Friday, June 12, 2009

Mixing Up Our Messages

"Share the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis' observation still rings true today - there are two ways to get a message across. One is with words and the second is with actions. Both are powerful but I would argue that actions do indeed speak louder then words. Working with couples I am often amazed at how one partner is not aware of the "real" message that they are giving their spouse. For instance a woman is upset with her husband because he works zillions of hours at work. He tells her that this is because he wants to provide for her and give her access to the luxuries that will make her happy. The message she receives from all those dinners and evenings alone might be something else entirely. It could be:

"You don't care enough about me to spend time with me."
"I'm not as exciting as your job."
"You refusal to grant my requests to spend more time together means you don't love me anymore."

When working with couples, I will sometimes ask the wounded spouse, "What message do you get when he/she does that?" Often the other person is surprised or incredulous at the response. Why? Because most people assume that others will pick up on their motives for their behavior and agree (or that they ought to agree!). But if your spouse doesn't see it how you want or expect them to . . . look out!

When someone in a relationship is sincerely trying to change their behavior and is make at least some progress that sends a positive message to the other. Do you want to know how your behaviors are being interpreted by someone else? Just ask them. Try something like this, "Um, when I do _________ what message are you getting from that?" It's a great way to try something different when discussing a difficult issue, trying to understand the other persons opinion, or learning to have empathy. Or maybe you are trying to "get through" to your spouse about something? Phrasing it in "this is the message I'm hearing" way may help you to feel more heard. It can't hurt to try, right?

It's hard to argue (though many try) with a person's interpretation of the message someone is sending them through their behaviors. Trying to change your spouse's "incorrect" message by telling them what the message "should be" won't work. Instead some sort of behavior change must be made. In my overworking husband example, the husband may not work less (the most effective way), but he will have to do something different (ex, spend more quality time with her on weekends, call her from work, hang out with her in the mornings, invite her to stop by work, etc) with his wife if wants to change the message. There is no other way.


TammyIsBlessed said...

Excellent post! Actions definitely speak louder than words.

However, the words are necessary too.

In the case of relationships - that would be the communicating part.

In the case of witnessing - if we never say anything they will never know why we have the hope that we have. Personally, I think a lot of Christians (myself included!!) use that phrase as an excuse.

Balance between actions and words (like virtually everything!) is the key.

Mark said...

Hi Tammy. It is true that words are important (and necessary). I worry that in witnessing and in marriage though that we tend to overemphasize words and underemphasize actions. As James says "show me you faith by what you do." Words and deeds must go together.