4 Rules for Better Communication in Marriage

By Jennie Ross

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December 28, 2020

Ever After: Marriage and Family Conference

April 30–May 1, 2021 at ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, TN

Join us at this year’s marriage conference, where we’ll be learning more about how to communicate with your spouse. Learn more and register now.

It’s no surprise that a large majority of marriages that end in divorce point to communication as the primary reason and cause.

It wasn’t like the couple walked into the relationship intending to break down in their ability to relate to each other through communication. However, as the lower levels of talking failed to give way to a higher functioning level of communication, their relationship deteriorated. Eventually, all was lost and given up. Without communication, a marriage ceases to be real and it nurtures nobody.

There are four types of interactions that must exist within a marriage relationship. Each plays a vital role in the relationship functioning at a high level.

Small/Informal Communication

This type of communication is the most simple and, at times, easiest of the types. It is our natural form of communication. It is a rundown of the day. Here is what happened. How was your day? It is the simple connection between spouses and doesn’t require much in the way of skill, or emotion.

Organizational Meetings

This type moves beyond the small talk into an action oriented discussion. A regular budget meeting to talk through upcoming expenses, routines, to-do lists and the like. These are things beyond the small. Maybe you have a spending limit that says “above this amount we have to talk and agree about it.” Not every decision needs an organizational meeting. But they are needed to ensure balls are not dropped and can be incredibly helpful to a relationship.

 

Challenging Conversations

You have to have them. You need to have them. These conversations surround troubles. They can be small, such as there is a repair needed. They can be large, like a hurt or disappointment. They involve fears, anger, grief and confusion. These talks push us to grow and mature. They expose blind spots in our lives and can lead us to make important changes. They can be emotionally driven. They require grace and forgiveness. They should make us better instead of tearing us down.

Intimate Conversations

The previous three are reactive talks driven by events and needs. An intimate conversation is proactive. It looks forward instead of to the past. These talks unpack hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities. Ask your spouse a question you’ve not asked before.

Kids, work, and problems are not allowed in these talks. Seek to know your spouse better and deeper. It strengthens the bond of your relationship. The two of you are changing and maturing. Make the time to learn about those things.

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All four of these conversation types belong in a healthy and growing marriage. You can’t leave any of them out. Time and again couples focus on the first two or three and stand by while things slowly dry up and distance between each other becomes the norm.

As you approach any of these types of communication there are some simple thoughts to help make the most of any conversation. Take a look below.

1. Listen Well

Communication doesn’t truly happen without listening. And listening well to the other person. Listening this way requires activeness on your part. You can’t be planning your next statement while the other is talking.

Listen to understand. To find clarity. To learn what the other is feeling and perspective.

Don’t presume to know or understand it. Ask questions to gain a clear understanding of what is meant. Care enough to go deeper in the conversation. Summarize what you heard back to the other person and ask if that is correct. Withhold judgment on what is being said until you have clarity to its meaning.

Don’t stare off while you are listening. Give attention. Eliminate distractions from the conversation. Don’t interrupt the other person. Give them space to share. Look at the other person. Not in a weird way, but keep your attention to them. Listening well is vital to good communication between two people, especially husband and wife.

2. Be Real About Expectations

Few things probably derail communication more than expectations. In a general sense there are certain types of expectations that cause the problems. Expectations are not a bad thing in a relationship. However, certain ones plunge it into chaos on a regular basis.

Unspoken, unmet and unrealistic expectations are often at the root of communication problems in a marriage. These three form a sort of triumvirate of problem in a relationship. There is plenty of overlap between them and they often feed each other. To deal with them and not allow them to derail things you have to learn to be realistic and honest about them.

Unspoken expectations are just that. Unspoken. Unexpressed. They are formed in secret and laid on an unsuspecting spouse. They show up when you focus on what your spouse isn’t, rather than is. These expectations produce disappointment because neither person is able to read minds.

Unmet expectations are the result of impossible to meet high expectations. Or the expectation that your spouse will do everything the way you would do it. This scenario makes it impossible for there to be a win. There is not satisfaction. Nothing is ever right. It is exhausting. And far too often the other spouse just quits playing the game.

Unrealistic expectations are built on outside occurrences. They are the result of allowing things outside of you to determine what and how your spouse acts. You have to learn to value your spouse for the person they were created to be by God. Not who you imagine them to be in your own image.

Expectations are normal and are not a bad thing. You need to be real about them and keep them in the light between each other. If not, they can cause a lot of problems in your relationship. Honesty is paramount. On what are your expectations based? Where is their root? If the image of your spouse is based and something you saw in a movie, read in a book, or built in your imagination you need to tear it up. Learn to love your spouse for who they are.

3. Flip the Script

Chances are that during a disagreement with your spouse you have experience a sort of deja vu. Couples have a tendency to develop a pattern for their communication problems, a script. The current discussion isn’t really the discussion. It is an ongoing problem that is the root rather than the current topic, which is just a symptom of the deeper issue. Every relationship has scripts. When the script takes over it is up to the two of you to flip it.

Flipping the script means calling a timeout. Identify the actual root of the problem and deal with that. It isn’t really that she didn’t put the scissors back in the right spot in garage, but that a controlling parent never really respected your space. It isn’t that he didn’t plan that special date night, but that a never-satisfied parent didn’t let you feel like anything was ever good enough. Scripts are everywhere in a relationship. They have to be brought to the light and eliminated.

Identify a word, or statement, that the two of you could use to signal it is time for a break in the action. When you experience that deja vu feeling use it.

Ask what image is coming to mind in this discussion. Is it something from the past?

Talk about what feeling is bubbling up when this topic begins. Where does that feeling come from?

Some scripts come from unresolved issues in your own relationship. A failure to really forgive, or an expectation that has not been brought out. Take the time to dig deeper than the surface to find out the source of your scripts. Your communication will take a big step forward when you do.

4. Own What is Yours in Marriage

Little will ever change in your life until you stop giving yourself excuses. You can change. You can act differently and respond differently. You are not a victim of your past, or your upbringing, or even your personality. To communicate well you must take responsibility for what is yours.

Did you have an angry outburst? Own it.

Did you lie? Own it.

Did you overreact? Own it.

You can’t control what someone else does or says to you. You CAN control how you react and respond to it. Two people reacting to each other without taking responsibility will quickly lose control and valuable intimacy in their relationship.

Your response is not determined by how the other person responds, but on how you choose to respond. Learn to own what is yours. You control your emotion, your reaction and your response. Learn to respond to each other in love and respect.

Your communication with each other will see a big change. Quality communication is a part of the strong foundation needed for a great marriage and family. It takes time and intentionality to develop. Don’t give up on it. Keep learning and growing together through the good and the bad. You won’t regret it.

Ever After: Marriage and Family Conference

April 30–May 1, 2021 at ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, TN

Join us at this year’s marriage conference, where we’ll be learning more about how to communicate with your spouse. Learn more and register now.

About the Author

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Brian Hatcher is the Discipleship Pastor at ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, TN.

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