August 30, 2011

A proactive approach to communication can save your marriage.

In the late 1960’s NASA developed a way to test against what they called “bird strikes” on their spacecraft windshields and engines. They manufactured a cannon that had the capability to fire dead chickens, at incredible speeds, at the designated item to simulate the velocity at which a bird would be traveling and the pound per square inch to which it would impact. The tests had all be successful, repelling the birds with minimal to no damage to the tested item. It was so successful that a Germany company, which had been producing high-speed passenger trains, was interested in borrowing the cannon and birds to test their windshield strength against such an impact. So, NASA shipped the cannon and packed the birds on ice and instructed the German company to contact them if there were any problems.

The German engineers were so excited when the shipment came. They couldn’t wait to test it. So, in front of dignitaries and media they were set to display their superior level of technology. They positioned a train 15 meters away and aimed the cannon directly at the main windshield at the front of the train. When the cannon went off they were horrified to see the bird go smashing through the windshield, destroy the inner control panel, obliterate the captains seat, and blast through the cabin door. Hastily, the German company sent NASA a telegram frustrated and confused at the outcome of their test. After all, these were not the same results they had been hoping for and had witnessed back at NASA. NASA replied to their telegram with a one-line statement: “Thaw the chicken.”

How often in marriage do we miscommunication or fail to give the complete story? As men, we are incredible bad at this. What women can describe in 500 words, we find a way to explain using 10. I’m sure the German company never gave thawing the chickens a second thought. And I am sure that NASA was puzzled that someone wouldn’t even think twice about thawing the chicken. One side failed to ask, while the other side failed to provide the complete story. Quite the typical storyline in most marriages, isn’t it? He said, she said. Or he didn’t say, she didn’t say. Either way, that’s a lot of unthawed chickens flying around.

Men, you can trace almost every divorce back to a failure to communicate or a breakdown in the way the couple had been communicating. We need to step to the plate on this one. Since we only have 500 words a day to use, compared to our wife who has like a billion words to use a day, how can we communicate not just better, but more effectively with our wife? I also want you to think and write down some “buzz” words that are both positive and negative to your wife. What are buzzwords? Ok, for example, a negative buzzword would be if you use the word “divorce” ever when speaking with your wife. That word should never even enter your thought process. Because statistics have shown that once it is verbalized it then becomes a part of your subconscious, having the capacity to transform the way you think. But a positive buzzword might be “appreciate”, as in “I appreciate all you do for the family.” I am sure you will find these words a little more help in your daily communication. After all, it was a man that forgot to thaw the chicken.

So, here is your homework (if you care at all about communicating in your marriage): Get with your wife and separately write down buzzwords (both positive and negative) that you know affect you. Then, share the words and discuss. I imagine she will share words that you had no idea affected her. In this exercise there are a couple of guidelines:

When a person is reading their list of words the other spouse may not speak. That’s important! This is a personal opportunity to communicate on a deeper level and it is critical that time and respect is given to a person’s thoughts and feelings. When aperson is done reading their list, ask a simple question “How can I do a better job of communicating with you?” Practice. Practice. Practice. This exercise will be meaningless if you don’t practice what works.

My goal is that this exercise will assist you in understanding your wife a little more. After all, to many unthawed chickens have been thrown around the marriage. Don’t wait until it’s too late to test the strength of your marriage windshield.

– Article contributed by Ed Garrett, West Coast Associate for the Master’s Men ministry.