One of the ways our brains are like computers is that they encode and process new information with information already stored in memory. Just since the inception and continued use of brain imaging, have researchers been able to better understand the role of multi-tasking and its impact in our behavior. Relatively new research regarding cognitive processing confirms what many researchers have suspected for years - there truly is an upper limit to the amount of information a person can effectively process in a given unit of time. Therefore, it is important to understand that when doing multiple things simultaneously, less cognitive processing activity is allocated to each function. It only gets worse the more things we attempt to accomplish or think about at any given time.
So, let’s apply this concept to communication in marriage. For years, I took great pride in my perceived ability to both listen to my wife Lynne explain an issue she was dealing with, while at the same time solving her problem in my head. In my mind, I knew I could provide her an insightful solution long before she was able to paint an accurate picture for me. Yet, based on what we just learned about the brain, it became impossible for me to devote all my attention to what Lynne was trying to communicate the moment I began solving her problem in my mind.
Unfortunately, the same scenario would play out during our conflicts. Only here, the moment one of Lynne’s comments solicited a negative emotion in me, I would quickly assume she had selfish intentions and offensive motivations. Therefore, once I prepared a set of defensive responses in my mind, all intended to produce character assassination, I would cut her off in mid sentence and unload. Sound familiar?
Needless to say, today things are so much better in this area. Here are a few tips on what led to change for us:
- Be willing to learn effective listening skills (check out Drive Through Listening).
- Value what Scripture says about cutting people off when they are communicating. For example, Proverbs 18:13 - “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.”
- The moment you recognize your mind shifting, intentionally slow down and take captive your thoughts. 2 Corinthians 10: 5 – bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. When unhealthy thoughts triggered by negative emotions begin to enter your mind, slam the door shut.
- When tempted to interject while others are speaking, disrupting the flow of communication can be effective. Things like asking the speaker to push the pause button. Then, take a moment to stand or step away for a moment and gather your thoughts. Ephesians 4:29 states that nothing should come from our mouth except that which builds up and imparts grace to the hearer. Remember, you don’t have to apologize for what you don’t say.
- Remember what is being learned about cognitive processing. The moment you allow unhealthy or unedifying thoughts to take center stage while someone is speaking, you immediately lose a portion of your cognitive ability to effectively hear what is being said.
- Commit your struggles to prayer. Be honest with yourself about your obstacles and barriers to success. Confess them to the Lord, asking Him for perseverance and discernment in making good choices.
- Celebrate the small victories and maintain belief that success is possible.