Atmosphere is palpable. When your spouse is happy, you know it – the dinner is sumptuous; fresh sunflowers are in the vase; there’s singing in the kitchen. It is safe to be home. But when your spouse is not happy, you can feel the deafening silence or hear the banging and clanging at the sink. You need to wait for the storm to blow over before you ask if you could your dream motorcycle jacket.
Atmosphere is also dynamic – it can change so easily. All it takes it is a small action or a careless word. “Why do your chicken look so miserable?” is enough to take all the joy of cooking away. Or coming home expecting to be served and complaining that your shirts are not ironed well will certainly not promise you a good restful evening.
The study by Olson and Olson 2000 showed that when couples take charge of their atmosphere and resolve conflict better, they are happier and better adjusted.
How do we take charge of the atmosphere?
- Decrease PUSH communication
You are pushy if you use a lot of push communication. You will push away your partner if you continue to use this style of asserting yourself and making your partner feel unimportant.
Your spouse came home with the news that she was given a new role in the office. She was enthusiastic about it as the new role is an indication that the company was happy with her performance. She would expect to be praised and encouraged.
But if she hears remarks like “There’s no money to it” or “let me know only when there is a real promotion”, she will feel hurt and unsupported. Rather than sharing more about the new role and the possibility of a strong career path in the company, she would take that push away comments as the end of the communication.
The atmosphere is fragile with push communication. Wrong buttons can be pushed and the atmosphere will become hostile and unconducive for meaningful family time.
Avoid pushing away your partner using statements that are:
“If you are so smart, why don’t you walk out now?
“You’re so lazy! You are horrible, awful, ugly, useless…”
- Overly demanding and unsympathetic
“I don’t care if you’re tired. You should know that you are supposed to get that job done today.”
- Bottled in anger
“I have had enough of you. You’ve not moved an inch since I asked you to vacuum the floor 6 hours ago.”
It is easy to be destructive in the way you communicate. Criticism, blame, unfair requests or rejection can kill the strength of your marriage. Dave Willis, a pastor in Augusta says, “A strong marriage requires 2 people who choose to love each other even on days when they struggle to like each other.” Loving each other requires you to be respectful even though you may be upset. Rather than spitting out sarcasm and insults, you can use PULL communication to confront the issue and to engage your spouse.
- Increase PULL communication
You are a more appealing communicator when you strive to learn and understand the situation and your spouse as much as possible before offering an opinion. Peter Scazzero, author of Emotional Spirituality, has this to offer – use the phrase ‘I notice … and I prefer’ to get a complaint across and to get a solution.
“I notice you have been keeping late hours to do your assignment and it’s hard for you to be on time for work the next morning. I prefer you to be on time so that I won’t go to work late. I don’t want to set a bad example to my subordinates.”
You say clearly the behaviour that needs to be changed. You want your spouse to go to work earlier in the morning. The changing is not within your control but you can lead the change by your request. Your request sounds more reasonable if you put up a good case and you express it in an even and peaceful tone.
You understand that the reason for not being on time the next morning is because of the assignment. You acknowledge that your spouse is working hard the night before. Your empathy will cause your spouse to listen up.
You point out the consequences of the behaviour. Providing a reason is always more convincing. An experiment was conducted to see how important giving a reason is.
A man asked if he could get a photocopy of his document done. He approached the first man and asked, ‘I need to get a photocopy. Can I go before you?’
With the second man, he said, ‘I need to get a photocopy because I need to get a photocopy. Can I go before you?’
He said to the third man, “I need to get a photocopy because I need it for my next class. Can I go before you?”
The largest group that allowed him to get a photocopy is the third group. This is obvious because he has a valid reason.
The second largest group is the second group. Though the reason sounded ridiculous, it is still a reason.
Your spouse needs to know how his/her action affects you, in this case causing you to be late and therefore not setting a good example. That is the reason for him/her to make decisions to solve the problem or to change the behaviour – get another form of transport, sleep earlier, be more disciplined in doing assignments etc.
You can take charge of the atmosphere of your marriage. The Bible in Proverbs 12:18 writes, “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” You can either be the one who makes cutting remarks or the one that uses healing words. Words and actions that push your spouse to a corner will fracture the relationship and cause wounding. But strategies that pull your spouse towards you will build a conducive atmosphere for growth and love.
Indeed you can build the atmosphere of your marriage or you can bring it down. The choice is yours! Your marriage depends on it!