Naked Communication, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

Naked Communication


June 15, 2010

Communicating well is difficult enough on its own. Throw in a busy schedule and three young children and it is amazing it happens at all.

It will often happen that Stacey and I have a disagreement or a difference of opinions on a matter and we’ll begin to talk it out. This “talk it out” phase can take place at any given time during the day: making dinner or cleaning up after it, making lunches, driving in the car, taking a shower, checking homework. Rarely does it happen that all three children are asleep or occupied and Stacey and I can pour a cup of tea and sit at the table to talk about our differences. It usually happens in the middle of something, and often at the worst possible moment.

The result is a very fragmented conversation.

For example, this morning, as we were getting ready to go to Sunday Mass, Stacey and our oldest child were having a disagreement while Stacey was getting ready for the day in the bathroom. I could see it coming, and removed him from the situation in the middle of the conflict.

She indicated to me that she was very hurt and frustrated. I had effectively usurped her parenthood at that moment—preventing her from seeing her conflict through. I was frustrated that the conflict had happened in the first place when I could see it coming and tried to prevent it. In that moment, we were broken—we were not in the same relational space. We were in two different worlds.

Well, the day had to progress—kids were ready for Mass and Father John was not going to wait for us to have a conversation before starting the opening procession. We both had to take showers, so while the kids were wrestling downstairs, we found ourselves having a conversation about parenthood standing in the bathroom, both stark naked.

Talk about being honest with one another.

In our best moments, we seize what time and space we can to be able to get on the same page with one another. Sometimes, that means telling our children that they’ll have to find some way to keep busy until we’re done. Often, it means being able to talk and work at the same time.

At our worst, we get impatient, overwhelmed, and crabby with each other and with the kids. At our best, we both commit to communicating honestly with one another, knowing that we’ll get to the other side of it if we both dive in and make an effort to see things form the other’s perspective.

Once in a while, we’ll both see that we don’t have the time and space to get through an issue, and we’ll identify a time later in that same day when we will be able to talk it through. This is a good approach, as it gives us space to think through what happened and why. When we come back together, we are usually more level-headed.

So this morning, standing naked with one another in a small bathroom, we talked it out. We heard each other out, and got to the heart of the matter quickly. I was able to apologize to Stacey for stepping into her conflict in a troublesome way, and she was quick to accept my apology and move on. While we were getting dressed, she kissed me and we went to Mass in a much better mood.

There are Sunday mornings when the sign of peace carries more meaning than others.

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My Core Sin

My Core Sin

My main New Year’s resolution this year was to figure out and name my weaknesses.

I started with simply taking a good hard look at what I think I have heard most often as the challenging sides of my personality, whether in work performance reviews or personal relationships. Joshua, of course, was very useful in confirming or nuancing those insights (and adding a few of his own). Then I turned to those friends nearest and dearest to me.

I have had to proceed carefully to get some substantive feedback. The problem, of course, is that folks are generally far too kind and thus struggle to be completely honest in naming another person’s shortcomings.

Almost everything I have learned—almost every insight I have received—points back, more or less, to one core foible: control. The vast majority of my weaknesses, at least as those who know me best experience them, stem from some element of control.

In April, David Brooks wrote an article called “The Moral Bucket List” in the New York Times. He names the characteristics of those people he experiences as “radiating an inner light” or who are “deeply good.” He noticed that such people have been profoundly honest about their own weaknesses and can identify their “core sin.” He names a core sin as a consistent weakness that makes them feel ashamed. The act of naming this sin, according to Brooks, helps them achieve “a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.”

I found the article affirming since, by the time of my reading it, I could confidently name my “core sin” as control. I also thought it put some helpful language on why it is a worthwhile endeavor to identify our central downfall.

First, from our Catholic point of view, we understand “sin” to be fundamentally a break from God. When we sin, we separate ourselves from the fullness of communion with God. When I attempt to impose disproportionate amounts of control on my environment—or worse, on the people around me—I am most often exerting my will over and against others. At worst this can be damaging. At best it is severely lacking in humility.

Second, using the next helpful element of Brooks’ article: when we are able to name and own our core sin, it frees us for a “profound humility.” We see and acknowledge our most broken parts, which, in turn, allows us to recognize how that brokenness impacts others.

I realized when I read Brooks’ statement about “self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness” that possibly our core sins may simply be the shadow side to some of our greatest natural strengths. I think that, left unchecked (or perhaps inappropriately oriented), our most unique God-given talents have the capacity to become our most glaring weaknesses.

That is to say, control is my core sin, but it is also the shadow side of my greatest gift at home and work: clear-sighted, comprehensive order. When I humbly put that gift at the service of our family and those I work with and train, it IS a gift. When I wield it unchecked by consultation and in single-minded isolation it separates me from others and from God by breaking down relationships instead of building them up.

Josh shared with me that his core sin is intemperance. There are obvious ways that intemperance can be destructive and unhelpful. But in its most helpful and healthy iteration, it leads Josh (and those lucky enough to be with him) to experience joy fully and unabashedly, to have an unreserved sense of curiosity and wonder, and an utter willingness to give new and unknown experiences a try.

In an interesting twist, you might notice that my core sin, control, and Josh’s core sin of intemperance are pretty much exact opposites. This is likely no shock to anyone who has ever met both of us or heard us give a presentation together. Although they seem utterly at odds, I think our very opposite dispositions allow us to call one another to very specific areas of growth. You could even go so far as to say where we are weakest the other is strongest. In that way, we get to incarnate grace for each other, to call each other to be the best version of ourselves.

After all, isn’t it part of our job as spouses to help one another shed light on our shadow sides? Without that light, how can we hope to grow?


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