NUGGETS OF GOLD a monthly Blog by David Nofziger
Passing the Baton
October 1, 2020
Communication is hard in marriage. I frequently begin marriage counseling by asking what issues the couple is facing; the number one answer is poor communication. It is easy to become defensive and hard to be vulnerable and honest. When I get defensive, my fight/flight coping mechanism comes into play, making healthy communication difficult. I run from the problem or dig in my heels and become determined to win. Instead of focusing on listening and understanding my spouse, I shut down or talk over them. Does any of this sound familiar? If you’re like many couples, you are probably thinking, “Been there, done that.”
Sadly, this negatively affects the relationship. Without healthy, open communication, it is difficult to solve problems and build a strong connection. Problems get swept under the rug, and then we begin tripping over that rug as the issues grow larger over time. To be vulnerable in a relationship, we have to feel safe; arguing or shutting down makes us tense and uncomfortable and not safe.
There are two key ingredients to healthy communication: We have to be able to speak clearly and assertively and then be able to listen nondefensively. Both of these elements have to coincide as we take turns talking and listening. To help us accomplish this, I want to suggest a helpful tool that I call “Passing the Baton.”
You are familiar with the phrase because it is used frequently for relay races. In relay races, you have several people on a team, and each has a different leg of the race. Each runner holds his position until his teammate completes that leg and passes the baton to him. He then runs as fast as he can to help the team win. But it doesn’t matter how fast you run if one of your teammates stumble because you either all win together or you all lose together. You are a team, not competitors.
Similarly, a married couple is a team, not competitors. If one of you wins an argument, you have both just lost. Have you ever thought of it in that way? The only way I can win is if we both win. The only way we can both win is to listen to each other so well that we come up with a solution to the problem that benefits both of us. Therefore, rather than arguing, we must learn to discuss issues in a way that shows respect. Learning how to pass the baton helps us to accomplish that goal.
The “baton” can be anything you can hold in your hand. When you have the baton, you are the speaker. When you don’t have it, you are the listener. We then take turns passing the baton back and forth between us. That is the basic rule, but let’s expand on that a little to make it clear and practical for both of you when you have an issue to discuss.
When you are the speaker, make sure you are relaxed and ready to clearly communicate your feelings, opinions, thoughts, frustrations, etc. Be careful not to accuse, blame, or disrespect your partner. To help in this, use “I” statements rather than “You” statements. Be honest and open about what is on your mind. Keep your comments brief and to the point. Don’t go into a bunch of different issues, as this can be confusing to your partner. When you finish, pass the baton to your partner.
If you are the listener, your main job is to listen. Don’t think about your reply or rebuttal. This is not a debate. Your main goal is to understand and empathize with your partner. Try to put yourself into their shoes. You may speak if you are unclear about what you are hearing and would like some clarification. You may also speak if you desire to restate what your partner is saying in your own words to make sure you have heard accurately. As you pass the baton back and forth, focus on solutions that take both of your feelings into account so that you can come up with a win/win solution to the problem or disagreement.
Now, I know this is much easier to say than to do. It is hard to talk about our feelings when we would rather vent our feelings. But when we start venting or interrupting our partner, we are disrespectful, and communication breaks down. To help you practice this, begin with issues that are not emotionally charged. After that, just keep practicing. You will not always succeed, but the more you work at it, the more successful you will be.
In the Bible, the Apostle James gives us some good advice when it comes to communication, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” James 1:19
Nuggets of Gold is a monthly Blog focused on Personal growth, Marriage Improvement, and Parenting Issues. Your comments can be entered below. They are always welcome and suggestions for future posts are appreciated. Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts with you.
David Nofziger has been the director and lead counselor at Hope Alive Counseling Services in Defiance since 1989 and author of “Brain Washed, Transforming Your Self-Image through the Amazing Love of God.” He and his wife, Sue, attend Family Christian Center in Defiance where they head up the church’s mission program. Visit HopeAliveCounseling.com for more information.
BRAIN WASHED Transforming Your Self-Image Through the Amazing Love of God, by David Nofziger.
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