Marriage counseling is an opportunity for couples to gain the skills and understanding necessary to strengthen their bond. While communication may seem straightforward, it can be challenging for some partners. Many come into therapy feeling unheard or misunderstood by one another. If there are gaps in your conversations that you feel prevent a deeper connection with your partner, marriage counseling might help bridge them! It could provide helpful guidance from which you benefit as individuals and as a couple.
I want to summarize three 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.
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 essential 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, we get frustrated when others don’t understand, interrupt, or aren’t listening. 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.
“Communication is more than an exchange of words; it’s an exchange of the heart.”
I heard (I wish I could give credit to the author, but I don’t recall where 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 the words alone but 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. Feeling criticized, disrespected, and hurt, the husband retaliates in unloving ways. While the wife needed to express her heart better in non-critical ways, the husband should also 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 paying 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.
Over twelve 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 went, I only wanted 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 he interpreted his 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, 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 interpretations, we ought to trust the other person’s response.
What would have happened if I had 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 feelings to another’s intentions does not work. Communication will break down if we don’t or can’t trust the other person. 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 through infidelity or hidden purchases, the brokenness in communication has already begun with the deceit began. If we 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).
Communication is an essential cornerstone of successful relationships, yet often couples need help to communicate with each other effectively. Looking for ways to improve? Consider honing in on crucial communication techniques such as listening actively, interpreting words and actions objectively instead of ascribing your own meaning, trusting one another more deeply, and speaking honestly about desires rather than criticizing behaviors – all while striving towards humble conversations that allow both partners the chance to be heard clearly. If you take these steps yourself without expecting a quick solution from your spouse immediately, it may start unraveling any areas where a conversation isn’t flowing smoothly between you two.
If you struggle in marriage with communication, these tips can help you develop more intimacy and resolve conflicts with your spouse. If you need additional help, remember we are here for you!
- Fred Jacoby, MA