My wife loves to tell me that for someone who has a Communication degree, I’m not very good at communicating. And it can be true at times. We all have momentary lapses of communication when we focus on our needs and ourselves and forget about others. Communication is about the other—it is about the back and forth process where information is traded, needs are understood and mistakes are clarified.
That means communication is very important in a relationship, especially a marriage. The quickest way to end a marriage is to stop communicating.
So, here are seven tips on how to communicate better in marriage.
Transparency is key
Most people that we meet throughout the day receive some surface communication from us. We may ask for things and swap clichés with the lady at the shop. We may use functional communication to get things done at work. But in the marriage relationship, we must be willing to communicate everything, warts and all. If we can bring a high level of openness into our marriage, then our marriages will be healthier. The Bible says that the two become one flesh. I believe this does not just stop at physical intimacy, but includes emotional and intellectual intimacy as well. Think about it: if one part of the body held something back from another part—say it cut off circulation—that part would wither and die. That doesn’t mean everything you say to your spouse has to be deep and meaningful. It means that you shouldn’t have secrets from one another. This is hard and needs to be worked on, but once achieved, this level of intimacy cuts out a lot of communication issues and makes you fully available to one another.
Focus! People need time and attention. I’ve learnt that if I’m watching sport on television or playing on my phone and my wife is trying to talk to me, I’m very unlikely to get whatever message she’s trying to put across. I have to literally switch my brain across to focus on my wife and what she’s saying. Now, apparently women can multitask better than men can, but I still think it’s appropriate to respect someone you care about enough to give them your full attention. Commit to listening well. Instead of thinking what you’ll say next, focus on what they are saying and repeat it back to them, paraphrase it, to check you’ve got it right. That way, you show you are paying attention and more than that, that you’ve understood what they’re saying.
Understand your differences
Men and women communicate differently. Individuals communicate differently. Different cultures and families of origin communicate differently. Take time to find out how your spouse communicates. Some of this will happen organically but be intentional about it. Don’t just expect good communication to happen. Observe what it is that helps you to communicate clearly to your spouse in a way that makes them feel satisfied. For example, I am not really a details guy. If I’m talking to someone we haven’t seen in awhile, they might tell me news that I want to pass on to my wife. I can talk for an hour and I get the big details and the general feeling of the conversation. But my wife always asks for the little details. Our friends had a baby? I’m doing well if I find out whether it’s a boy or a girl. She wants to know the name, the weight, which parent it looks like, whether it has hair, how long the labour was, etc. Knowing that, I now try to ask some of those questions, and make it a point for myself to remember them for my wife’s sake. It is a small thing but can make a big difference.
Communication is not just verbal
This one seems obvious but it is important. You communicate a lot with your body language. Like when you’re fighting with your spouse and there is a demilitarised zone down the middle of the bed. You both spend the night huddled as close to the edge as you can get. This body language is telling. But it is not just when fighting that body language can communicate a lot. Holding hands, smiling a lot when you see your spouse and other little gestures can communicate that you care about them. Your spouse may love to receive gifts or you may be able to cook a special meal, do a chore they normally do or even plan a special event for them. These things will communicate your care and appreciation, filling up your love credit.
Break the cycle
Lots of couples can get stuck in a cycle of poor communication. Things like criticism or contempt might keep creeping in. If communication in your marriage is poor, you can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results. Pray for yourself to love your spouse more. I went through a time when my wife and I were struggling to communicate. I was frustrated with where she was at and wanted things to be different. So I prayed for myself. I prayed that God would give me more love and understanding (rather than praying for her to change). He gave that to me, my attitude changed, and we moved forward together.
Don’t just keep peace. Many people go out of their way to avoid conflict, but this can be a barrier to good clear communication. Fighting or disagreements are better for communication than not saying anything or hiding your true feelings. This usually leads to resentment and bottling up feelings until they explode. Then you may both say things you regret. Instead, it is better to clearly communicate what the issues are that you are struggling with. Try to frame the conversation around how you are experiencing life at that moment, rather than casting blame or attacking the other person’s character. If there has been a disagreement, we are called to forgive and heal the rift by practising reconciliation. This can be difficult as many people would rather not talk about issues but prefer to keep pushing them away. They might forgive one another, but because they are afraid of conflict, they won’t really address the root cause of the problem, and it is likely to come back. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peace makers . . .” and we must practice peace making in our relationships. Go to the other, stepping down from pride, and be the first to admit wrong or apologise. Humility in communication goes a long way.
Communication is not perfect
There are no perfect communicators in the world and no perfect marriages. You won’t always get it right, but at the end of the day, as long as you are willing to try to communicate better, there is always hope for your relationship. Be patient, don’t hold grudges and turn towards one another rather than away. Effective communication helps us to maintain healthy relationships, to achieve things together and to find joy in life that comes from contentment and oneness. Spend intentional quality time together and you’ll find your quality of communication improves.
These seven pointers are just the tip of the iceberg. It is a lifelong journey to have better communication with one’s spouse. Just like the way we hear God’s voice more clearly by learning more about Him, through His Word and prayer, we can also grow closer and communicate better with our spouses.
What have you found helps you to communicate better in marriage? Are there any tips or tricks you can share? Please comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.