Marriage counseling can be one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences in the office. Many couples know they can get better, but they have a hard time resolving conflicts and becoming closer because they can’t communicate. On the surface, communicating with one’s spouse doesn’t seem like it should be difficult. She speaks. He listens. He speaks. She listens. Communication has happened. Correct? Many who seek counseling complain they can’t communicate with each other. They complain the other person is not listening, not understanding, misinterpreting, forgetting, not informing, or not even talking at all. Couples want to become closer, but they can’t get through the communication issues. Does this sound familiar to you?
I’d like to summarize 3 common problems and solutions to communicate better with your spouse. To be current with the slang of my teen sons, these communication tips are LIT.
1. Listening. Someone once said God gave us two ears and one mouth so we’ll listen twice as much as we speak. Listening is one of the most important skills of communication, but a skill we rarely do well. When someone else speaks and you are listening, what are you listening to / for? Some listen for errors in the other’s words for factual errors and then try to correct them (shutting the other person down). Others appear they are listening, but they are thinking about a comeback or paying attention to something else (like the TV). While others refuse to listen. When others don’t understand, interrupt, or aren’t listening, we get frustrated. We raise our voices to be heard (because people can understand us better when we raise our voices, even if they’re right next to us, right?). When this occurs, retaliation or withdrawal often follows.
I heard (I wish I could give credit to the author, but don’t recall where I it came from) that “Communication is more than an exchange of words, it’s an exchange of the heart.” Listening to another person isn’t about listening to the words alone, but to the meaning behind them. In his book, Love & Respect, Dr. Eggerich gives examples of what he calls the “Crazy Cycle.” In one situation, the “Crazy Cycle”occurs when a wife desires more time with her husband. She criticizes him for working too much and not spending enough time at home. The husband, feeling criticized, disrespected and hurt, then retaliates in unloving ways. While the wife needed to express her heart better in non-critical ways, the husband also ought to listen beyond her words and into her heart. What does the wife want? More time with her husband because she loves him and wants to spend time with him. Listening to the heart requires that we pay close attention to the other person’s feelings and desires. What do they fear? What do they want? What do they love? Desire? Oh and don’t assume you know what is in their heart or you can misinterpret their heart. Ask.
2. Interpreting. Over ten years ago I became upset with my wife at a church Baptism. As an elder, I knew I needed to attend, but I was exhausted and didn’t want to go. I mentioned this to my wife and said if I go I only want to hang out with friends. We attended the event, and I did just that. It was great until my wife came beside me and asked me if I was having a good time. I said yes. She responded, “Good, because I’m watching the kids.” At this, I became angry with her because she was saying I was being selfish (which I was) and a bad dad (which I was). But she said this in front of my friends, which I felt was disrespectful. So, in good Christian fashion, I became indignant and refused to talk to her the rest of the night. Then it occurred to me, “Fred. You’re a counselor. What would you tell your client?” I’d tell my client to make sure you interpreted your wife’s intentions correctly. So, after I finished stewing, I asked her what she meant when she said what she said. She replied that she hoped I was having a good time and not to worry about the kids because she was watching them. So, my wife was ministering to me and I was offended because I misinterpreted her words.
We need to be humble in our interpretations and communication.
We need to be humble in our interpretations and communication. If we think we are right at reading the other person’s intentions, then we are not listening to their hearts, we are writing intentions onto their hearts. We ascribe motives to another person and we could be completely wrong. The more right we suspect we are, despite the other person arguing differently, the less we care to communicate. Our pride has already dictated how poorly communication will be. If we are to be humble in our own interpretations, we ought to trust the other person’s response.
3. Trust. What would have happened if I believed my opinion instead of my wife’s response? It would have gone something like this: “You didn’t say you’re watching the kids so I’d have a good time. You wanted to embarrass me in front of my friends and put me down as a dad!” Ascribing one’s own feelings to another’s intentions does not work. If we don’t or can’t trust the other person, communication will break down. Yet many don’t speak truthfully. Why? Often it’s because of fear. They may be afraid to say anything so the other person doesn’t think less of them (people pleasing). They may be afraid to speak the truth because they are afraid of any consequences. Or maybe it’s for a very different reason. If trust has been broken in the relationship, such as with infidelity or hidden purchases, the brokenness in communication had already begun when the deceit began. If we will trust another person, they need to be trustworthy, and we need the courage to trust them. Without truth, trust will not grow in any relationship. Make sure you are being truthful in all communication and when you speak truth, speak it in love (Eph 4:15).
Most couples struggle with communication at some level. Areas to improve are in Listening, Interpreting, and Trust. While communication ought to involve both spouses, don’t wait for the other person to improve first. If you start it, your spouse will adjust or respond in some manner. When you speak, do it in humility, choosing to listen to the other person’s heart and not ascribing meaning to their words or actions. Be truthful in your speech and look for areas where you may not be speaking truthfully. Emphasize your desires (I’d like to spend more time with you) over the other person’s behaviors (you work too much).
If you struggle in marriage with communication, these tips can help you develop more intimacy and resolve conflicts with your spouse.
What are some other helpful tips? Write them below!
Here are some other blogs to help you in your marriage…