If your attempts at communicating with your spouse leave you frustrated, angry, and feeling even more distant, you’re not alone. In our marriage survey, 70% of the hundreds of couples who responded said they wanted better communication in their marriage. But there’s an almost magical key to solving communication problems that can change everything.
Healthy communication doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a skill you learn. Think of how your communication normally happens. You try to express something important to your spouse. They react defensively and give a prickly response. Your already-stirred-up emotions get even hotter and your response back makes them even more defensive. The fight is on.
Is it any wonder that many spouses put up an internal wall and shrink from even trying to engage in real communication?
It’s time to reverse things.
Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.”
Did you get that? It’s a fool who focuses primarily on sharing his/her own thoughts and feelings. The opposite is to find pleasure in understanding. Here’s how that translates into communication with your spouse:
Seek to Understand before Seeking to be Understood
Steven Covey made that principle popular years ago, but it’s never been more important for solving communication problems in marriage.
This key solved a thorny issue in my own marriage. Al wanted the TV on all night; I wanted the room quiet and dark. Although we never fought over this it was an ongoing source of tension. One morning in the kitchen we got to the bottom of things. Al’s declining health made him fearful of dying during his sleep; rousing himself just enough to be aware of the TV reassured him he will still alive. I realized the sound was much more troublesome for me than the light from the TV screen.
We both shed some tears over that one. From then on we slept with the TV on – and on mute. That’s what communicating to the point of understanding can do.
What does that look like? How do you do that? Here are some ways to make this key work in your own marriage.
Learn Your Spouse’s Communication Language
Men and women often seem to speak completely different languages.
- Men frequently see words as the way to convey information and get things done. Women more often see words as the way to express emotions and make human connection.
- When women express a problem men naturally want to fix it. A man’s attempt at fixing a problem may leave a woman feeling as though he is discounting her feelings.
- Men are usually looking for the bottom line. Women want to hear – and talk about – all the details along the way.
Simply understanding those differences may disarm some of your frustrations in trying to communicate with your spouse. You will not be able to change your spouse’s personality. But learning your spouse’s communication language will help you understand each other much better.
Do Your Homework
Pausing long enough to think some things through before trying to communicate will lead to much better understanding. If communication has been a problem in your marriage, you know many things that don’t work. You also know some things about your spouse that increase the chance for communication to be successful. Put yourself in their shoes long enough to frame your communication in a way they are more likely to hear.
If you naturally talk a lot, this will mean framing your communication more clearly and succinctly. If you don’t talk easily, this will mean stretching yourself to do more talking because that will foster understanding between you. It will always mean choosing the setting, time, and method that is most likely to lead to understanding.
Learn to Feed Yourself
When your own soul is empty it’s very difficult to understand your spouse. You’re so hungry no true communication can happen.
Proactively finding healthy nourishment for your own heart will give you more internal resiliency to understand your spouse and work toward any solutions necessary. Your spouse may be able to meet some of your needs, but you’re responsible for finding the healthy friends, uplifting media, solitude, and time with God that your soul needs to be whole.
Have an Open Heart
Seeking to understand is both a means of making your heart more open and a natural result of having an open heart. A closed heart is turned inward and cannot understand another. When you make the choice to have an open heart, and get there through prayer, more understanding about your spouse can make their way into your heart and open it even further.
Simply pausing long enough to ask how you can understand your spouse is further opening your heart. By doing so you are not assuming your spouse is right, or accepting bad behavior. You are simply deciding to seek understanding from their perspective.
It’s Not All About You!
Most failed communication comes from making it all about you. You criticize your spouse because you believe you know better what they should do, or because you feel they have hurt you in some way. You try to force, cajole, or manipulate them into meeting your needs. You are giving your spouse the power to decide your own thoughts, feelings, and happiness.
Turning your focus away from yourself helps you take things less personally. Focusing on the issue, problem, or goal makes it easier to communicate in order to understand. Of course listening well becomes important here. It’s really not all about you!
Learning to seek understanding takes time. You’re likely to mess up along the way. Make it a goal in your relationship, and keep at it. Your marriage can be revolutionized as a result.
Is solving communication problems in your marriage a challenge? Seek understanding. And only then seek to be understood.
Your Turn: Have you been seeking to be understood before seeking to understand? How can you reverse things and seek understanding in your marriage? 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.