You hear communication and you may think “talk”. Which means using your mouth. But that’s not the most important organ in communication with your spouse (or anyone).
You may have heard the advice, “Shut up and listen!” For a spouse who speaks easily and freely that may be super important. If your spouse is trying to express something, attentively listening will help move the two of you much closer together than if you constantly interrupt with your own thoughts.
But when it comes to really communicating there’s something much more important than speaking or even listening. And this holds true regardless of whether holding your tongue or sharing your thoughts is the bigger struggle for you.
The most important thing to consider when communicating is the state of your heart.
To truly communicate you must have an open heart.
You know what it feels like to have a closed heart toward your spouse. You notice everything your spouse does wrong and are inclined to let them know whenever you can. You interpret their attempts at closeness in the worst possible light, and see them as the primary reason your relationship is struggling. You’re quick to see when they mess up and slow to recognize any fault in your own behavior. You’re inclined to fight-or-flight – clamming up, putting your claws out, or walking away.
Trying to communicate out of a closed heart doesn’t work. Your words only wound, cut down, and discourage your partner while trying to justify yourself. The walls between you become higher and thicker, and you leave farther apart than when you began.
An open heart is just the opposite. While evaluating your marriage with honesty you focus most on the best parts of your spouse. Through your words and actions you invite your spouse to a safe connection with you. You’re inclined to cover their faults and draw out the best in them. When you cause your spouse harm you’re quick to apologize and ask forgiveness, and seek to be the person to your spouse that they most need in this season of your lives together.
Communicating out of an open heart leads to understanding. When you seek to understand before seeking to be understood much of the friction simply evaporates. Your open heart can hear your spouse so much better – both the words they say and the feelings, needs, hurts, and desires underneath the words.
Opening a Closed Heart
You may know the famous picture of Jesus knocking on the heart’s door – and there’s no doorknob on the outside. Even the Holy Spirit, the most powerful force in the universe, does not force His way in. He woos, persuades, seeks, invites, and never quits. The Hound of Heaven will keep after you.
But only you can choose to open your own heart, to God or to your spouse.
And only your spouse can choose to open their own heart also.
If you become aware your heart is closed, shut your mouth. Don’t try to communicate with your spouse. Let any emotional heat cool down. Get alone with God, and ask Him to show you how He sees you and your marriage. Stay there until your heart becomes open again.
If your spouse’s heart seems closed, trying to force communication isn’t helpful. Your job in that case is to imitate the Hound of Heaven in every way you can. Become safe for your spouse. Woo, persuade, seek, invite – and pray.
If your spouse’s heart is truly closed you won’t be able to communicate heart-to-heart regardless of how hard you try to pry them open. You may need to protect your own heart for a time until their heart does become open. And until then you keep inviting and praying, and working to keep your own heart open.
Communicating with an Open Heart
When your heart is open you listen well. You take appropriate risks in sharing vulnerably. You’re seeking to make the relationship better instead of fighting to be right. You hear – and truly understand – what’s going on with your spouse.
An open heart is one of the most inviting things in the world. When two people come together with open hearts true intimacy can happen.
And that’s real communication – in spirit, soul, and body.
Your Turn: Is your heart open? Is it open toward your spouse? Do you need to pray a while about getting your heart open? Leave a comment below.
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Need a more detailed plan?
Dr Carol’s Guide to Healthy Communication in Marriage expands on these ideas and gives you practical exercises that will help you use these ideas in your own marriage. The accompanying practical worksheets will help you talk about some of the toughest areas couples struggle to communicate about such as sex, money, and blended family issues, and provide you a way to RESET things between you even if communication has completely broken down.
Find out more about Dr Carol’s Guide to Healthy Communication in Marriage now. I know it will be a tool that can help transform this vital aspect of your marriage.