If you’ve been married for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve realized that marriage is a great way to highlight the ways the two of you are wired differently. What may have seemed so easy during your dating season has quickly turned into more frequent disagreements. What gives?
We come to our relationships with our own ways of thinking and processing. When two people have to intertwine their entire lives, bank accounts, time, etc, our differences stand out. We are suddenly, for the sake of our relationships, having to identify and rewire incompatible habits. And that’s where our communication skills come into play.
Good communication goes a long way in your marriage. (Can I get an amen?)
There are 3 main ways we communicate with our spouses.
Verbal communication is done through words - you share information, you explain your feelings. It also includes how you deliver your messages and can be extended to how you receive the information and react. Verbal communication can be spoken or written.
Nonverbal communication includes facial expressions, gestures and body language, your tone of voice, eye contact and more. Do you have “conversations” with your spouse while you’re scrolling or texting on your phone? That nonverbal cue sends a message to your spouse about how important your conversation is.
And finally, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “Actions speak louder than words” right? Well how we treat and serve our spouse can communicate our love for them.
Communication is something that is required in every single area of a marriage. In the same way that you can’t have a close relationship with friends you haven’t spoken to in years, you can’t have a strong marriage if you’re not communicating.
We all want to feel understood, safe and appreciated. Communication is the foundation to those feelings. In fact, great communication increases trust, it helps resolve issues, it honors your spouse and it helps you to stay newlywed! Love is a choice (not a feeling), but it is an added bonus when those loving feelings are strong.
You achieve a strong marriage through great communication. So here are some ways to improve your communication skills.
We believe that oneness is a foundational mindset of a successful marriage.
Oneness in marriage is when two unique people unite in love and continue to pursue commitment and partnership throughout their marriage. It’s an active choice to be in sync with each other through a single vision and working together to create a life that is centered on your mutual love and respect.
Agreeing and living by that goal - to be united in oneness - will help you make healthy choices for your marriage. It serves as a compass and helps identify behavior that goes against your plan. It can even allow you to engage in disagreements without emotionally falling apart or disengaging out of fear of rejection.
We come to marriage already wired with how we were taught to talk, listen and process. Our families and culture play a large role in the good and the less desirable habits we bring to our relationship. Sometimes it can feel like we’re speaking a totally different language. So what can we do about it?
Spend time digging deeper into your partner’s nature. Understand how they prefer to give and receive love. Recognize their triggers and what their argument style is. Are you more passive in your communication and they’re direct?
Being different can bring challenges, but arming yourself with this knowledge helps you to have empathy for who they are. Finding ways to incorporate your understanding of them into your communication helps your spouse feel seen and understood. This leads to deeper intimacy and respect…despite your differences.
Accept your spouse for who they are today and encourage growth
Nothing says love like forcing your spouse to conform to your every desire, right? “Get a haircut” “Don’t wear that!” “You need to workout more” Just kidding!! It doesn’t feel good when your marriage feels more like a parent-child or boss-employee relationship. You’re partners!
Instead of telling them “don’t do the dishes like that” give them freedom to be who they are. Different is not wrong. Appreciate them for doing the dishes and let go of the control.
If you come across a behavior that definitely needs to go, address it with empathy and grace. When it’s your turn to be on the receiving end, you’ll appreciate that same approach. If your focus is oneness, part of that unity is growing together. That means taking responsibility for your own shortcomings and self-improvement path while allowing space and time for your spouse to do the same.
While you should always address disrespect, does it really matter if they fold or roll their socks? Nah. Let it go.
Be an active listener and choose to care about what they're saying
It’s really easy to be thinking about your next response while your spouse is still talking. Avoid this and use active listening skills instead.
Listen to their words, maintain eye contact and nod so they can recognize you’re present, allow them to finish their thoughts before you chime in. Then before you add your own response, offer a quick summary and ask if you heard them correctly. (Google active listening for more great examples)
This will actually improve your retention skills and help to avoid misunderstandings. By positioning yourself to truly hear them, mutual respect is earned.
So what if they’re talking to you about something that doesn’t matter to you? Football? The new store at the mall? Listen anyway and choose to care. Maybe not about the topic, but honor the fact that they’re wanting to share their world with you! Here again, respect and trust are earned.
Appreciate how you both process
There are two types of processors. Someone who is a verbal processor needs to hear the ideas out loud before they can come to a conclusion. While someone who is an internal processor must wrestle in their head before verbalizing their conclusion. Neither of these is predicated by gender.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the old self-help adage that says that men speak half as many words per day as women do. That has largely shaped our culture’s stereotypes of how men and women communicate. It has since been proven to be inaccurate. In fact, men and women speak roughly the same 16,000 words per day.
Whichever processing camp you and your spouse fall into, respect it. Try not to force them to fit into your mold, instead learn how you’re able to support them in their processing!
The details that you dwell on are what you will convince yourself is most important.
If you find yourself focusing on the negative aspects of your day, your spouse, your life, you will begin to believe that everything is negative. This is why it is so powerful to focus on gratitude.
Every single day express gratitude for the things your spouse does. Especially if they are things that you don’t do. Do they do finances and the dishes? Thank them! Recognize they are filling a role you are not and appreciate their skills. Don’t treat anything they do to make your lives run smoothly as mundane. It doesn’t matter if you feel like it is part of the role they chose in your marriage - thank them with your words, a note, any way that they will understand that you appreciate them.
It’s easy to have knee-jerk reactions to your spouse’s tone of voice or forgetfulness or fill-in-the-blank. We ALL do this. Learning to seek understanding during a misunderstanding can be difficult, but it’s possible!
A good approach is to try to stay calm and listen to what your spouse is saying. Ask questions to confirm that you’re both understanding each other correctly and then try to find common ground.
Communication is key! Be willing to express your feelings and thoughts in a respectful way, but also be open to hearing their point of view. With patience and understanding, you can find resolution and move forward.
Serve each other
When was the last time you recognized that your spouse was busy with work or the kids so you cooked dinner without being asked? Or maybe you took out the trash for no reason other than you wanted to bless your partner?
You don’t have to figure out a big production of an evening to show your spouse how much you love them. You can do simple things by recognizing what’s going on in their lives and finding ways to ease their burden, or giving them a little extra attention.
This is definitely “actions speak louder” advice. So what can you do today to serve your spouse?
Make your thoughts and feelings known
Raise your hand if you’ve ever had the “How can I know what you wanted? I can’t read your mind!” argument? As you add more and more years to your marriage, you will have some basic understanding of your spouse's habits and potential reactions to things; it’s still just not possible to know everything that goes on in their head without communication.
So even if you’re an internal processor, learn to verbalize your expectations, feelings, concerns, and needs. By doing this you will stop many misunderstandings and arguments before they begin! You might actually get what you wanted to begin with.
Something I’m personally working on: Instead of saying “nothing” when I’m asked what’s wrong, I’m trying out a new script. “I’m feeling something that I need to work through right now, I’ll tell you when I’m ready.” That gives me a minute to collect myself and take ownership of my emotions, but it also signals to Jake that he won’t have to try to read my mind.
For women, being vulnerable with their sisters or friends can be very easy. Men tend to confide in a few of their closest friends. When you married your partner you chose someone who, when the relationship is nurtured, should be your best friend and confidant.
Being vulnerable is taking a risk by showing the parts of you that are not normally on display. This could be your past, experiences you’ve had, feelings and emotions, needs, anything that you wouldn’t share with just anyone. They need to be met with a kind heart, grace, forgiveness in some cases, and support.
Opening up to someone isn’t an easy thing to do, but if you both create a safe environment to share, your trust and intimacy will grow considerably.
Stop complaining, nagging and criticizing
These three (super negative btw) actions are just not a productive part of a healthy marriage. They might get you what you want in the short term (or maybe just an indignant spouse), but the damage they do under the surface is huge. This falls under the category of a parent-child relationship marriage, it’s toxic and it breeds resentment and dysfunction.
Bring your concerns to each other in a gentle way. (You catch more flies with honey than vinegar!) If you seek understanding before jumping to an emotional conclusion, then you will be positioning yourself to hear constructively and take action if it’s warranted. Listen carefully to the heart of your spouse when they are being vulnerable by sharing something that bothers them. Work together to solve the issue.
Marriage counseling is a great way to exercise your communication skills. If you’re feeling misunderstood or continually hitting the same sore spots in your disagreements, marriage counseling is a great way to get back on track. Marriage counselors provide you with tools you can use for years to come.
You don’t even have to have any problems to reap benefits. We know many healthy couples who schedule their marriage counseling just like they do their dentists appointments.
There will never be a time in your marriage that communication won’t be important. Communication isn’t simply the words you use. You communicate with your looks/facial expressions, the tone of your voice, how well you listen and of course the way you react. You will communicate really well in one season and then not in the next. So always try to be aware of your circumstances and give grace when it’s needed, but don’t be afraid to remind each other that you need to talk through things.
Thought of an area you could be a little better at communicating? Grab your spouse and start it today! If you’re both working towards your goal of unity, when one of you begins something that shows benefits for your marriage the other will follow.
Identify one area that you need to improve your communication. If you’re working this through with your spouse, talk about why this area is difficult or why you feel that it needs improvement. Own your own flaws and create specific ways you can remind each other of your choice to grow in this area. Once you get this one area down, talk about the next and work on that.