There’s a speech-language pathologist named Christina Hunger that you can find on YouTube and Instagram who trained her dog Stella to “speak.” And I don’t mean that Stella barks on command. She communicates by stepping on buttons that activate recordings of Christina’s voice saying the words that Stella wants to communicate. There are some amazing, endearing and funny moments as Stella learns how to express herself. She knows how to say that she’s happy or mad, ask to go for a walk or get food, water or a blanket.
You can watch the progression as Stella figures out how to get better and better at asking for what she wants and needs. In one funny scene, Stella sees a squirrel or some other small animal in the back yard and just stands on the button for “look,” the word repeating over and over until she finally steps on “outside.” It turns out that sometimes dogs really are thinking exactly what we think they are!
Watching Stella figure out how to communicate reminds me of the importance of each of us working on doing the same thing in our marriage and family relationships. We often fall into ruts when it comes to communicating with our family; it’s simply human nature. Maybe we talk about what our spouse and kids “always” or “never” do. Maybe we frequently escalate into yelling. Maybe we give the silent treatment when we’re hurt or mad. Maybe we get sarcastic or say intentionally hurtful things. In a moment when we’re not frustrated about anything, all of us would admit that those approaches do more harm than good. But when things are emotionally charged, it can be easy to fall into some of these hurtful patterns.
And I’m going to encourage you to move in the direction of something that you might not imagine is possible. I’m going to ask you to work to change, to avoid accusing people of “always” or “never” doing something. Avoid yelling or giving somebody the silent treatment or being sarcastic, negative and hurtful in your speech. And I know that if a dog can learn how to communicate using words like Stella did, you and I can most definitely grow in our way of communicating with the people that we love the most!
As we start trying new things when it comes to communication and stop falling into old ruts, we’ll find that we’re emotionally closer with our family and that being together is much more enjoyable. We’ll find that conflict is no longer the primary outcome we expect when we gather together with people. This sounds like an obvious outcome, but it’s easy to forget what we’re working toward when we’re trying hard to establish new and healthier patterns of communication. But as you work to develop these new ways of being more patient, attentive and kind in the way you speak, I want to encourage you to keep this notion in mind. We won’t always agree with our family and their views and values, but we can be kind in how we approach our conversations with them.
We already know the negative consequences of falling into these old ruts when it comes to communication, so let’s try something new! Let’s work to engage our spouses and kids in a more positive and uplifting way. When we do that, we’ll be creating a home environment where people want to be, and we’ll be winning more often at home.