Let’s take another look at communication, this time with the help of some animals. You’ll need to use your imagination, and maybe talk about it with your spouse.
Take a look at the animals below. See if you can identify yourself and your spouse. But remember: have fun with the animals. No fighting or self-condemnation, please.
Clams have a hard time getting their words out. Sometimes they are afraid to speak because they grew up in a very critical environment. To them it seems that every word was questioned. Since speaking never helped, they became clams. Better to say nothing and stay safe than to speak and get hammered.
People who know them wish they would open up, and some even try to force them open. That never works. Clams shut down when they are pressured and pried.
There is a way to help a clam, but it takes patience, gentleness, and loyalty. You have to invite them to open up and show them that you can be trusted. If you criticize their words too quickly, they will close up even tighter.
Who does not love a puppy? They are cute, fun, cheerful and energetic. Sometimes, though, they just do not know when to stop yapping. Everything is so interesting to them, and there is so much to talk about.
Puppies need boundaries. They need to learn to leave room for others to express themselves. If you are married to one, you’re probably tempted to buy a muzzle for their yappy mouths. Don’t do it. Stifle a puppy too much and you will kill the very qualities you like about them.
Instead, find some little cues that you can give, maybe a touch on the arm, or a nudge, that let the puppy know you’d like to say something. Puppies can learn, and really want to learn, how to let others share their thoughts
“Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night . . .”
So wrote William Blake. In his poetic eye, the tiger possessed a mystical combination of grace, strength, and stealth. He did not, however, capture one important fact you must never forget about tigers: if irritated or threatened they will attack. Since you never really know what irritates them, you tread lightly in their jungle.
We know husbands and wives like that. They do no say much. They just lurk in the bushes, an occasional menacing growl their only sound. Then, when you least expect it, Wham! They leap, roaring their disapproval, criticizing every decision, tearing weaker beings to pieces with their superior emotional strength and apparent logic. When satisfied that their conquest is complete, they become docile. Nice kitty.
In the human world tigers do not always look like tigers. A sweet, quiet wife can turn tiger in a minute, venting her stored up rage and dissatisfaction. The male acts differently. He menaces and warns constantly, quite insecure really, daring anyone to question his authority or decisions.
Until the tiger changes, and sometimes they never do, the rest of the family will live in constant tension. They will mind their manners and keep the peace, but deep resentments can develop in their minds.
Some people make a habit of finding something wrong with virtually everything we say. They often start their statement with, “But.” Now, we also say that when a goat lowers his head and charges into you, he is “butting you.” Isn’t English great? Just when you think you know what it means, it changes!
Goats are people who do a lot of “butting.” Goats are not evil. They just analyze too much. They seem to find an exception for every statement. Eventually people get tired of trying to communicate because they grow weary of all the “butting.”
If you are a goat, please give your husband or wife a break. Turn off your analyzer (if you can find the switch), and be a little more patient with his or her ideas.
If you are married to a goat, you might keep a cattle prod handy and just zap them when they interrupt. Or, you could just gently remind her to let you finish your thought before she butts in.
Have you ever heard the expression “Busy as a Beaver?” We have beavers in the USA, and they deserve their reputation. They are the workaholics of the animal kingdom.
Beaver people always seem too busy to talk or listen. Their to-do list is their god, and you are not on it.
Beaver people need to put a special item on their to-do list, highlight it in red, and set it to repeat daily. The item: “Sit down. Slow down. Talk to spouse.”
If you are married to a beaver, try to show them there is more to life than another tree to chomp or another dam to build. Make conversation an appealing time, with no criticisms and complaints. You might be surprised. Mr. or Mrs. Beaver might just put their furry little head in your lap and quiet down.
When life is a zoo, be the zookeeper.
Think About It
1. Which animal best describes your most common communication style? What about your spouse? (You can combine animals to describe yourself if necessary, for instance, “Beaver-Tiger,” or “Clam-Goat.”)
2. Do you sometimes take on another style? In what situations do you take on that other style?
3. Looking at your styles of communication, what special problems do you think they cause in your marriage?
Training the Animals
All of us have natural communication styles, but sometimes those styles are not the best for our marriages. God’s Spirit in us can open the clam, calm the puppy, tame the tiger, civilize the goat, and slow that beaver down. You really need to let him do it. Then you’ll find your blend, a blend that will keep your communication open all your marriage.
Don’t be afraid to change when it is God who is bringing the change. His changes are always for our best.“It is God who is working in you, both to will and to do what pleases him.” — Phil. 2:13
“Tame us, train us, Father I pray. Help us to allow you to make us better, more effective communicators.”