By Gary Moore
It’s been said that there are two types of people who travel to foreign countries – the colonizer and the immigrant. The colonizer wants to visit another country but sees it from his own perspective instead of experiencing it from the inhabitants’ point of view. He looks for signs in his own language and seeks out people who speak his own tongue. He endeavors to find the familiar and fails to venture into uncharted territory. He doesn’t branch out and learn any words in this foreign language.
The colonizer becomes irritated when he can’t read signs for the bathroom or understand the menu. Instead of asking for help or learning a few helpful phrases, he becomes upset. When he talks to local residents, he approaches them in his own language. They either respond with puzzlement or say a few words they’ve learned and point him in some direction. He wonders, “Why can’t they learn to speak in my language?”
The reality is that when you and I got married, even if we married someone from our native country, we married a foreigner. We were raised in different homes with different parents, siblings, experiences and, in effect, different cultures. We may have eaten the same types of foods, but they were prepared differently. We have different customs, different rituals, different beliefs and values in our families. And, we each learned a different language. We even have different dictionaries.
If we want to have a great and happy marriage, one of our biggest tasks is to learn about the other person’s culture and to develop the flexibility to be comfortable with either set of customs. Above all, we need to learn our partner’s language so that we can speak it.
It’s important that we learn not only to speak the same language but also to make sure we mean the same thing with our words. Your experiences in life, your mindset, what you intend can give meaning to your words. For example, my wife might ask, “Could we stop at the store for a minute on our way home? I’ll just be a minute.” I might take the work ‘minute’ literally, but I’d better not. Years of experience have taught me we’re talking about 15 to 20 minutes.
Here’s another classic – ‘fine’. What does ‘fine’ mean anyway? It’s not unusual for a woman to wear a new outfit and ask her husband how it looks. When all he says is ‘fine’, what has he really said? Since we men have a tendency to say ‘fine’ for everything, as far as she’s concerned, we really haven’t told her how we feel about it. Is this ‘fine’ a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 or is it a 2? We need to help each other out here. Maybe she could have said, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how does this new outfit look on me?” Or, if all she asked was how the outfit looked, he could have offered, “On a scale of 1 to 10, it’s an 8.” Either of those would have been better communication. Remember, the goal of communication is to connect, not convince.
Dr. H. Norman Wright says that our three main senses – hearing, seeing and feeling – are actually part of our learning and communication styles. We prefer one to the other two for perceiving life, storing our experiences, making decisions, and connecting with others. And he says that our choice of words gives away our style.
If you are an auditory-oriented husband or wife, you tend to depend upon spoken words for information and you use auditory words: that sounds good to me; let’s talk about….; I hear you; tell me a little more. Auditory people want to hear about life. This is how they learn best.
If you’re visually oriented, you use your eyes to perceive the world, and you use visual images in remembering and thinking. You also use visual words: I see…; that looks…; I’m not too clear…; that sheds a new light. Visual people relate to the world around them in terms of how things look. This is how they learn best. A visual person talks about how things look rather than how they feel.
If you’re a kinesthetically oriented individual, you tend to feel your way through your experiences. Your feelings sort both what you experience inside as well as what comes at you from the outside. And these feelings determine your decisions. A kinesthetic spouse uses phrases such as these: I can’t get a handle on this; I’ve got a good feeling…; can you get in touch with what I’m saying? I don’t grasp what…. These individuals are more spontaneous than auditory or visual people. This trait can be both positive and negative.
Another way in which we speak different languages is that some of us are expanders – we give details when we talk. And others of us are condensers. Expanders may respond to a question with eight to ten sentences while a condenser may respond to the same question with one or two sketchy responses. If you don’t understand this dynamic, it can be very frustrating.
You may think, “Changing the way we talk to one another sounds like a pointless game that requires a lot of work.” Work, yes; game, no. Effective communication requires mutual understanding and being sensitive and accommodating to the uniqueness of your partner. Remember, you and they are from different countries.
Gary Moore served as associate pastor at Cloverdale Church of God for 15 years. He does couples’ coaching and leads couples’ workshops and retreats called MUM’s the Word. He has a weekly radio program – Life Point Plus – on KBXL 94.1FM at 8:45 a.m. on Fridays. His website at www.mutualunderstanding.net has video teachings and other resources for couples. He may be contacted at [email protected].