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 misunderstood. You’ve experienced the frustration of feeling like you’re not being heard.
If a couple knows how to talk to and listen to one another with understanding and respect, there are few problems that can’t be overcome. On the flip side, when the communication skills are lacking, it doesn’t take much to break a marriage. As you evaluate your own relationship, here are some things to focus on.
Communication Begins with Listening
If you’ve ever tried to talk to someone who just wouldn’t listen, you know it doesn’t work too well. Instead of creating understanding and connection, it produces frustration and isolation.
All of us, men and women, have got to learn to listen patiently. 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 shoot down points that they may not even be making, and we miss their point entirely.
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. My undivided attention validates who she is and conveys my respect for her feelings. It gives her a sense of value, and it fosters cooperation — 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 words, your spouse won’t be able to share unless they are willing to fight for “air time.” That isn’t likely to happen, and instead it drives 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.
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.
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, and to be a safe environment in which they can share their deepest feelings.
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. As it says in Philippians 2:3-4, “Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
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 with our ears; we really need to go below the surface. Researchers estimate that 65 per cent or more of our communication is nonverbal. Paying attention to body language and your spouse’s actions will help you grasp what they mean by the words they say. 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 fit them into your own mould, put in the effort to get to their heart. Just listen and let them express 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 our heart bare for another 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. My spouse needs to know that if she shares what’s really going on inside, I’m not going to reject her or drop the hammer on her. She also needs to know that she can take my words at face value and believe what I’m saying to her. If that trust doesn’t exist, then we have no communication.
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. Ephesians 4:29 puts it like this: “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.” 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 they haven’t worked through issues 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 those things we have to cut each other some slack and be willing to put things behind us.
Someone 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 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 at the altar.” But the funny thing is, I can be the most impatient and the most unforgiving with my spouse. 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 love the most. It needs to be the opposite.
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, we want to move on from here. We want to work things out. We want to 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.
If you feel like you and your spouse will never be on the same page, you're not alone. One of our confidential mentors would love to support, encourage, and pray for you.