me” and what made Matt “Matt”?
We shared stories of our childhoods. Going back to the earliest memories we could muster. We shared the first time we were let down by someone we loved, we shared the moment we first realized that Mom and Dad can’t always protect us from the bogeymen that walk among us. We talked about rejection and shame. We cried over the memories that scarred us, leaving us damaged, broken adults.
And what we realized in the space of a few hours was that, though we’d grown up in different places under different circumstances, we were really, pretty much the same little kid deep down inside.
We were both insatiably curious about anything and everything. We both loved a good story and had rich imaginations. We both felt really small and often unheard in a world full of giants.
Brandy, approx. 5 years old; circa 1978 Matt, approx. 4 years old, circa 1977
What we realized was simple: we were two adults that had been hurt in life as little kids (because let’s face it, we all get hurt in one way or another) and we had carried those hurts and fears into our adulthoods and ultimately, our marriage. Those places of childhood hurt had resulted in us each seeking different ways to fill or replace whatever we felt had been lacking.
It didn’t make us bad people. It just made us broken people.
Seeing each other through a new lens, that of a child has helped us to understand and appreciate each other more. We’re more patient and understanding than we used to be. We recognize more easily when the other is being reminded of a loss or hurt that reaches the depths of the subconscious. We’re gentler, kinder and more sympathetic.
We’re not perfect.
We still have our moments, but more often than not, when I look at Matt now, I don’t just see the adult version that stands before me, with a beard and a job and a mortgage to pay. I see a little 4-year-old, crouched in the barn, with a head full of dreams and a heart already feeling the effects of living in a broken and fallen world.
The two of us sat across the dining room table from one another, working on a jigsaw puzzle of a tiger lurking in the trees. Our voices were calm. We even laughed a little bit as we shared memories of our dating years and talked about where our relationship was currently: broken and on the edge of divorce.
We were less than 3 years into our marriage.
High school sweethearts, we’d met through our drama department our Junior year when Matt’s family relocated to our little town. We’d noticed each other immediately. His shaggy, bleach blond hair and dimpled cheeks shone like a beacon home for me.
It wasn’t until a year later that we’d begun dating and then, only after our friends Jimmy and Joy forced us to have a face-to-face conversation about how we liked each other instead of simply telling everyone else. It proved to be an off-again-on-again kind of relationship for a few years, but once we decided that we meant it when we said, ‘I love you,’ it stuck and wedding preparations were soon underway.
On June 24, 1995, before friends, family, God and one homeless lady who joined the festivities, we gave our vows and celebrated the start of our lives together. We danced, we toasted, we tossed the bouquet and garter. A week later, we loaded all my earthly possessions into the bed of a truck and the trailer we towed behind and drove the 12 hours to our first home together in Ogden, Utah.
(Matt and I, exhausted from all the photos we took after the ceremony.
June 24, 1995. Welches, Oregon)
Pulling in well after dark, it was hard for me to really see what our new town looked like, but walking through the door of our little house-turned-tri-plex, I was overjoyed. It had great charm and it was OURS! Unpacking and decorating was a thrill. As a kid, I’d only ever lived in three homes and two of those were before I was 5, so I’d never known what it was like to actually move. It felt a little bit like playing house.
Our first 2 years in Ogden were full of college for Matt and work for me. We had little to no money but learned how to make the most of instant mashed potatoes, Kool-Aid, and pancakes. When time allowed, we’d pack a picnic basket and head to a local park. When time was tight or the weather didn’t cooperate, picnics happened on our living room floor. By working at the college’s theater, which also had touring companies coming through, we had the opportunity to see and be a part of some wonderful shows and performances, including Ballet West, Christopher Parkening, and Sundance Film Festival.
(Me and Matt hiking in Ogden, Utah. circa 1996.)
It all seemed pretty good. We had our friends, we had our little nest. We had each other.
But lurking underneath was a dissatisfaction growing inside me.
Growing up, what I wanted most in life was to be a wife and mom. Here I was, on the path. Step 1: Get Married. Check. Step 2: Have babies. Not happening.
I’d wanted to get pregnant from the beginning. Matt wanted to wait until he was done with school. Tension was growing, while my belly was not. Health issues from earlier had me worried that fertility might be a problem. Meanwhile, I was seeing people everywhere both getting pregnant and also having abortions. It was heart-wrenching.
Then my world came crashing down in the most unexpected way. My dad, at the age of 48, died of a massive heart attack. He’d been my rock. We shared a love of oldies music, fly fishing and ‘puttering’. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.
(Me and my dad painting the trailer that carried all my belongings to
my new home and life with Matt. 1995)
The week or so that followed is a blur. Matt and I went back to Oregon, we buried and memorialized my dad. My mom, brother and I sat silently together, numb and unsure. Eventually, though, the regular flow of life had to return to normal. Matt returned to Utah, where he was chin-deep in school and work. I stayed behind with my mom, unwilling to leave her side.
Life was untethered and I didn’t know how we were going to survive.
When I finally returned to Utah – I’m not even sure how long I’d been gone – I was restless and anxious. I jumped everytime the phone rang. I couldn’t concentrate. I hated to hear about anyone else’s struggles or problems because it all seemed so petty. I lost any compassion I’d had. And I was angry at Matt.
He hadn’t ‘performed’ the way I wanted him to in the wake of my dad’s death. He shed few tears and in my mind, felt distant and emotionally unavailable. What I then saw as a character flaw, I now know to be a strength. Even though I wanted Matt to mourn with me, what I needed most was for him to be strong and hold me up. He did both. But he did them quietly. I was too lost in my own chaos to even recognize what was happening around me.
Within a few months, I got pregnant and soon thereafter, miscarried.
I was at a complete loss. I didn’t want to be in Utah anymore. I wanted to be with my family and friends back home. I wanted my dad and my baby and I wanted my husband to do more than he was capable of doing for me.
So there we sat. A jigsaw puzzle between us. One thousand pieces of a perfectly destroyed image. And it was our task to put those pieces together, to recreate the picture on the front of the box, the picture that looked so seamless and perfect.
We worked for hours and as we worked, we talked. We reminisced about the day we first met. We laughed about our awkward beginning. We recalled our first kiss and so many kisses after. We talked about our fears and our hurts, our disappointments. We talked at length about the possibility of divorce.
As we talked, the pieces in our fingers began to come together. The edges were formed and soon, the inside picture grew, little by little.
We talked about how much we’d grown up with each other in the 10 years since we’d met. How we’d shared so much of ourselves with each other that we’d never shared with anyone else. We’d already invested so much of ourselves into one another, the thought of having to start over with someone else seemed daunting, at best. After all, despite the struggles we’d endured, we were best friends. We loved each other.
We always would.
Before we knew it, the final piece of the puzzle was set in place revealing not a seamless image, but a complete image. Where the pieces had been cut, there were crevasses as they joined together. It wasn’t smooth as a photograph. But it was whole. And together. What sat between us was a picture, not of a tiger stalking its prey, but a picture of how two separate people with their own brokenness can come together and form a beautiful union.