Welcome to the first week of a 4-week series titled, How to Improve Your Marriage and Make it Stronger! If you click on that link you’ll be able to see an overview of the whole series and click on the blogs that interest you most. If you’ve found yourself here it’s probably because you want to improve the communication in your marriage, and if that’s the case… AWESOME!
Communication is arguably the most important thing to get right in any relationship, but it’s extra important in marriage. If you can communicate effectively with one another you’ll be in the top echelon of marriages, and according to a whole lot of data out there, you’ll be happier and less likely to divorce. Win-win-win!
Good communication is the lifeblood of a successful marriage, so when spouses stop talking at a deep level, their marriages slowly begin to die.Dr. Greg Smalley
When Trent and I got married we quickly realized healthy communication was something we’d need to work on. We’d get into arguments left and right, and it took a LONG time to get out of them. I didn’t know how to communicate my feelings, and I didn’t think Trent really cared, so I’d give him the silent treatment.
Thankfully, Trent would sit in the room with me until I’d open up. Now, don’t get me wrong. I hated every minute of it. But after enough of these I’m-not-leaving-until-we-talk sessions, it became easier and easier to open up. Conflict became resolved quicker and quicker, and after 15 years of practice there’s enough trust built up that communication flows freely.
Does that mean we do things perfectly all the time? Absolutely not. Stress and emotions still get the best of us every now and again, but the communication issues we dealt with when we first got married are long gone.
Before jumping into the 5 ways to improve communication in marriage I think it’s important to address why communication is so hard in the first place.
The first thing we need to remember is that people are unique. We each see the world a certain way. We each feel things a certain way. We typically marry people who are our opposites, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that we’re frequently at odds.
Add some stress, hormones, or a bad day to the mix, and it can get a bit cray. Forget about your spouse for just a minute. Have you ever struggled to find the right words to explain yourself? Have you ever felt anger, sadness, or frustration but couldn’t put your finger on the exact reason why? It’s hard enough to understand ourselves, let alone communicate with someone who seems to speak another language.
Odds are, good communication probably wasn’t modeled for you. You may feel like you’re starting with a disadvantage. It may feel like you’re constantly fighting a losing battle, but I promise you there’s hope. If Trent and I can do it, anyone can! You just have to be willing and committed. If that’s you, then here are…
5 ways to improve communication in marriage
1. Be humble.
Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18
Here’s the deal. Your spouse isn’t perfect, but neither are you. I know. I know. That’s hard to hear, but it’s true. And the quicker you can realize it the better your marriage will be. Jesus offers grace when we don’t deserve it, and he’s perfect. How much more gracious should we be toward our spouse as imperfect people?
2. Be a good listener.
If you want to improve the communication in your marriage you have to know what makes your spouse tick. And it starts with small talk when emotions are neutral. Work on your listening skills by asking some of these questions when you sit down for dinner or go out on a date.
When emotions are high, don’t just listen to respond. Listen to understand. This is really hard sometimes. I can remember this one time when we were coming home from a long RV trip. We were both exhausted and found ourselves in an argument. I had enough sense to stay calm and asking clarifying questions. It almost immediately diffused the argument.
There was another time we were coming home from a long RV trip and found ourselves in the same exact situation. All my sense was gone that time. Instead of listening to understand I lashed out. If I learned anything from those two experiences it’s that staying calm and asking questions is a way better idea
3. Avoid extreme statements. (You always. You never.)
You always leave your dirty clothes on the floor! You never listen! Though those statements may feel true, they rarely are. Odds are that they sometimes put their dirty clothes in the hamper and they sometimes listen. But when you claim they NEVER… well those are fighting words!
Starting sentences with, “I feel like…,” puts the focus on you, and quite frankly, no one can argue with your feelings. “I feel like you never listen to me” (said in a non-angry tone) has more hope for healthy dialogue than, “You suck!”
4. Know when to take a time-out.
When conversations go sideways one of the best things you can do is say, “I need a minute.” Taking a break when emotions are high may be just want you need to calm down and gather your thoughts. Just don’t let your time-out last forever. Nothing breeds bitterness like unresolved conflict.
Set a timer for 10-15 minutes. Or if your argument is pushing into some other time commitment, like a baseball game or church, agree to resume the conversation as soon as you’re back together and alone.
5. Ask for and offer forgiveness.
Good communication is about more than just navigating disagreements, but resolving conflicts in a healthy way means asking for and offering forgiveness. When you ask for forgiveness you invite the other person into the restoration process. When you offer forgiveness you’re essentially saying, “What you did was wrong, but Jesus paid for that offense. I don’t need to hold it against you anymore because Jesus has handled it.”
BONUS COMMUNICATION TIPS
Make space: If you’re not intentional about making the time to communicate, then it’s probably not going to happen. Take a walk, use dinner time intentionally, or set aside the first 15 minutes when you both get home from work to catch up and connect.
What we say can be taken wrongly by the person we’re talking to. There’s this illustration in Love and Respect (I think…) where women speak with pink megaphones and listen with pink hearing aids, and men speak with blue megaphones and listen with blue hearing aids. Imagine speaking with a megaphone that can’t be understood by your spouse’s hearing aids. You have to learn how to speak your spouse’s language, or in other words, you have to speak in a way that your spouse can understand.
Well, that was a lot. Did you learn something that will help improve the communication in your own marriage? Let us know in a comment below! And do you have any of your own suggestions (or book recommendations) that I didn’t touch on? Let us know!
Because there’s a better way,