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Monday, September 2, 2013

Understanding is a powerful force for deep and abiding intimacy.

As I was writing my last post, Changing Seasons, I was reminded of the important distinction between knowledge and understanding.

Knowledge is information. It can be cold and unemotional. You can have knowledge and remain detached from the subject.

Understanding takes knowledge to another level of engagement. It means empathy. It means putting your heart into the matter in order to get to the heart of the matter.

It's easy to settle for knowledge when understanding is called for. I think men are especially prone to this, though by no means are they exclusively guilty of it. We want facts and data. We want to asses the information in order to find a solution. To us, understanding is an unnecessary distraction from the "real" issue.

Don't Settle for Information

Marriage isn't supposed to work that way. In marriage, the "real" issue is connection - always. And connection requires understanding.

Marriage is about engagement and intimacy. It's about two being one in all dimensions of life. That means not settling for information, but digging deeper into something until you gain understanding.

For example, in my last post, I suggested you ask the question, "What do you need from me in this season?" In response you are likely to get something like a bullet list of needs: closeness, extra time, more sexual intimacy, etc. That's information, and it's helpful, but it leaves a lot of things unanswered.

If you follow up with, "And what would that look like to you?" then you have a better chance of actually understanding what your spouse needs.

Closeness might look like  exchanging texts during the day or  praying together each night or regularly spending twenty minutes together after dinner. Extra time might mean some alone time to decompress after work, having a day to pursue a neglected hobby or a night out with the guys or with girlfriends. If more sexual intimacy is important, figure out if that means twice a week or twice a day. Is it really about quality or quantity? Where is the need, exactly?

Gaining Understanding Through Awareness

My wife and I recently went through a class called Couple Communication that some friends of ours led. It was outstanding, and I strongly recommend the program (see info below), regardless of how well you think you already communicate as a couple. We learned a lot.

There was a lot to this course and I can't begin to convey all of it here, but one aspect I particularly liked was something they call the "Awareness Wheel." I love how it gets us to consider all sides of an issue in order to truly gain understanding:
  • Sensory Data - verbal and non-verbal information such as actions, gestures, sights, sounds, smells, gestures, posture, silence. Sensor data gives context and details that might otherwise be overlooked.
  • Thoughts - What are you thinking? It includes ideas, assumptions, objections, biases, consequences, opinions, values and impressions.
  • Emotions - Happiness, sadness, anger, fear, disgust and surprise, with many subtle variations of these. One very interesting thing we learned is how often we mistakenly construe thoughts as emotions. When we say, "That makes me feel... rejected, respected, pressured, important, threatened or unappreciated..." these are actually thoughts not emotions.
  • Wants - desires and intentions for you or for others. These include hopes, longings, objectives, goals or aspirations. Wants is one area where it often requires a bit of digging to get sufficient detail to be actionable. A good chance to ask "what would that look like."
  • Actions - past (what you did - accomplishments, activities, failures), present (what you are doing - recommendations and requests) and future (what you will do - declarations, plans, promises).

This kind of complete communication takes time and attention, but it is well worth it, especially when you are discussing emotionally intense or important topics or where there has been a history of mis-communication.

The Heart of the Matter is the Heart

The difference between knowledge and understanding comes down engaging your hearts. It's requires you to desire the best for your spouse and to get to the bottom of what you need to know in order to do that.

The motivation for understanding is love. If you love your spouse, do all in your power to understand him or her.

Do you have some tips for our readers on how you go about gaining understanding or being understood in your own marriage? Are there questions you ask or techniques you use that have proven helpful? Let us know with a comment.

I would encourage you to find a Couple Communication program near you by clicking on the link.

image credits: Awareness:  tango90246 /
understanding: alexmillos /


Anonymous said...

Being willing to go first was a big step in our marriage and it caused an avalanche of communication. Seek first to understand, then in this seeking this understanding it seemed to naturally flow to being understood.

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