Marriage: Communication—The Second Pillar of an Amazing Marriage
Communication—The Second Pillar of an Amazing Marriage
You likely don’t need to be convinced that communication is foundational to a great marriage. If you’ve been married for any length of time, you know how hard it can be to understand that person to whom you’ve pledged your life. You’ve seen molehills transformed into mountains because of miscommunication and misunderstandings. You’ve experienced the frustration of feeling like you’re not being heard. Why can’t they get it?
If a couple knows how to talk – to share clearly and openly – and to listen – to grasp what your mate is trying to say – huge problems can be averted. When this deep understanding and respect exist, there are few issues that can’t be overcome. On the flip side, when the communication skills are lacking, it doesn’t take long before the marriage can get to the breaking point.
That’s why communication is the second pillar of an amazing marriage. It is essential. If you can’t talk about things, you won’t be able to address any trouble that comes up. As you evaluate your marital relationship and how well you relate, here are some things to focus on.
Communication Begins with Listening
Have you ever tried to talk to someone who has one agenda – theirs? It’s like your thoughts and opinions don’t matter. You aren’t even asked for your input. Without a willingness and an intention to listen, things don’t usually go too well. Instead of creating understanding and connection, not feeling heard produces frustration and isolation.
All of us, men and women, have got to learn to listen patiently. It screams love to our mate. It isn’t easy though. Sometimes we assume we understand what our mate is saying, and instead of really listening to them when they are talking, we spend the whole time plotting our response. We mentally begin to shoot down points that they may or may not even be making, and we miss their point entirely. Our mind wanders to ‘our’ agenda.
My spouse deserves to be heard. I need to fight the temptation to “know what she is going to say.” I must be quiet, stop and listen to her – and I don’t just mean physical quietness, either. I need to refrain from mentally rehearsing my argument and really give her my full attention and focus. I have to stay in the moment too and not be privately distracted with my mind wandering. My undivided attention validates who she is and conveys my respect for her opinions and feelings. It gives her a sense of value, and it fosters co-operation, rather than competition, between us.
In many couples there is one person who is more verbal than the other. Two thirds of the time the woman is more verbal than the man, but sometimes it is the man who talks more. It is especially important for the talker to learn good listening skills and to give your mate the time to talk. If you feel like your spouse isn’t communicative enough, make sure you’re giving them a chance to open up. If you are filling the air with your words and repeatedly dominating the conversation, your spouse won’t be able to share unless they are willing to fight for “air time”. That isn’t likely to happen. Instead, your domination of the moment discourages them from sharing more and can even drive them deeper into privacy.
If you want to improve the communication in your marriage, start here. Invite your spouse to share what’s going on in their heart. Shut everything else out – the TV, the computer, the phone – and focus on them, resisting the urge to pass judgment or argue. Keep an open mind and hear out their perspective. Just listen and listen good.
Make the Effort to Truly Understand
How many times have you and your spouse had an argument, only to discover that the fight could have been avoided if you had truly taken the time to understand one another? My wife and I have had times where, as we worked through an area of disagreement, we discovered that we didn’t really disagree at all…we only thought we disagreed because we were too impatient to fully understand one another…especially me.
Too often we’re just listening to the words and not really to the heart. We have to listen to the whole message. There needs to be a clear commitment to listening to what my spouse is trying to say. Creating this kind of open and safe environment makes them feel validated and in turn, they can start to open up on deeper issues.
The key word here is empathy – where I’m trying to see what it‘s like to look at life through their eyes. Sure, my viewpoint is so clear to me and my position seems so right, and I’ve got my points that I want to make in this discussion. But winning the argument can’t be what it’s about. I love the admonition that says, “look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3,4). We’ve got to work hard to empathize; to see life from our spouse’s perspective. And when we do that, we can connect so much better because we’re stepping into their world. It feels so good to be understood.
We need to listen with more than just our ears; we really need to go below the surface. Researchers estimate that 65% or more of our communication is non-verbal. Paying attention to body language and your spouse’s actions will help you grasp what they mean by the words they say. Listen to the tone of the message. Within the tone, is the heart. And the more our spouse senses that we are truly hearing them, the more secure they will feel to continue sharing at deeper levels.
The deeper we go, the more intimate the relationship becomes. A good marriage is one in which the couple is continuously growing in transparent disclosure. We need to seek to understand our spouse to their core. Rather than growing complacent or trying to fix or force them, put in the effort to get to their heart. Just listen and let them express their views and thus who they are. As you get to know their heart, you’ll likely grow in your desire to be with them.
Authenticity and Sensitivity
If we want to grow in our marital intimacy, it requires that we be authentic with one another. There is no place for deceit or dishonesty within marriage. The intimacy we are pursuing is one in which we are fully known, and yet fully loved.
Full transparency is risky, because it requires us to lay opinions and values out on the table – laid bare for our partner to see. We fear sharing at this depth because there is a chance we will be rejected when the person sees us for who we really are. And that’s why it’s so critical to foster a sense of safety. Your spouse needs to know that if they share what’s really going on inside, they’re not going to get rejected or dumped on. Your spouse also needs to know that they can take your words at face value and believe what you’re saying to them. If that trust doesn’t exist, there’s a lot of doubt and second guessing. Communication breaks down.
Of course, if we are really being honest with one another, there are going to be times when we have to share our disappointments and frustrations towards one another. The key in these instances is to do it in a sensitive, positive way: to speak the truth in love. Truth should never be used to bash the other person, with the defence that “I’m just being truthful.” Truth need not be conveyed harshly; there is always a way to say things kindly. Try to talk through the hard stuff gently. And when receiving, try to listen without getting defensive – not easy! Remember the challenge, “Do not let any unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it might benefit all who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). We need to be gentle and use words that encourage one another, and remain open to working things through in an honest but positive way.
Some couples are not on the same page because of elephants in the room. Unresolved issues and hurts stampede freely around their emotional space. This couple hasn’t worked through issues to the point of forgiveness. It is impossible to develop meaningful communication in a marriage apart from a willingness to freely forgive one another. Every marriage goes through tough times, and if we are going to pull through, we have to both apologize freely and forgive as freely. We need to patiently cut each other some slack and be willing to put these things behind us.
I have often put it this way: If friendship is like the bricks in the wall of your marriage, understand that the mortar is forgiveness. Forgiveness is what holds the friendship together. I tell couples standing at the altar when I have the privilege to marry them, “There should be nobody in this world that you will be more patient with than the one whose hand you’re holding now.” But the funny thing is, I find I can be the most impatient and the most unforgiving with my spouse. Why is that? Go figure. I’ll be gracious to other people and everyone thinks that Dave’s such a nice guy. Meantime, I don’t cut my wife and kids the slack that they deserve and they’re the ones I claim to love the most. I really do. I need to work to be most gracious to those closest to me.
If you are reading this and you know there are issues between you and your spouse, look each other in the eye and say, “You know, I love you. And I know we want to move on from here. Let’s agree to find a way to work things out. Let’s go on and have a great marriage.” And to forgive feely is the real secret to that. Forgive as the Lord forgave you – completely and unconditionally. As you release your spouse, you’ll discover that it is a gift to yourself as much as it is to them.
Learning to communicate with your spouse is a lifelong process. There will be ups and downs – times when you’re clicking on all cylinders, and times when you feel worlds apart. But if you commit yourselves to working to understand one another, sharing yourselves transparently and forgiving through the hard times, you will have a strong foundation upon which to build a marriage that you love being a part of.
Work to build your relationship on all four pillars of an amazing marriage. Get to know and practice each one!
© Dr. Dave Currie – March 2006
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