Editor’s Note: This post is by Simple Marriage contributor Mary Ann Crossno.
In the previous post we discussed The Art of Marital Conversation. After reading you and your spouse may have decided to have a face to face talk about one (or more) of the enduring problem areas in your relationship. In spite of your best efforts, things took a turn for the worse.
Part of the answer might be found in the childhood expression, “Monkey see, monkey do.” It turns out that our brains are hard wired to mirror what we see.
You’ve read this before and it’s worth repeating, in marriage (or any
relationship) you cannot NOT communicate.
Some experts attribute up to 55% of communication as nonverbal body language and descriptions of that includes:
- Facial expressions
- Expression in your eyes
- Smile, frown
- How you listen
- Your breathing
- The way you move
So when you see the body language that naturally occurs in intense conversations – eye-rolling, sighing, squirming, shaking your head, looking down, looking away, glaring – your brain will naturally want to mirror what it sees. That’s part of the biology that escalates communication from conversation to anger.
Face to face conversation can be threatening, intimidating, or shut down communication – depending on the intensity.
It is hard to know your own thoughts if your partner grimaces when you look at her face while you are talking. There is a “lovelock” – a force field of verbal and nonverbal signals that say agree, be nice or get out. Depending on your need for togetherness or separateness at the moment, you get sucked up into the “agree or be nice” signal or you push back with an “I’m out of here” signal.
Most of the time, we are unaware that we are sending out the lovelock signals.
One of the many techniques that we can use to learn to stay connected without getting sucked into the lovelock is to walk and talk.
A walk is a side-by-side activity that allows us to defuse the intense over focus on or hypersensitivity to body language. A walk interferes with the lovelock and our natural bent to mirror what we think we are getting, for good or bad. We can’t see face to face because we’re looking ahead where we’re walking.
A walk dissipates the anxious energy that is part and parcel of talking about things that matter with people that matter.
At the same time that anxious energy is being released, endorphins and serotonin – nature’s feel-good chemicals – are being released in the brain, further enhancing your ability to tolerate anxiety.
The act of walking together while expressing differing and/or conflicting thoughts, ideas, and positions is a physical representation of differentiation – emotional maturity.
I can hold onto my on ideas about something that is important to me while choosing to walk by your side, to care for you, to head in the same direction (together through life), with the same outcome (headed for home at the end of the walk).
Face-to-face comes with pressure for one or the other to cave in to a “we-ness” mindset. Face to face can become more of an endpoint – where we wind up when there are two whole people in a relationship. You can gauge how well you are doing in the relationship by how comfortable you are with a face to face conversation involving an intense subject.
If you can’t take a walk together due to a broken leg, small kids (use a stroller) or bad weather (there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear) – shift the conversation to one that is side by side. Sit by each other on the couch, but give each other permission to not have to look at each other, just stay engaged in the discussion. You can free some of the intensity and focus more on your part of the discussion as well as hearing their thoughts.
Try it this week. Walk and talk together for a minimum of 30 minutes a day and see what kind of difference it makes.