For the second ever Date Night with FFI, Mika and Alicia Hernon of the Messy Family Project joined us to speak about communication as a couple. The Hernon’s have been married for 27 years and have ten children and three grandchildren, their mission with the Messy Family project is to empower parents, strengthen marriage, and bring families to Christ. Sharing quotes and personal stories with over one hundred couples in attendance, Mike and Alicia embarked on an in-depth look at communication.
Before beginning their talk on communication, Mike and Alicia introduced the topic with this video – It’s Not About the Nail (listening versus interpreting what you are hearing). Whether there is a nail in your head, or you are perfectly coordinated with your spouse, we can always grow in communication! In any relationship, while it is hard to express yourself it is also impossible to be understood without communication. The challenge for the night was to “make the goal of your communication unity.” The overall goal of the event was to offer couples practical ways to grow in their communication.
Vulnerability, listening, and forgiveness. These are the three essential elements of communication as Mike and Alicia highlighted in their talk. First, vulnerability, this is the path to genuine real and authentic love. Quoting Brene Brown, Mike and Alicia explained how when we are vulnerable, we expand our experiences of joy, creativity, true belonging, and love. “Vulnerability is the key to honest communication”, it is necessary to start with when improving communication as a couple. Being vulnerable means being open to judgement, willing to learn, and eager to serve.
The second essential element to communication is listening. There are two distinct types of listening, reductive listening which is listening for and expansive listening which is listening with. Reductive listening is solution driven and a masculine trait. It is not ideal for building relationship but is ideal for problem solving. Expansive listening on the other hand is process driven, this is ideal for relationship building but can devolve into letting someone just complain or nag. When we listen expansively, we interpret body language, context, and practice empathy. Neither types of listening are good or bad per se, but it is important to know the two distinct types with their different strengths and weaknesses.
For building a relationship, expansive listening is the most effective. “We really want to be listened with”, we want to be journeyed with to be understood. If as a couple you are practicing different forms of listening, you are going to be adversaries. To achieve unity, we must understand how we are listening/hearing each other. If you are always listening for, “you may not be hearing what the other person is saying”, you will achieve a better perspective and you can support each other if you understand the role and purposes of expansive listening versus reductive listening.
Here is a practical tip from Mike and Alicia! Ask what the other is looking for when you are communicating try asking, “would you like me to just listen or are you looking for me to help you out with something?” While this can be messy or awkward, it is not as bad as pretending to know or forming your own judgements independent of the other person.
The third essential element to communication is forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard. “The reality is, we are going to offend or hurt our spouse” we are always sinners in need of forgiveness. This brings vulnerability and listening together. To ask for forgiveness we need to be vulnerable, to forgive we need to listen.
Another practical tip! The sign of a true man is that he be willing to admit first that he was wrong and seek forgiveness. This is a humble experience and will lead quickly to a point of agreement and peace.
Following their talk on communication, Mike and Alicia introduced a communication exercise for couples which can be found here. The third portion of Date Night with FFI featured an action-packed Q&A with Mike and Alicia. They fielded questions about communication as a couple in relation to your children and your parent, working through suffering together as a couple, prioritizing time together as a couple, humility in prayer and personal struggles, leadership and more!
To conclude, Mike and Alicia reiterated the importance of communication in Marriage. Again, the goal in communication is unity as a couple. “When we look at communication, and marriage as a whole, there is a beautiful complementarity” we are given gifts and we have self-determination that must be respected but also utilized and brought forward in our relationships. In general, there are differences between individuals specifically between men and women, but this is the point. We need to see communication as an opportunity to give of ourselves and achieve unity as a couple. “How can I speak the language of my beloved so that I can hear what they want to say.”
They closed the evening by leading virtual evening prayer, signing off on a date night packed with insight about communication as a couple. Thank you, Mike, and Alicia!