Dysfunctional Communication (Part 3)

Part 1Our First Truce

Part 2 – Emotions

This post is the final installment of my series on Dysfunctional Communication.

Part 3 – The Truce Box Talk

truce 2

Perhaps this last part would have been better titled, Rules of Engagement, as that is what we were really attempting to do:  To actually engage each other in our own grievances.  But I had already chosen The Truce Box Talk sooooo, I went with that one.

First things first.  It’s presupposed that if you are reading this far in the series that you and your spouse have made the decision that you are going to fight for your marriage, regardless of where that journey may take you.  That was the place where Darrell and I had ended up, between the proverbial rock and hard place.  It was not good, but once you’ve removed the idea of divorce from the table you are left with only 1 logical option, fight for your marriage no matter how bad it is.

Our marriage is living proof that necessity really is the mother of invention.  That invention was our Truce Box.

The truce had served its purpose – there was peace.  But now we were going to move onto the next step:  Engage in conflict.  This was scary.  When you get to this level of dysfunction in your marriage, things have gone unsaid for so long and there are so many problems, that it’s almost unbearable to broach them.  The emotional weight attached to each one makes it seem impossible to lift onto the table of discussion.

Press on.

Accept that it’s going to be messy and hard …

but not undoable.

Some things are going to be very difficult to say and some things will be even harder to hear.  The Truce Box Talk is not about being right or wrong; but being safe.  Think of it as being in a meeting at a boardroom table with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as the CEOs.

Its purpose is to allow naked communication by stripping away the feelings and emotions that come from conflict.  Clearing away all of the confusion, assumptions, miscommunications and misunderstandings.  The first few times it will feel awkward and disjointed, kind of like learning a new dance to a song you’ve never heard.  But with practice you become a more skilled partner.

And now, our Rules of Engagement:

RULE 1 – Public Location

Public was safe, for both of us.  I was safe from Darrell’s angry aggression and he was kept safe from my verbal tirades that lead to emotional unravelling.

There is a certain standard of polite behaviours that society expects from its adults, we could sum them up in the word civilized.  Being out in public forced us to be on our best behaviour with each other.  We were able to speak freely but it had to be done with care and dignity, which is the way we should have been speaking all along.

Rule 2 – Honesty

Honesty with each other and self.  Sounds pretty straight forward and simple, but it’s not so easy.  Honesty takes courage.  It meant we each had to be brave enough to reveal our real thoughts.  Courage to believe that it didn’t matter what the other thought, only what God thought.  There is no faster way to kill communication than by the fear that’s rooted in self-consciousness.

Rule 3 – Acceptance

This rule was based on the premise that everything goes.  This meant that whatever Darrell said, I accepted as true and real – to him.  And vice versa for me.  It’s drilling down on the idea that each other’s hearts are more important than who is right.  It’s rooted in others before self rather than self-seeking.

  • Hearing and accepting – NOT defending, NOT arguing and NO rebuttal
  • Trying to put yourself in the shoes of another to really understand
  • Listening with the intent to validate

Rule 4 – Freedom

Not all things were settled when they were first broached and most things relational are just not cut & dried.  Old habits of relating die hard and new ones take time to develop.  If When either of us fell back into old ways of responding reacting, we gave each other the freedom to say, “You are still doing it.”  Or, “You did it again.”

In the beginning there was a temptation to disregard the rules of engagement that we had established.  This generally meant that one of us would delve into conflict on the spur of the moment.  We gave each other the freedom to invoke a truce, even if it was the one who started the conflict in the first place.

The truth box talk is not about

  • saying your say to get your way
  • making a decision
  • who makes decisions
  • what is the right decision

… but is about

  • learning how to arrive at solutions together
  • working as a team
  • growing in unity through trust and peace
  • striving for maturity

In Summary

It has been humbling to put pen to paper (so to speak) and relive this pivotal time in our marriage.  As I walked down the halls of my memory I was reminded again just how fragile people can be.  How easy it is to become self-centered, or to misread a heart and assume the worse in our spouses.  How we need to be on guard against the wiles of the enemy as he seeks to trespass between husbands and wives in an effort to destroy our marriages.  I was reminded that if either of us had given up on God and walked away because of conflict, trials and tribulations in our marriage, neither of us would be experiencing the abundance of the blessings of faith, strength and unity that we now have.  Thank you for reading and giving me the opportunity to relive it.

The single biggest problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place. –George Bernard Shaw


Dysfunctional Communication (Part 2)

If you missed the first installment, Part 1 – Our First Truce, you can find it here.

Part 2 – Emotions

truce 1 copy

We didn’t decide who was right or wrong that night.  Instead, we agreed not to be offended at anything the other person said.  We agreed to just talk about our emotions instead of actually feeling them.  We were both guilty in our own areas of dysfunctional relating, and were both contributing to the destruction of our marriage and the disruption of the regular living of life in our home.

We determined that it was our emotions that were stopping us from reaching any conclusions or resolutions.  So what we did was put them away!  Not neuter or bury them:  put them away.  Your emotions belong to you and you alone – they have no business in the arena of conflict resolution.  Yes, you can say how you feel (or felt), but you cannot feel it.

In Bob Burg’s new book, Adversaries into Allies, I like how he says, Control Your Own Emotions.  This fact is applicable to all relationships not just in business, and especially in a marriage.  If there’s any hope to finding the synergy that evolves from healthy conflict resolution, you must take ownership of your own feelings.  Skip Prichard did a stellar review of Bob’s book, you can find it here.

Identify your own emotions

Darrell’s main problem was anger, and mine was fear.  He would react by blowing up, while I would react with crying followed by emotional distancing (shutting down).  I would then brood over it and come back around to attack* on a different day with a different angle – he would blow up, I would react by crying then shutting down.  I would brood over it and come back around to attack on a different day with yet a different angle… Rinse and repeat — again.

I felt he never heard me and he felt I never listened to him.  We were both right!  Neither of us were listening or hearing because both of us were taking the emotional cues to defend and protect the turf of our own opinions.  I blamed him for making me shut down emotionally, and he blamed me for making him angry.  Where there is no ownership of emotions, there will be no responsibility for behaviours.

Put your emotions in check

Here’s a random example of how it worked.  There would be some kind of disagreement between us.  He would say something ‘wrong’ – in anger, or too harsh, or whatever else – I was offended somehow, in some way, I was hurt or disagreed with him. <dysfunctional communication would normally be well on its way> Rather than shut down or say something emotionally charged, I would write down the situation and put it in the Truce Box – and visually close the lid (file, I kept mine on my computer).

The Truce Box sat there quietly on my computer, holding all of the emotion… so that I didn’t need to.  I could carry on with my day or activity, knowing that a Truce Box Talk was coming.  My feelings weren’t suppressed or forgotten emotions that were deemed inconsequential – they were just sitting safely in the truce.

As juvenile as all this sounds these steps were necessary, both of us were emotionally immature.  Like I said in Part 1, we had ZERO conflict resolution skills.  Normally you begin to learn these as children and they are built on as you grow up.  We’d missed out on that, and we had to start somewhere.  The good news is that it didn’t take long once we had a plan.  And the most beautiful part was that we got to grow up emotionally, together.


When you separate the emotion from the conflict, you can look at the conflict with different eyes and a different heart.

  • Your protective defenses come down and you can hear the other person and their perspective.
  • With emotion out of the way, your vision is clearer which opens your heart.
  • The conflict becomes almost tangible, and you can touch it with your hands, like with a puzzle, you can accurately see all the pieces – where they fit and don’t fit.

Your marriage is a huge puzzle and you have to build it with your spouse.  You each bring different pieces to complete the picture, and you have to learn to work together so that you can finish it.  Let’s say you are both working on the bottom part of the puzzle and there develops a conflict about which puzzle piece should be placed in a particular place.  The Truce Box enabled us to still work on other areas of our puzzle, then come back to the difficult spot at a later date.

*I say the word attack because it was my intention to continue the ‘discussion’ in order to change his mind, or get him to see my way.


In Part 3 – The Truce Box Talk, Freedom, strength and acceptance are found in the truce.


Dysfunctional Communication (Part 1)


Part 1 – Our First Truce

What are you to think when a marriage counsellor says: “Wow, you guys are a really hard couple.”?

Our marriage has been counselled by mentors on two different occasions, as well as by a few different marriage counsellors.  Our last counsellor told us something that was not only hard to hear, but also a surprise.  We were half way through our 2nd session when she said, “Wow, you guys are a really hard couple.”  Of course, my prideful mind silently responded, “Finally, someone understands what I’m up against here!”

By the time we had accumulated 15+ years of marriage with ZERO confliction resolution skills, that’s all we had to show for it?  That was our legacy?  “Wow, you guys are a really hard couple.”  It brought a sense of hopelessness, but as hard as it was to hear, it was also the beginning of a turning point.  It was this feeling of not being able to find anyone to help us that forced the arrival of the Truce Box Talks.

We were in the middle of another cage fight.  It doesn’t really matter what it was about.  Whether it was 99% my fault and 1% his – or vice versa – it still takes two to tango.

Our dance was the same no matter what type of music was played.  Always the same, always the same … A dance of dysfunctional communication.  Over the course of the years, our dance had become much more aggressive towards each other as selfishness squeezed the love and life out of our marriage.

I remember getting more and more tired.  Tired of being emotionally disconnected from Darrell, the man I married.  I missed what we had in the beginning, and I hated what we had become.  This particular ‘bender’ had been going on for a very long time and I was exhausted.  I don’t know if it’s just my Sanguine personality or if all women are like this, but I find that it’s emotionally draining to cut yourself off from someone and hold them at arm’s length as an enemy.

When he came into a room, I would leave, and vice-versa.  We weren’t eating our meals together.  I went to bed early just to be away from him.  And whenever he was home he was in the garage just to be away from me.  We had relegated each other to even less than roommate status.  There were no hellos, goodbyes or any acknowledgement of the other’s existence whatsoever.

After so many years of constant fighting with very few of our conflicts actually being resolved, the emotional turmoil each argument brought just compounded on top of the last unresolved one.  I had no fight left in me.  Nothing.  I felt ‘far away’ from him.  Disconnected.  Together but alone is a tough place to live.  It’s very painful, completely confusing – and perhaps the loneliest of all.

I remember the day as if it was yesterday.  I didn’t really even think about it and I don’t know why I did it.  I was just feeling so utterly alone and empty, and had no one else to call at that time.  I picked up the phone and called Darrell at work.  When he came on the line, words just blurted out of my mouth without me really knowing what I was saying.

  • I’m bottoming-out here.  I don’t really know what direction to go.  The only direction I can see that will make it stop hurting between us, is for me or you to go away.  Is that really where we’ve arrived at?
  • Is that what you want?  I’m not sure if it’s what I want, maybe.  It feels like our marriage is teetering on a tightrope.
  • We’ve gone around this mountain so many times in our marriage.  I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how we can fix this.  We are both convinced we are right and I don’t know if it will ever get better or be resolved, but I can’t do this anymore.
  • I’m not blaming you or blaming me … I just need it to stop.  The emotional hate that’s between us, just for a little while.  Some sane time – a break.
  • Can we agree to disagree – just for now?  And … pretend?  Can we pretend that we still love each other – the way we used to?  Can we pretend that we are a normal mature couple that doesn’t fight like this all the time?

What I had been delineating was a truce … I just didn’t recognize it as such; not at first.

Dictionary.com defines truce as:

  • a suspension of hostilities for a specified period of time by mutual agreement of the warring parties; cease-fire; armistice
  • an agreement or treaty establishing this
  • a temporary respite, as from trouble or pain

It’s important to understand that we had been withdrawing from each other because of these issues for most of our married life.  In the beginning, we had a pretty OK marriage, but if you can’t talk to each other without conflict erupting – well, nothing ever gets resolved and things go downhill rapidly.  We were nearing the bottom of that hill in our marriage.

It was that afternoon that we held our first truce and by evening the idea of Truce Box Talks were born.


In Part 2 – Emotions, The Truce Box holds your emotions for you until you are ready to accept them as your own.

In Part 3 – The Truce Box Talk, Freedom, strength and acceptance are found in the truce.



Me? … envious? … nah

envy2Recently Lori at Encourage Your Spouse  wrote about being envious of your spouse, or rather how not to be.  This is a difficult subject to talk about in any relationship; but when you say that it’s how you feel about your spouse, well, nobody really wants to be caught with their hand in that cookie jar.

But there I was, it was about twelve years ago, I had never heard anyone talk about being envious of your spouse, and the envy that I experienced was a little different than what Lori explained; but I guess it comes in a variety of sizes and shapes.  Whenever I read 1 Corinthians 13, I always seemed to gloss over the “love never is envious nor boils over with jealousy” part.  Really, I didn‘t think I had a problem with envy, and I didn‘t, not for the most part.  But there was this one little area (which turned out to be not so little).

One of the examples that Lori used was envy of a spouse’s employment.  For me, it wasn’t really about his job, per se.  Darrell has always benefited from the perks wherever he worked:  Lots of networking and meals out; expense accounts; travel, courses, cars etc.  (you get the pic I’m sure)  He‘s a natural leader.  Filled with great management and people skills, as well as over-the-top mechanical and technical abilities.  Businesses tend to latch onto that skill set pretty quick.  I’ve always been the one to keep the house and family safe and guarded while he‘s at work, and I’m happy doing it.

Sounds great right? It was … until he arrived home.

Blinded By Envy

Here’s how it played out.  As long as we were in agreement, he could have the authority – I believed this WAS his authority.  But as soon as our opinions differed, this was when the struggles ensued.  I thought it was him just not understanding, well … that he was wrong.  If he would just understand – just be … reasonable, he would see that my way is better.  Then we wouldn’t be mucking around in the same puddle ß (clue right there) all the time.

Envy created a double mindedness in me – an inability to see.  Although I was elated about his successes at work – which came directly as a result of his skills and ability to lead – his authority, I didn’t want ANY of it at home.  Here it comes, I was envious of my husband’s God given authority.

Interesting choice of words:  God given authority.  Not wanting to submit to an authority is pride – any authority.  Pride is what changed Lucifer into Satan.  He wanted to be like the most high.  I wanted to be the most high – over and above my husband … I would tell him how to lead me.

And here’s the thing, at home he wasn’t a good leader.  Not because he didn’t want to or because he lacked the ability; but because he couldn’t.  I always tied up his mind (and heart) with conflict … he was too busy deflecting all of my challenges to lead.  It wasn’t that I picked fights – I just, didn’t follow.

After years and years of fighting, challenging and conflict – you develop little cracks and breaks inside your heart.  You get tired of always fighting.  Conflict is emotionally and physically draining, and sometimes you don’t even give yourself a chance to recover before you are onto the next fight.  These cracks inside my heart were very important.  They were all threading and joining into one another to cause a shattering.  This shattering is when I was finally weak enough to hear what God had been saying all along, “Why are you fighting your husband?  He didn‘t tell you to submit – I did.”

And you know what?  God was right.  It’s God who says to submit, yet I was taking it out on my husband because I wanted the authority to run my own life. ß (another clue right there)  The problem was, God hadn’t given me the authority in our marriage, He had given it to my husband and I was green with envy over that.  I didn’t like my God given right to surrender – I wanted what God gave my husband.

~ James 4:1-3 ~

What leads to strife (discord and feuds) and how do conflicts (quarrels and fightings) originate among you?  Do they not arise from your sensual desires that are warring in your bodily members?  You are jealous and covet [what others have] and your desires go unfulfilled; [so] you become murderers. [To hate is to murder as far as your hearts are concerned.]  You burn with envy and anger and are not able to obtain [the gratification, the contentment, and the happiness that you seek], so you fight and war.  You do not have, because you do not ask. [Or] you do ask [God for them] and yet fail to receive, because you ask with wrong purposes and evil, selfish motives. Your intention is [when you get what you desire] to spend it in sensual pleasures.

  • Our marriage was steadily increasing in strife, discord, feuds, conflicts, quarrels, fightings.
  • Wanting to be in authority did not come from God, but myself.
  • Envious of Darrell’s authority, I coveted what he had.  Not able to get it, I started to hate him because I was unable to attain the gratification and happiness in life and marriage that I wanted.
  • I prayed – A LOT, but not for a surrendered heart.
  • What I did pray, was for HIM to change; I failed to receive this.
  • My purpose was wrong.  It was against the order God set out, that made it evil.  It was selfish because wanting to be in authority was simply because I didn’t want anyone telling me what to do – it would be for my own pleasure – I believed I knew better.

I had unconsciously set my sights on Darrell for taking the authority away from me; but the truth is, I never really had it.  Believing that I did is what was feeding the flesh of my selfish inner person and changing me, for the negative – just like it did with Lucifer.

First, as a believer my life is not my own.  I was supposed to have given up that claim when I surrendered it to Christ.

Don’t’ you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?  You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price.  So you must Honour God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, emphasis added)

Second, the problem was that I didn’t like God’s agenda and it showed in my lack of submission to my husband – I had kept back part for myself.  I would surrender to God as a believer in Jesus – but not to my husband.

For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For a husband is head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church.  He is the Saviour of his body, the church.  As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24, emphasis added)

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord. (Colossians 3:18, emphasis added)

God allowed my own envy to bind and crush me so that I could see that my surrender to Him was not complete – He used Darrell to do it.  Until I was ready to see it and admit – God couldn’t heal this part of my heart and renew my mind.

But consider the joy of those corrected by God!  Do not despise the discipline of the Almighty when you sin.  For though he wounds, he also bandages.  He strikes, but his hands also heal. (Job 5:17, emphasis added)

Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.  Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors.  He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, emphasis added)

When you think you’re the authority, but you aren’t – you’ll rub up against the one who really does have the authority, you are going to take some bumps and lumps as you strive against God trying to take what He has never given you.  It was this bumping and banging into each other that God used to wear me down so that I could really take a good look inside my heart and see what was there.  If it wasn’t for Darrell’s strong A-type personality to withstand, or if I would have left our marriage – I never would have made this step in growth and would still be living out of an unrepentant heart.

Satan tried to use my envious heart to destroy our marriage.  But God meant it for good.


Stay and dance


Photo Credit

But if you do marry, you do not sin [in doing so], and if a virgin marries, she does not sin [in doing so].  Yet those who marry will have physical and earthly troubles, and I would like to spare you that. -1 Cor 7:28

…Yet those who marry will have physical and earthly troubles

…physical and earthly troubles





Possible mines that blow apart a marriage







In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]!  For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.] –John 16:33


Are you loving – even when you hurt.

I love this picture 🙂  I found it while reading at The Time-Warped Wife.  The more I looked at it the more I realized that it beautifully captures a belief of mine.  You can’t hide what’s in your heart, it will always come out in your words or actions!  You can be really, REALLY cheezed-off from offence or sin or whatever … but what is truly in the hidden man (or woman) will always be revealed.

You can see it on this guys face.  Obviously peeved about something – he still seeks to do right ~ because that’s what’s in his heart.  What a great lesson for wives as well.

Have a great day!

(5 sleeps left)

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