Almost every couple, whether they are experiencing difficulty in their marriage lists “communication” as the area in which they need the most improvement. When couples are not able to communicate effectively, they disconnect and move apart. Assumptions about the other are made which usually aren’t accurate. Avoidance of heated topics occurs and then becomes avoidance of each other. In the ancient scripture, when God wants to scatter people, they are not moved by a miracle. Their language is confused so that they are unable to understand each other. As a result, they scatter over all the earth.
When we don’t communicate in a relationship, when we are confused and unable to understand each other, then we move away from each other, i.e. “scatter.”
One issue with communication in marriage is the difference between men and women.
The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine (2006) estimates that women speak about 20,000 words per day compared to 7,000 for men. A Family Life survey identified that on average men have 6,000 to 12,000 words to use per day. Women have 12,000 to 25,000 words to use per day. This disparity in number of words can cause conflict.
The most often-missed component of good communication is validation.
It is not always the woman who uses more words, especially when it is a matter of validation. Depending on the topic or the issue being discussed, the man can use as many or more words. Often the reason that our mate “goes on and on” is because they don’t feel heard or understood. They are not looking for agreement necessarily. What is more important than agreement is validation, the knowledge that they are valued and what they have to say is valued – even if we don’t agree.
Healthy communication should be a DIALOGUE, not a monologue.
A daily dialogue is extremely important to keep the lines of communication open in your marriage. To ensure that you do this, agree that you will spend a minimum of 15 minutes per day talking with one another. To do this, you will need to agree upon the best time to communicate and then each commit to make it happen.
Communication involves both verbal and non-verbal components.
- Verbal communication involves spoken words, written words and voice tone.
- What we say matters but how we say it really matters more.
- What we don’t say also matters – This can be passive aggressive behavior. Holding thoughts hostage until a ransom is paid. In other words, “I’m not telling him/her this as a way of punishing them.”
- Non-verbal communication is just as important as verbal. Remember this from speech class? Communication is 7% Spoken Words; 38% Tone of Voice; 55% Body Language
Are you making eye contact? Are your arms open or folded? How close are you to each other when you are talking? Does your body language say that you are relaxed or tense? What does your facial expression convey? Are you fidgeting, or worse, checking your cell phone?
- “Hearing” and “listening” are two different things. Hearing is passive and requires little mental effort and no personal investment. Listening is active and demands personal investment.
A practical method to help you really listen and personally invest in your communication with your mate (or anyone) is The Ladder Method:
A sk questions
D on’t interrupt
D on’t change the subject
R espond -verbally and non-verbally.
LEVELS OF COMMUNICATION
There are five levels of communication according to Gary Smalley in his book, Secrets to Lasting Love, and from Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? by John Powell.
- Clichés /Surface – Typical, routine comments, questions and answers given out of habit and with no real thought or genuine intent. “How are you?” “Fine.” “How was the weekend?” “Great, and yours?”
- Facts – Information/statistics about the weather, the office, friends, the news, personal activities, etc. Requires no in depth thinking or feeling.
- Opinions – Includes concerns, expectations, and personal goals, dreams and desires. Due to differences of opinion that naturally arise between two people, especially between men and women, this is typically the level at which we engage in conflict. Many couples do not make it past this level.
- Feelings – Sharing deep emotions. Sharing deep emotions can be frightening or confusing to some. For those who grew up in an environment where feelings were not expressed may have a harder time initially identifying and sharing them. But don’t be concerned, it is a skill that can be learned with a little effort.
- Needs – The deepest, intimate level of communication where you feel completely safe to be transparent and reveal your deepest needs to each other. In most cases, couples desire to meet each other’s needs. However, sadly, very few couples reach this level of communication. We want our spouse to just “know” what we need. It is extremely unfair to expect our spouse meet our needs if we are unwilling or unable to express them.
ENEMIES OF COMMUNICATION
- Distractions – These can be the computer, TV, text messages, children or pets, work related interruptions. It is important that you make eye contact to help overcome distractions. In other words, learn to listen with your eyes. It shows great respect to your spouse when you look at them when they are talking.
- Habit – We can develop habits in communication that can lead to surface conversations and sharing facts. “How did you sleep last night?” “Just fine, you?” “Well, my back was hurting, so I couldn’t get comfortable” “Did you feed the dogs? “Yeah, I did. Will you pick up the dry-cleaning on your way home from work?” “Sure, no problem, if you’ll start dinner.” “Okay. See you tonight.” “Bye.”
- Timing – There’s a right and wrong time for conversation. Be aware of your environment. Don’t have private conversations in public. Don’t open unresolved conflicts when you’re celebrating something. Be mindful of fatigue …or the big game! Try to address one topic at a time…don’t overwhelm your listener! HALT: Hungry, angry, lonely or tired? Halt the conversation. This all speaks to dwelling with your spouse according to wisdom.
- Impatience – “I already know what he/she is going to say, so let’s just get to the end of this conversation. Why do I have to go through the entire process?” Remember that patience is a fruit of the spirit, so impatience has less to do with your spouse’s wordiness and more to do with your character in Christ.
- Defensiveness – Instead of hearing what your spouse is saying, and trying to hear what they are really trying to communicate, you’re thinking of what you’re going to say in response to what they’re saying. It’s okay to pause after they’re done with their statement to gather your thoughts before speaking…or even to schedule a time to respond later if there’s just too much to process at that moment. When your spouse is speaking, make it all about them!
Individually answer these questions, then discuss with your partner if the timing is right.
- On a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), rate your communication in the areas of frequency and intimacy.
- At which of the 5 levels of communication are most of your conversations with your partner?
- How confident are you in your skills in resolving the conflicts that arise after expressing differing opinions?
- Are you comfortable sharing your emotions and needs with your partner?
- What can you do to foster a safe environment for sharing emotions and needs?
- What one aspect of your communication as a couple would you like to change?
- Which of the enemies to communication do you struggle with the most? Which have you had victory over?
If, after a few failed attempts, you cannot improve your communication with your partner, then it is time to seek help. Often it is a matter of making just a few adjustments. Consider attending a marriage seminar or marriage retreat or contacting a counselor or relationship coach for communication help.