Communication Traps: Don’t Get Caught
by Deb DeArmond
I’ve been married 41 years. It seems impossible. And how on earth did we make it, when so many others who loved as deeply as we did failed in and abandoned their commitment to become one? The odds were not in our favor. Realistically, the deck was stacked against us in many ways.
We were teenagers with no clue whatsoever of what we were saying “I do” to. There was much to learn.
And the newlywed learning curve is steep.
Making God the center of our lives was the one thing we knew. Had we not done that, we’d have messed it up long ago. The Lord’s been faithful all these years. We’re still best friends and deeply in love.
Recently, in a conversation with a new friend, he asked whether Ron and I still find things to fight about.
Uh, yes. We’re two strongly-opinioned individuals who have no difficulty expressing our perspectives.
He felt better instantly. “Oh good,” he replied. I’m not sure I’d ever believe someone who said, “Of course not. All over long ago.”
“Fight” might be a loaded word for some. Conflict. Disagreement. Dust up. Or as we say, “an intense moment of fellowship.” Whichever term you prefer, it means there’s a difference of opinion and lack of agreement. God’s word helps us understand the importance of agreement in Matthew 18:19: “I promise that when any two of you on earth agree about something you are praying for, my Father in heaven will do it for you” (CEV).
Since agreement is a powerful place to live, it’s essential to work together to find our way back when we’ve wandered.
So as my friend and I continued to chat, he recalled his very first fight with his wife. “We were married a short time, and I can’t remember what we argued about. But the minute she started crying and getting emotional, I was done. It killed me to see her like that. I quickly agreed to do it her way.”
“Has that continued over the years?” I asked.
“Pretty much. I can’t handle seeing her so upset.” He sounded concerned.
“Do you always feel like you’ve come to the best decision? A solution you can fully support?”
He shook his head. “Not at all. I often feel like it ended the discussion before we could even talk about the possibilities. But she can’t go there.”
I nodded. “Do you know what that’s called? It’s manipulation. It’s her way of ensuring she gets what she wants or needs without having to work through the process of achieving agreement. She may not know she does it, but the impact is the same. It shuts you down and the conversation is over.” He looked stunned.
It’s not what he expected to hear. It’s not a conversation I expected to have.
In our new book, Don’t Go to Bed Angry, Stay Up and Fight, my husband and I “unpack” four communication traps.
• Sound (volume, getting loud or over-powering the other)
Each of these behaviors is a form of punishment applied in order to get what we want. “If you won’t do what I want you to do, then I will ( fill in the behavior here).” That’s called manipulation. Every trap on our list is a form of manipulation.
Manipulation is defined as controlling or playing upon someone by artful, unfair, or insidious means, especially to one’s own advantage. In my friend’s case, his wife’s use of sound shows up as emotionalism and crying. Each is both artful and unfair—and it’s certainly an advantage during conflict.
Manipulation is about getting what you want at the expenseof another. What does the Bible say about it? It’s a long list, but let’s hit a couple of the highlights:
• “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
•“No one should look out for their own advantage, but they should look out for each other” (1 Corinthians 10:24).
These aren’t optional suggestions; the scriptures are strongly worded: “Don’t do” and “No one should.” It’s clear that manipulation does not reflect our new birth in Christ and is unacceptable for us as believers—and as husband and wife.
So what do we do when we recognize manipulation in conflict situations?
• Recognize what’s happening and decide it won’t determine the outcome of the situation.
• Acknowledge your spouse is upset or angry or distant. It’s not helpful to dismiss their feelings. Their approach may be ineffective, but feelings aren’t right or wrong; they just are.
• Explain the impact on you individually, and as a couple. Help your loved one recognize how it compromises agreement between you.
• Avoid “you always” and “you never” accusations. Stay in the present.
• Identify the importance of an outcome you can both support.
• Ask to continue the discussion. Offer a break if needed, but set a time to come back together.
The first few times you take this approach, expect some surprise from your spouse. The longer their use of manipulation has worked, the more resistant they may be to recognize it. Successful strategies are tough to abandon.
Most important, pray. Ask God how and when to have this conversation. It may
be best to discuss when all is well and you are not embroiled in a battle.
Remember Amos 3:3 (NLT): “Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?” Pray that God will make a way for you, and the one with whom you are one shares the commitment to unity.
[Deb DeArmond is a highly-experienced and sought-after executive coach and an expert in the fields of leadership, communication, and relationship and conflict resolution. Deb is the co-founder of MyPurposeNow.org, a website for Christian women 50+. She is the author of Related by Chance, Family by Choice and I Choose You Today and Don’t Go to Bed Angry, Stay Up and Fight, written with her husband, Ron. For more information, visit www.debdearmond.com or follow Deb on Facebook (AuthorDebDeArmond) or Twitter (@DebDeArmond).]