(An introduction to one of the principles taught in the Marriage Repair workshops).
Now that you have been given an introduction to how healthy human relationships function in their ideal form, we will start to transition you into what to do when you find your relationship is not in ideal form. We will be revisiting and clarifying what you have already been taught so far as we introduce new concepts and principles.
Before we can talk about what to do and what to say in the marriage repair process, I need to introduce you to the most fundamental principles of miraculous communication.
If you don’t have the Spirit, don’t talk, and don’t listen
If we are going to experience the miracle of raising your marriage from the dead, we are going to need to experience the miracle of Edifying Communication.
In order to experience Edifying Communication, we must have The Spirit present during communication.
As a scientist, I asked myself, “Why? What difference does it make whether the Spirit is present or not during communication?” This is not just a spiritual principle, it is a very scientific principle. Please read this next parable carefully.
The Tetris Miscommunication Concept
We have been taught that Satan is invested in ruining relationships, but we do not always sift out exactly how he goes about doing so.
As I have studied and observed communication dynamics, an important paradigm can be applied when thinking about the spiritual, both good and evil, factors of human communication.
I hope you remember that basic computer game called Tetris. You are given a sequence of different shaped pieces and you are challenged to move and twist them to fit into the right spot on the base of your block structure.
This is similar to communication between people.
D&C 50 is one of my favorite chapters of scripture on human communication. It describes that both the speaker and the listener “rejoice and are edified” when they communicate using the (Holy) Spirit.
An amazing example of powerful communication takes place every 6 months during General Conference weekend. The speakers invest a lot of effort to make sure the ideas and words they will be sharing are in accordance with the Holy Spirit.
This is like a Tetris game that tries to give you the right pieces; the pieces that will help you complete your puzzle and win the game.
At the same time, an invested listener will come with the Holy Spirit, prepared to listen carefully and watch closely the words and ideas shared and will find ways to “liken” (2 Nephi) the concepts unto themselves; turn and slide the piece into the right spot.
Many people leave conference weekend with the sensation that many of the talks were written just for them. Interestingly, if asked to quote what they had learned, they will often recall the words a little differently than they were actually spoken.
I have experienced this as a therapist.
I have many experiences with a client coming back for a follow-up visit, and they have the sensation of edification because of something they heard me say in the last visit.
I hear them describe what they heard me say, and I recognize that they are not quite getting it right. It sounds like they have twisted my words in ways that empower and improve their lives.
The way I visualize this is that I work hard to find the right pieces to benefit the person I am talking to. My words are not perfect.
I may be a little off to the right, or a little off on my angle, but the Holy Ghost helps the listener to twist and slide the idea into its most beneficial place. This is very rewarding for both listener and speaker. In the MTC, the missionaries are taught over and over again, “If you don’t have the Spirit, don’t teach.”
Let’s look at what happens when one or both of the participants have lost the Spirit. Satan is very invested in destroying relationships.
Destroying communication is an excellent venue to do so.
I didn’t know he could do this, but I have seen him try to fight his way into a conversation that started out with the Holy Spirit.
We can use the Book of Mormon stories to understand this. Sometimes people think you need to do something wrong in order to invite Satan into a situation.
This is not true.
Did the Nephites have to do something wrong in order to invite a Lamanite attack?
No. Lamanites attack whether the Nephites are righteous or not. Lamanites attack because they are selfish and mean. This is true of Satan and his demons in the modern world.
They will attack marriages because they are selfish and mean. You don’t have to be a sinner to experience a satanic attack on you or your marriage.
I have watched a husband or a wife work very hard to choose the right words to describe a piece of their marital struggles.
I have learned to bounce my eyes between the husband and wife in these situations until I see the other spouse have an emotional reaction.
I almost always jump in and stop the conversation right then to help the listener catch the satanic attack.
In those moments, it is like Satan got hold of the Tetris puzzle piece while it was in mid-air, and he twisted it and slid it to just the wrong place, the place that would cause the most pain for the listener.
If you are used to believing how scientists describe these moments you would hear the scientists say that either the speaker subconsciously wanted to hurt the listener, or the listener subconsciously wanted to take offense.
What if both were sincerely trying to get it right, but the 7,000 year old genius, Satan, got his hands in the mix and twisted things up?
She says, “I think Bob bought a new car for Suzie.”
He hears, “Why can’t you be a better provider?”
He says, “There is a toy truck on the floor.”
She hears, “I hope you learn how to be a good home-maker someday.”
She says, “Can we talk?”
He hears, “She wants to lecture you again.”
He says, “I like you.”
She hears, “You just want to have sex again.”
Both the husband and the wife will need to increase their Spirit of Discernment to become more aware of twists in communication like this.
The speaker will need to double check his or her state of being, or Spirit, at the time of speaking. As hard as it may sound, the template for the emotional/spiritual state of the speaker needs to be as close to what is described in D&C 121:41-42 as possible. To clarify,
“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained [when talking with one’s spouse] only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; by kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.”
If you check and you suspect that you are not in this state of mind, you have the responsibility to not talk yet. “If you don’t have the Spirit, don’t (talk)!”
Sarcasm, impatience, co-dependent “needs”, selfishness, etc. make twisting communication really easy for Satan.
The speaker will also need to pay attention to the times when what he or she says is heard or received differently than expected by the listener.
If the speaker is confident that what he or she said was with the intent to edify the situation, then you have to check to see if the listener is ready.
It is important that the speaker is more invested in the opportunity to have a quality communication moment than invested in just venting. If the speaker discerns that the listener is not ready to receive, then it is the responsibility of the speaker to wait.
At this moment, I often hear clients respond with, “But what if I really need to say something?”
This idea is anchored in previous, inaccurate relationship philosophies, like “You should always have the right to share your feelings.”
This is not true. Talking, sharing, confronting, dumping, etc. are all highly unlikely to be productive if either the speaker or the listener does not have the Spirit.
The listener needs to take responsibility for being in the right state of mind/spirit also. The listener will need to work to receive the information in a productive way.
The listener will also need to have the discernment to recognize their own emotional reaction to what the speaker is saying. If the listener is unable to maintain or quickly regain the spirit of productive listening, then they need to signal the speaker to pause while the listener regroups.
This can take seconds, minutes, or with some couples days, weeks and sadly even months. If you don’t have the Spirit, don’t listen! Take the responsibility to retreat and regroup.
In some cases, the listener has a lot of work to do to heal from the pain of past conversations or to gain sufficient compassion for the speaker before the listener can be stable and strong during difficult conversations.
After hearing these instructions, I have had some couples tell me, “If those are the rules, we would never be able to talk to each other!”
I respond with, “Is that because you can’t be in the right state of mind or spirit during conversations, or that you don’t believe your partner is capable of it?”
This usually jolts them a little bit. If communication is going to be productive for both people, each is going to have to take strict responsibility for their own emotional, mental and spiritual condition.
This effort can feel like a war inside each mind.
But we have been warned that in the last days there will be wars and rumors of wars and we will have to sleep on our swords or in other words, be constantly ready. I am convinced that the spiritual battles within the hearts and minds of each one of us are the fulfillment of this prophecy.
This process can take longer than we would prefer, as well.
Please, I beg of you, do not force communication when either the speaker or the listener is unprepared with spiritual fortitude.
It will only lend itself to a Satanic attack that leads to pain for one or both of the partners. Love yourself and each other enough to communicate in an edifying way. This concept, of course, only works when both people are invested in the success of the relationship.
For me, the listening part is the hardest part.
When I have the Spirit, I remember that my wife is a good and kind person who really wants to make things work between us.
I can be minding my own business, and my wife will say the smallest thing, “Would you mind helping me with this?” and I will have a bizarre emotional reaction.
The excessive irritated feelings are accompanied by the thought, “Doesn’t she know how busy I am?”
If I am out of balance (don’t have the Spirit), I will buy into the thoughts and feelings that enter my system in that moment, and my agitation will increase, thus putting her on eggshells if not worse.
If I catch it before I become unpleasant (and that is my goal every time), I start by addressing Satan:
“Is that you, Satan, messing with me again?”
He always responds the same way to me, “Huh-uh” or “Nope”.
This response always shifts my irritation to him and away from my wife. I have discovered that he is always there when things get negatively intense between us.
I then ask, “Are you trying to mess things up between me and my favorite woman?”
He always responds with, “Huh-uh” or “Not me, I wouldn’t do something like that.”
“Are you trying to get me to respond in a way that scares or hurts my wife?”
“Huh-uh. I am not even here. You are just making this up in your head.”
This shifts my body chemistry into Warrior Mode, or Protective Mode.
I now am highly motivated to create a productive and protective interaction between my wife and I in order to dominate the situation, instead of being dominated and finding myself in more pain after responding to the momentum with negative emotion.
I have found this works as well when my wife, the original speaker, is also out of balance as well. If I remember that she is human too, and Satan can torment her before I even show up, I can be helpful.
DO NOT say, “Hey, I can tell you are losing a battle to Satan right now.” That won’t help.
But what will help is to have the conversation above and shift your disposition to one of fighting for the life and liberty of your loved one, your wife.
Be her hero!
Stay close and strong and stable until your partner can feel it.
Don’t get defensive or elusive. Let your partner discover for themselves that they are in need of rebalancing.
If it becomes abusive, politely withdraw.
The other person will not validate your withdrawal at that time, but after things cool off, if they ever do, the validation will come.
“The gift of the Holy Ghost…quickens all the intellectual faculties, increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them, by the gift of wisdom, to their lawful use. It inspires, develops, cultivates, and matures all the fine-toned sympathies, joys, tastes, kindred feelings, and affections of our nature. It inspires virtue, kindness, goodness, tenderness, gentleness, and charity. It develops beauty of person, form, and features. It tends to health, vigor, animation, and social feeling. It invigorates all the faculties of the physical and intellectual man. It strengthens and gives tone to the nerves. In short, it is, as it were, marrow to the bone, joy to the heart, light to the eyes, music to the ears, and life to the whole being.”–Parley P. Pratt (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1997/04/that-spirit-which-leadeth-to-do-good?lang=eng)
In your journal/Google Doc, (
1) make some notes about a recent situation, or a pattern of situations where you have found yourself losing the feelings and state of mind described by Parley P. Pratt.
Next to that,
(2) write down the “reason” or “reasons” you have for not staying in that state of mind. If you have not noticed yet, one of Satan’s greatest skills is to provide us with convincing reasons to step away from our own wisdom.
Some scientists call this “justification” but these scientist are not comfortable considering the involvement of Satan in our psychological process. In my experience, the 7000 year old genius is very good at slipping very logical ideas into my mind that I have insufficient discernment to signal me that the (negative) emotionally stimulating thoughts I am having are strategically slid into my mind, not that I am conjuring up the thoughts and feeling from my subconscious.
(3) Compose the response you hope to have in this same situation were it to surface again.
(4) Practice, roleplay the scenario 5 times every day for 21 days. As an athlete or a musician, allow yourself to start out clumsy and unskilled, and improve as you practice. The goal is to get to the point where what you say and do is accurate, strong and at the right speed.