Communication is arguably what makes or breaks any relationship. It is occurring all the time in a marriage at some level, whether verbally or nonverbally. The relationship started out with communication, and when there is a breakdown of communication then the marriage is in serious trouble. It makes sense therefore, to work on your communication skills in your marriage if you want to have a strong and healthy relationship.
The following five do’s and don’ts will outline some of the important keys to effective communication in marriage.
1. Do listen lovingly – Don’t interrupt and assume
Listening is foundational to good communication. It can even be said that listening is an indication of how much you love your spouse. Loving listening entails paying attention when your beloved is speaking, with the express purpose of getting to know him or her better, to understand his or her needs and to discover how he or she really feels and thinks about situations and about life. Making eye contact while speaking goes a long way to communicating your undivided attention, as well as responding empathetically and appropriately, with affirming words and actions.
If you constantly interrupt when your spouse is speaking, assuming you know what they would have said, you will very soon shut down any effective communication in marriage. It is also not helpful just to wait until they stop talking so you can have your say.
Changing the subject abruptly gives a clear message that you are not listening or you don’t care enough to hear your spouse out on whatever topic they were busy with.
2. Do get on the same level – Don’t mix head and heart
An effective communication skill in marriage is learning to get on the same level as your spouse in any given conversation. Basically there are two levels: the head level and the heart level. On the head level, facts, ideas and thoughts are discussed, while on the heart level it is all about feelings and emotions, painful and joyful experiences. Good communication and understanding takes place when both parties are levelling together, and can respond appropriately at the same level.
The contrary is true when one person is communicating on a heart level for example, and the other answers on the head level. Imagine this scenario: the husband comes home to find his wife lying curled up on the bed with red, puffy eyes and the house in disarray. He says: “What’s wrong, honey?” And she says, sniffing tearfully, “I’m so tired…” He throws up his arms and says, “You’ve been home all day, what have you got to be tired about, you could have at least swept the house!”
The appropriate response to a heart level communication is empathy, understanding and affection, while a head level communication can be responded to with words of advice and possible solutions.
3. Do draw each other out – Don’t miss all the clues
Drawing each other out is undoubtedly one of the most effective communication strategies in a marriage. This requires responding to each other’s words in such a way that your spouse feels invited and encouraged to share more, and on a deeper level. There should never be any pressure or coercion to share. Every one of us gives out clues regularly as to what we are experiencing on a heart level. These can be non-verbal clues such as body language, tears, or tone and volume of voice. Just as smoke indicates a fire, these clues indicate important issues or experiences that one may wish to talk about. By paying careful attention to these clues, some valuable communication can take place to deepen and strengthen your marriage.
In the scenario described above, an alert husband would have noticed his wife’s tears and realized that there was probably a lot more to her “tiredness.” After making her a cup of tea, he could sit down on the bed next to her and say, “Tell me how you are feeling and what is worrying you.”
4. Do choose your timing carefully – Don’t use bad timing
It’s not always possible to choose the perfect time to communicate in difficult situations when things happen. But generally, it is best to wait for an opportunity when there will be fewer interruptions, to talk through important issues. When one or both of you is highly upset and emotional, that is not usually a good time to try and talk. Wait a while until you have cooled down a bit, then sit down together and share your thoughts and feelings with each other, until you can agree on a way forward.
If you have an important matter to discuss, dinner time in front of the kids is probably not the best choice. Once you have the family settled for the night, then you and your spouse can have alone time for those kinds of conversations. If one of you is a “morning” person and the other not, this should also be taken into consideration, not bringing up weighty matters late at night when it is bedtime and you need to sleep.
5. Do talk straight and simple – Don’t talk in circles
Sometimes we can be so sensitive and afraid to offend our spouse that we end up talking in circles. The best way is simply to say what you mean and mean what you say. In a secure and healthy relationship, where both partners know that they are loved and accepted, even if there are misunderstandings, you know they were not intentional or malicious. A wise man once said to his spouse: “If I say something that possibly has two meanings, know that I meant the best one.”
Do not expect your spouse to read your mind, and then become offended if he gets it wrong. It is much better to state your needs simply and clearly – the answer is either yes or no, and then everyone knows where they stand and can move on accordingly.