If there is a primary presenting problem that couples bring to the counseling office it is that they have a communication problem.
The word communication is from the same Latin words from which we get the word community, cum (with) and unitas (unity). Community describes people living with unity. There is something that uniquely connects them together.
For example, a residential community are people living, or residing, in a certain proximity to each other. Their connection is geographic. A university community describes a connection through academics. A local hiking community describes a connection dependent upon a love of the outdoors.
If unity is the goal, communication is the means to achieving the unity. This is true for any community.
It is also true for marriage.
So how can we work toward not only having good, but great communication.
Here is the secret. Great communication is not about how well you speak, but about how well you listen. What we are going to see is that speaking is often a law demand that we expect of someone else, but listening is a grace gift that we give to someone else.
Yes, even communication is a gospel issue.
Typically, when we say we have a communication problem, I am insisting that the other person does not understand me.
Remember the “sin nature.” It always wants to be right. Well, it also wants to be understood. Because if it is understood, then it will be seen to be right.
But what if the key to communication is not first being understood, but trying to understand someone else’s position? Their fears. Their concerns. Their dreams. Their pain.
Why doesn’t this happen?
Consider the scenario.
You and your spouse start talking about going on a summer vacation. You want to go to the mountains, but your spouse wants to go to the beach. The conversation escalates to a confrontation as both sides begin explaining why their destination would be the better use of limited vacation funds.
Notice what happens in your brain as your spouse is detailing the argument for the beach. What are you doing? Listening? No, you are reloading.
What if rather than winning, you could make it your goal simply to understand why it is so important for your spouse to go to the beach, or the mountains, or Disney World. How do we understand? By asking questions and listening.
The way to know that you have understood is by repeating back what your spouse what he or she has said in a way that expresses how she really feels about an issue.
Honestly, this is not easy. The “sin nature” runs deep. By nature, we want to win. We don’t like to listen. It can feel like death. Death to our own desire to be understood.
This nature runs so deep that you may need mediation, someone to be present with you and your spouse as you learn to listen. In case you are reading quickly, that word is mediAtion, not mediCation. 🙂
This mediator can be a professional counselor or a good friend who knows both of you well. However, I suggest that it not be a family member, even if that family member is a professional counselor and offers his or her services for free. This is just my opinion, but I think it is better to pay for mediation than involve a family member. Those dynamics just get too sticky and complicate other relationships.
A couple other suggestions concerning communication involve the timing of hard conversations and some words to avoid.
Timing is huge! When a spouse arrives home after a long day at work is not the best time to bring up a conversation about taxes or having kids. Neither is 11:00 p.m.
If you have a sensitive topic you would like to discuss, it may be best to schedule a time to talk about it. For instance, you may say, “Honey, I’d like to talk about _______________. Now probably isn’t the best time. How about we schedule a time to discuss it. When in the next day or two would be good with you?”
In addition to timing of sensitive conversations are some choice words to avoid. These words include “always” and “never.”
You know what I’m talking about. When a conversation gets heated and you go to the extremes of always and never.
“You always…” or “You never…”
Neither is true.
We may “often.” But most of us are not guilty of “never” or “always.” And even if we are, using those terms is preeminently ungracious. Those are fighting words.
In the pursuit of a healthy marriage, we probably should avoid fighting words. But if they arise, just go back one chapter to Principle #4.
Another suggestion for great communication is to have a weekly marriage / staff meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to sync calendars and talk about things that need to get done around the house.
Rather than nag every day about a light that needs to be changed, carpet that needs to be cleaned or bird nest that needs to be removed from the front porch, the staff meeting is the place to bring up the various chores, errands, and duties of home ownership – or renter-ship, whichever applies to you.
To review, let’s remember that the key to communication is not speaking; it is listening, which is just another way we reflect God’s grace to others.
Apply This Principle Today
1) Practice Listening
The next time you and your spouse have a conversation about anything, make it your goal to listen. Ask questions. Listen. Seek to understand. Practice listening.
Discuss it With all the secrets of a healthy marriage, you may find it helpful to discuss the principles together. Not as something that you are teaching your spouse, but as ways that you are learning together. When you discover something new and helpful, I have found a good introductory phrase to be, “I learned something new today.” Then I share the discovery as a topic of conversation, asking, “What do you think?”
Apologize to your spouse for using the word always and never. He or she will be so thankful. And probably will be convicted about their own use of this banned marriage word.
If you are having serious issues, contact a mediator or a professional counselor. Seriously. If you are going to spend money, spend money on your marriage.
Communication – Discussion Guide
1. “Great communication is not about how well you speak, but about how well you listen.” How could this single principle revolutionize how you and your spouse communicate?
2. How is listening an act of grace?
3. But why is it so difficult to listen?
4. Why is timing so important when having a conversation that will require good asking and listening skills? How can waiting or scheduling a time for the conversation be an act of grace to your spouse?
5. What do using words such as “always” and “never” do to communication?
6. What can we do if we find ourselves using those words? (Hint: Go back to the last principle on resolving conflict.)