We all know that communication is one of the most common problems in marriage, or any relationship for that matter. But couples we meet often have some basic misunderstandings of what communication is and what it takes to improve it.
What is good communication?
First of all, communication in a marriage is more than just the basic exchange of information. It is how two people share heart to heart with each other. It is the place where real intimacy is developed. Someone once broke down the word intimacy to mean IN TO ME SEE. That’s what good communication does in a marriage, it allows you to see into each other’s heart.
Second, good communication speaks of how valuable two people are to each other. Many people do not start out with good communication skills, but out of the necessity of building a great marriage they will develop their communication skills. And out of the value they have for their marriage and their desire to make their marriage last, they will work to keep the lines of good communication open.
And one more thing we have to understand about good communication, it requires safety. For a person to really share their heart with another person there has to be trust and a sense of being safe in order to be vulnerable. When a person feels safe they feel free to open up, if they feel threatened they will shut down.
One half of good communication
Every time we meet new couples we are ministering to, we can see right away that they have communication problems on some level. Many times couples are aware of their lack of communication, but they don’t have the understanding on how to fix the problem.
Sadly, many couples believe their marriage is hopeless because they somehow believe if they were married to the right person they would be able to communicate better. The truth is it takes time, effort and patience to develop good communication skills. For marriage or any relationship, communication has to develop in stages, it is a process.
One of the skills that we have to develop is listening. Very often in marriage the reason one spouse will not open up and talk is because they feel that when they do, they are not being listened to. They shut down and give up and they absorb themselves into something else they can succeed at. The frustration for the two of them grows and the bad habit of wrong communication grows as well. But, if a person wants to have good communication with their spouse, sometimes it’s just best to listen.
Listening though, is not as simple as it sounds. Listening is about engaging your whole self and not just your ears. Here are a few tips on what it takes to become a better listener.
Listen with your mind
Keeping your mind focused on what you’re hearing is vital to good communication. Turn off any distractions that would prevent your mind from focusing, such as TV, radio, phone, or computer. If there are children or other people around, pull away from them for a short time to allow your full attention to be given to the conversation. Depending on the conversation, you may need to take some extended time away from distractions.
Keeping your mind focused means you have to engage your thoughts with what is being spoken. Listen for the important details that will help broaden your understanding. Let the details you are hearing paint a full picture for you. Guard your own thoughts. If you’re not carefull you can become preoccupied with what you want to say in return and you will miss the rest of what you should be hearing.
And if you are distracted because you are in the middle of something and you know you will not be able to give your full attention, ask for the time you need to finish what you’re doing so that you can have a clear mind. But, you don’t want to over use this as an excuse. Use some wisdom and always place your highest priority on your spouse.
Example: We will go for a drive, a walk, or sit out on the porch to get away from distractions. Sometimes you can also go behind closed doors, but when you do make sure the bedroom is not a place of conflict. It should always be kept as a place of intimacy.
Listen with your heart
Listen for the feelings behind what is being said. When it is the appropriate time to speak, ask questions about the feelings you are picking up on. Listen for your spouse’s perspective. How do they interrupt things? How have they reacted to events that have happened to them or words that have been spoken to them? What can you learn about your spouse from listening with your heart? Be caring and understanding.
Don’t dismiss the way your spouse feels or thinks. How they feel is very real to them. Their reasoning may be based on false assumptions, but the feelings they have are just as valid as the way you think or feel. And when their feelings are in direct opposition to yours, give them some grace. Try to understand why.
Example: If your spouse is afraid of water, you wouldn’t tell them you think it is silly and then you try to push them in. No you give them grace and understanding. That is the same way you handle whatever they think or feel.
Listen with your eyes
Make eye to eye contact often and without looking away. Resist distractions that will steal your attention. Let your eyes reveal the warmth and compassion you are feeling. Let your eyes speak for how important your spouse is to you.
Example: Your eyes are used for focus. Whenever someone is focused on TV, a book, or a project, their eyes are fixed on what they are giving their full attention to.
Listen with your mouth
First with your mouth closed. Let your spouse speak without interrupting them even when you feel you have something important to say. You allowing them to speak uninterrupted may the most important message you can give them. So don’t be so quick to throw in your opinion. And don’t try to jump in and fix their problem when you have not been asked to.
Also listen without correcting them if they get something wrong. There may be times when your spouse is open for you to correct some detail, but they do not want every word they say to be corrected as if you are the editor in charge of what is coming out of their mouth. Let them speak freely without fear that you will overpower them with your corrections.
Second, use the way you speak to show you are listening. Never use words or even grunts that are cynical, critical and demeaning. Speak words that are uplifting and affirmative, encourage your spouse to keep sharing their heart with you. Ask him/her to continue with what they are saying. Ask questions that invite them to go into more detail. Ask questions that will help you understand better. Use reflective listening; repeat back what you have just heard with the intent to make sure you have understood.
Example: “I think I heard you right. Is this ___________ what you are saying?” Fill in the blank with what you think you heard.
Listen with your body
Body language has a lot to do with listening. Good listeners will lean into the conversation, showing attention. A good listener will move in closer, pull up a chair next to the one they want to hear, or take a seat next to them. If the conversation is taking place during an activity, a good listener will stop what they are doing when they hear something important that needs their full attention.
When listening with your body, do not show yourself to be restless, bored, or anxious by the way you move, stand or sit. Be careful to not slouch back or cross your arms in a way that says you’re not interested in what is being said.
Listen with your deeds
The old saying is true, “actions speak louder than words.” A very important part of listening is follow through. It is very frustrating to share your heart and then have it dismissed as unimportant. When you fail to put action behind what you hear from your spouse, you are sending them a message that what you heard them say is unimportant to you.
Example: If your spouse is telling you that they would like to have some time away with just the two of you, there needs to be some follow through action steps taken.
Example: If your spouse has expressed some concern over money, children, church attendance, or even sexual intimacy, you have to pay attention to what they are saying by taking some steps to address those issues.
Again, listening is just half of good communication, but it is a very important half. Good listening requires hard work, but the reward is worth every effort you can give.