I Suddenly Realized I Was a Terrible Communicator

Writing notes
Photo: Alejandro Escamilla

I Suddenly Realized I Was a Terrible Communicator


I love to talk. And I’ve never met a microphone that I didn’t like.

I realized that I enjoyed speaking in front of large crowds when I was in kindergarten. I tried to organize a party for my 6th birthday by announcing aloud which of my classmates were invited as we were lining up for recess (thankfully, my mom had the better idea of handing out invitations the next day).  Needless to say, I was hooked.

But no amount of public speaking skills could have saved me on the day in 2007 when my lovely wife Gail and I had our most contentious disagreement as a married couple. 

Gail and I weren’t communicating very well with each other. Looking back, a large part of it stemmed from unclear expectations and a non-appreciation of each other’s “workload”.

I was four years into my tenure as the director of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office for the Archdiocese of Vancouver. I had the impression that Gail thought that all I did was put on events, hang out with teens, and go out for lunch with youth leaders. I didn’t think she appreciated that there were stressful aspects to my job: budgeting, human resource issues, sensitive communication, and church politics to name a few.

Similarly, I know that I didn’t appreciate how tough Gail’s job as a grade 2 teacher was. She was on her feet for 8 hours a day at school, dealing with needy and hyper kids. Then she’d come home and do some planning and marking, all while taking care of her 3 kids at home (her 2 sons and her husband).

So we weren’t talking much, we weren’t appreciating each other enough, and we certainly weren’t affirming one another. It all came to a head when Gail called me at work and declared: “You’re not helping around the house enough so I’ve made a list of how you can be a better husband.”

In my best unflappable voice, I replied, “Well, I have a list for you!”



Hang up. Hang up.

So I made my list for Gail. And it only had 4 things on it:
1. Always ask me how my day was
2. Glass should be half-full and not half-empty
3. Don’t be quick to judge
4. Know that for every meeting I say “yes” to, I say “no” to 1 or 2 more

I showed the list to my staff members for approval. Three of them said it was fine, while one said I was going to get my butt kicked.

I drove home with nervous anticipation and didn’t even make it into my house before seeing Gail’s list for me – she had posted it on our door for me to see right away. I took it down, started to read it, and was immediately embarrassed. These were some of the points on the list:

• Put dirty dishes in dishwasher
• Put dirty socks in laundry hamper
• Put remove control back in its place

These were all things that our 6 year-old and 4 year-old sons could do but apparently I wasn’t doing them. It didn’t take a PhD to recognize that this was Gail’s way of crying out for help.

I sheepishly approached Gail and brought her into my arms.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I promise that this will never happen again.”  We shared a laugh, a quick cry, and a prayer.

I backed away from Gail, my list for her still in my back pocket.

“Where’s your list for me?” she asked.

Slightly embarrassed, I handed my list to her. Let’s just say that she didn’t receive it as well as I received her list. But to her credit, she pledged to work on the things I mentioned.

So where are we 9 years later? I’m happy to share that we haven’t had a similar fight since – certainly none that require written lists. We’ve learned to accept certain things about each other, especially our strengths and weaknesses. Most importantly, we’ve committed to open communication and clear expectations.

Looking back – while it might make for a good story – it’s quite ludicrous that it got to where it did.  But I’m glad that we went through it so that we could learn from it.

I love to speak on the importance of clarifying expectations. Whether it’s family relationships, friendships, work, or ministry, I believe that the biggest source of conflict is unclear expectations.

I believe that the biggest source of conflict is unclear expectations.

Do you and your spouse have clear expectations of each other?

And how often and how well do you communicate these expectations to each other?

I’m truly blessed to have such an amazing wife in Gail. As we approach our 16th wedding anniversary in July, I’m grateful that God brought us to each other...way back in 1989. (Yes, I’m old.)

Speaking of amazing wives, Josh and I had a chance to talk about how our wives bring out the best in us, and how they help us and challenge us when we struggle.

All in my new episode of Clay’s Corner called “When Your Wife is Amazing”.  Enjoy!



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