In my practice, I (Vincent) see couples. They are coming to me because they are having relationship problems. They are wound up and going way too fast – in their thinking, speaking, and doing. Many times, my first homework assignment to them is to “SLOW DOWN.”
“Slow down” has multiple meanings. One of those meanings is “to stop before you get started.” King Solomon puts it this way: “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.” (Proverbs 17:14 ESV). Many couples make the mistake of trying to talk about an issue too quickly.
When conflict first appears, anger gets stirred up in each other. The fight/flight response fuels each other’s emotions. Things are tense. This is no time to talk. Any talk will be negative and/or unproductive. Each person needs time to cool down, pray, and collect their thoughts.
Ephesians 4: 26-27 says, “Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (NASB).
When each person has simmered down, then they need to contact each other to see if the other person is ready to talk as well. This time should be soon as possible, once both are ready. Ephesians 4: 26-27 says, “Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (NASB). If a couple does not feel safe talking to each other about this issue alone, then I have them wait until our next counseling session. In the counseling session, I provide a safe environment for them to practice healthy conflict resolution skills.
Another meaning for “slow down” is “to reduce the speed of receiving and giving information.” James, the brother of Jesus, put it this way: “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 NIV).
1. “Quick to listen” means – focus on what the other person is saying. Don’t assume that you understand them and say, “I understand”. Instead summarize what they are saying, and see if that is what they meant. This may take awhile. Do not use an “if, and, or but” in your summary. Do not proceed to sharing your thoughts and/or feelings until you receive an affirmative “yes” from them.
Most couples struggle with the “quick to listen” part. It takes a lot of effort to truly comprehend what the other person is saying and meaning. All energy must be focused on understanding the other person. When truly listening, you do not have extra energy to think about justifying your point of view.
2. “Slow to speak” means – do not think about what you want to say when the other person is talking. Take into account the other person’s thoughts and feelings before speaking. If something critical or negative is to be said, then begin with some compliments or positives first. Paul says, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15 NLT).
3. “Slow to become angry” means – assume misunderstandings. Show mercy. Give others the benefit of the doubt. Don’t trust your heart, but instead trust God. Jeremiah 17:9 says: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick…” (NASB). “…God is greater than our heart and knows all things” (1 John 3:20 NASB).
So “slowing down” requires couples to be aware of what is going on in the moment, to quiet their hearts, and to keep God in mind through it all.
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