The day before filing for divorce a desperate couple, urged by a pastor decided to attend one of my learning style classes. They’d walked out of the class hopeful though skeptical. Armed with learning style tools, they committed to approaching their relationship differently and now, six years later their marriage is thriving. Marriages fail for a host of reasons but this one was struggling because of poor communication. Marriage experts agree that ‘good communication is the foundation of a strong marriage’. Our learning style strongly influences how we convey and receive love, respect, support, forgiveness and care in a relationship. Since we all communicate, listen, interact and behave in unique ways, differences in styles can cause tension and conflict.
Like most couples, my husband and I have fallen prey to communication problems triggered by differences in learning styles.
When we first got married, I would say, “What time will you be home?” He would hear, “You better be home on time.” I was trying to show support and interest and he felt controlled.
He would say, “What did you do today?” I would hear, “You’re a terrible housewife, nothing got done today.”
A simple conversation or question has the potential to escalate into a full-blown conflict. I’ve experienced it and so have countless other couples who I’ve counseled. As couples, when we subscribe to ‘intentional communication’ techniques we can develop healthy communication habits. This involves leaning into each other’s learning styles while applying James 1:19 (You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.) It’s important to talk about your style preference with each other to promote understanding, respect and tolerance.
Here are a few ways differences in style impacts marriages:
Directions and Stressful Situations: Asking for directions and stressful situations have the ‘unknown’ in common. How would you find your way around a new location? Would you use a map (visual), ask someone for directions (auditory) or just walking until you figured out where you were (kinesthetic)? I need my husband to talk (auditory) me through directions and describe landmarks along the way. He (visual) is great with maps (I’m not). Differences in how we prefer to receive information has caused frustration and sometimes made one or both of us feel inadequate. Couples can have a similar outcome while dealing with stressful situations.
Complaining and Criticizing: It feels good to complain. But complaining isn’t good for the body or brain and it impacts communication as well as relationships. It changes the body chemistry and releases the stress hormone cortisol that puts a person in fight or flight mode. It also rewires the brain to make future complaining more likely. As hard as you try, you’ll revert to your learning style while complaining. While you complain do you feel the need to point your finger or hammer your fists (kinesthetic), do you need to see the facial expression and whites of someone’s eyes (visual) or rant out loud (auditory)?
If your intent is to just complain and blow off steam, those with different learning styles might misunderstand your intent and receive it as a personal attack or criticism. Monitor and modify your attitude and tone of voice. If underneath your words is criticism, disrespect, or sarcasm, your ‘audio’ spouse will ‘hear’ them, even when your words are positive. If your words are positive but your facial expression isn’t, a ‘visual’ spouse will ‘see’ while a ‘kinesthetic’ spouse will ‘feel’ disrespected and criticized.
Talking and Sharing: As an auditory learner, I ramble out loud until I have a “light bulb” moment. I’ve learned it’s best I do this in an empty room or car. Other learning styles might assume that I’ve come to a conclusion about something and take action. This has gotten me into trouble both at home and work. I’ve learned to say, “ I’m just processing and will let you know when I have a final answer.” Visual leaner’s need to see your face and might feel disrespected or disengaged by kinesthetic leaner’s who need to be in motion to process information.
Decision Making: Having healthy discussions and reaching a peaceful agreement are often a challenge for married couples. Deciding where to eat or which car to buy has the potential to take on a life of it’s own. When asked to make a decision, visual learners need to ‘visualize’ places or objects or ‘write down’ a list of pros and cons. They like reading and researching. While they’re doing that the auditory learner is ‘talking over’ all the options and to their dismay the kinesthetic learner has already jumped into action since they need to ‘try out’ options as they go. Differences in the decision-making process can be threatening and surface personal insecurities. Commit to creating a safe space where both can freely express themselves using their own style, listen patiently without interrupting and ask for clarification if needed.
I’ve personally experienced, as well as seen marriage dynamics change between spouses when they understand and practice intentional communication. To take a simple learning style test and for detailed descriptions of each, check out my first blog in this series.