Some people are natural communicators. They know how to get across their point of view without damaging their relationship. Others (probably most of us) need some guidance on where to focus and what to steer clear of. If you are looking to learn communication skills that make a difference, the Ten Commandments of Communication offer timeless principles that can help.
The reason I call them “commandments,” is to stress the idea that most people would never think of transgressing the basic principles of our faith like killing, stealing or breaking the Shabbos. Yet, how many couples find it difficult to avoid criticizing each other (and find it difficult to instead use endearing words on a consistent basis)? Couples need a short list of the do’s and don’t’s of how to communicate.
The Ten Commandments of Communication are based upon two principles: (1) to avoid the damaging effects of critical language; and (2) to focus on positive and nurturing words.
On one tablet are five “Thou Shalt Not’s,” and on the other tablet are five “Thou Shalt’s.”
In order to not transgress the rules of your relationship, avoid using the kinds of words listed in the Thou Shalt Not’s. Couples who insult, judge or blame one another damage their relationship and cause unneeded stress to their marriage. In addition, those who insinuate, or who embarrass each other will deplete their emotional savings accounts and cause lasting damage to their relationship. No one likes being criticized, blamed, or belittled for her/his behavior, especially in marriage, where close daily contact necessitates a high level of sensitivity and understanding.
To make a marriage great, you need to fulfill the Thou Shalt’s. They focus on positive and nurturing statements that are caring and empathetic. The Thou Shalt’s encourage couples to empathize and find the good in one another. They are as important to human relationships as are the commandments to believe in G-d, and to not worship idols, important to Judaism and to our relationship with our Creator.
To evaluate how you’re communicating in your marriage I suggest you periodically take a moment to see if you are following the Ten Commandments of Communication. Are your words accepting, friendly, compassionate, and understanding? Or, are they critical, aggressive, insulting or belittling? By looking at figure x, evaluate whether you are transgressing the Thou Shalt Not’s or fulfilling the Thou Shalt’s of communication. If the overall tone of your conversations is angry, critical, or confrontational, you are probably transgressing the Thou Shalt Not’s. If you are using affirmative and encouraging words then you are fulfilling the positive emotional “mitzvos” for one another, and growing closer together each day.
Beginning your conversations with the right attitude is one way to fulfill the “commandments.” In the same way that we meditate about the greatness of G-d and our love for Him before we pray, couples should also arouse a love for one another and think about the importance of their relationship before they speak. The inner message is, “I love you and care about you, and I want to deepen our relationship.” When you begin with the right intention, you’ll have a greater chance of using words that build happiness in your marriage. Having the right inner message may be your best guide in evaluating whether what you are about to say will push your spouse further away or bring him or her closer.
The following principles can also be helpful:
1. Soften your approach to the argument. Be less confrontational in your responses. Instead, make your tone with your spouse soft and tender so your spouse will feel secure. Avoid criticism at all costs! Spouses cannot connect when they tear each other down.
2. Validate what your spouse is feeling, instead of criticizing.
3. Listen sincerely to your spouse. Hear what he or she is really saying.
4. Show an understanding of the heart. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes while listening intently to what he or she says. Then communicate that you see the problem from his/her perspective. Put the argument on common ground by agreeing, “This is our problem.”
5. Be willing to compromise. The relationship is far more important than the issue.
6. Give your spouse attention and affection. Try to communicate statements like, “I’m here and I’m not leaving.” Point out the positive changes your spouse has made in your life.
7. Don’t be afraid to laugh!
Next Week, Part 12, Learning to Say You’re Sorry
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at email@example.com.