Communication Skills for Busy Couples
By Bill and Pam Farrel
Today, couples are looking for a workable “track” or system that will integrate their home and work responsibilities. Sequencing is one way to accomplish this. Sequencing is basically saying, “We can’t to all this at once!” It’s the choice to take turns. Sometimes that means one spouse making his or her responsibilities a “B” priority, while the other one makes his or hers the “A.” Sometimes it’s supporting a spouse toward a goal or deadline, or one of you making the home front more of a priority while the other one manages a crisis or reaches for a dream.
A major benefit of sequencing is more time together as a couple. Sometimes sequencing is a change of time schedule; other times it is more a change of mindset. One of you may need permission to break out of the normal life pattern for a designated amount of time.
During my (Pam’s) last semester of college, Bill and I were coauthoring a book and I was carrying a full load. Bill freed me from needless worry and guilt by a simple statement, “Pam, do whatever it takes to get out!” We discussed what standards of housework I could drop and what items I would take off my calendar. It definitely took pressure off until graduation.
Earlier in our marriage, Bill worked as an architectural draftsman. He was also a student and a youth pastor. We had two tin boys at home, and life was definitely a whirlwind. One day I was upset at Bill because he seemed so withdrawn. That evening our conversation hurt my feelings. God impressed on me that this night was a turning point and I could let the argument die.
I went to find Bill.
“Bill, this is bad. We’re fighting. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know, Pam. I wish I did, it bothers me too.”
“You do all the right things, Bill. You even bought me flowers last week – but it feels like you’re not here. When you handed me flowers, you had no expression and said,
“‘Here, I bought you these.’ Lately it’s like you are a robot or something.”
“That’s it, Pam. That’s how I feel. Like a robot. I’m so stressed over graduation deadlines, work deadlines, and ministry stuff that I’m too tired to feel.”
“I can understand that. But we can make it – and I can help, if I just know what’s going on.”
Bill realized for the first time that his coping mechanism during stressful times was to shut down his emotional center. I gave him permission to do that if he communicated that to me. I also made a commitment to lower my expectations, with the promise of celebration at the end of the stress in a few month. I just needed light at the end of the tunnel.
Now, if either of us senses that we’re in one of those “bury your head and run for the goal line” modes, we communicate – to let the other partner know. This way, Bill’s emotional atrophy won’t wound me and my typical preoccupation and flurry won’t wound him. We give space to one another.
We have also made a commitment not to live with preoccupation or emotional atrophy as a lifestyle. If the project or stress seems endless, we confront one another. In love, Bill has told me, “Pam, I feel like your heart and mind are somewhere other than with me and the kids. Is it true or is that just my read?”
Bill’s loving confrontation has helped me refocus and helped us achieve a more workable plan. Other times I’ve been the one to bring out the calendar and say, “I thought it was just me feeling lonely, but the reason I’m missing you is that in the last month you’ve worked an average of 80 to 90 hours per week. Is this a temporary crisis, or do we need a new plan to get some boundaries back around our life?”
It is easier to give a little when you understand the heavy weight of responsibility a partner feels or the stress caused by a temporary factor. Temporary sequencing becomes a loving response, then.
Communicating Your Needs
Communicating our sequencing needs can help us avoid unwarranted accusations caused by neglect of a partner. Statements like “You’re never here!” “Why are you shutting me out?” are all red flags that signal the need to communicate.
Whether sequencing is used for balance in the long run, during key child-raising years, or in the short run while you meet professional or educational goals, sequencing must be agreed upon, not imposed. You will never build a marriage by demanding that the other person sacrifice to meet your self-determined needs! But a loving spouse is usually open to sacrifice when you ask for help in getting to a goal.