PR31 and I had been married about six to eight months when we went to stay with her folks for about six weeks in between jobs. During that time, we went to the young married couples Sunday School class that her mother was teaching. The class was packed because she was an incredible teacher. She was way ahead of her time in utilizing video curriculum to elevate the excellence of the class and kick off discussions.
One of those video series she used was by Gary Smalley. Well, PR31 and I got intrigued with them… and since we lived with the teacher, we had access to the videos whenever we wanted. And since we were in between jobs, we had time to watch them.
One of the greatest takeaways we gained from those videos was a session he shared on communicating with word pictures to help the other person understand how what they said to us made us feel. The illustration he gave was of a couple packing to go on vacation. The husband pinches the wife’s side and asks if they are going to eat desserts on this vacation. He is only joking and means the pinch as a loving touch and the question as a joke, but she takes it as him saying she is overweight and doesn’t need any desserts on vacation. Smalley picks up a small rock, a pebble, from a table and drops it on the floor… and says this is what the husband thought he did. Then he picks up a huge boulder and drops it on the floor with a loud thud… and says this is what the wife felt when he said it. He used a word picture to help the audience understand what each was thinking and feeling. And he urged couples to find some way to help their spouse understand better what they were thinking and feeling.
This was nothing new… just sort of new to us. I mean, Jesus used word pictures all the time to help people understand what God is like… and what matters to Him… and how God feels about certain things. We call them parables… “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” or “Suppose one of you…”
Well, this Word picture thing sounded like a good idea for helping us learn to communicate in our marriage. And low and behold, that Smalley guy is one smart cookie. It began working for us… and it still does. We even use it with our boys now.
Sure, it takes a while to figure out how to figure out the best word picture to share with a person. But you figure it out. It might go something like, “When you rub that dry napkin between your hands, it’s like someone raking their fingernails down a chalkboard… it drives me nuts.” Don’t give up.
Sometimes the word picture doesn’t really convey the truth. So we added our own part as a disclaimer before the word picture. We might say, “Let me try a word picture to explain how this makes me feel. But if I mess it up, please let me walk it back and try again to get it right.”
Basically, this slowed the conversation… gave latitude for attempts at communication… and extended grace to the other person when they were genuinely trying to express thoughts and feelings in love. These are always good for your marriage.
Over time, we built up enough word pictures which we both understood that we could say, “Okay, you know how you said… Well, think of that because this thing makes me feel exactly the way you said that makes you feel.” Suddenly, the light would go on for the other person, and resolution came a lot more quickly because we now shared a common word picture that gave us a handle on how the other person was feeling,
So go ahead… give it a try the next time you feel your blood pressure rising because of something your spouse just said or did. You can make a great marriage. And hey, it works with any other relationship as well. You can have a great marriage… or friendship… or parent-child relationship. Anyone can do this. And you’ll be glad you did!