Learning how to communicate well with your spouse is so important. If you know how to express your thoughts and emotions in a way that your husband will understand, and if he can do the same with you, you really are set up to be able to walk together through anything that comes your way. Most of the problems we hear about from people who write us are a result of a poor ability to communicate effectively. It takes a commitment from both the husband and the wife to be certain that they are clearly expressing what they want to communicate.
Have you ever considered all that may be happening under the surface of a conversation between a husband and wife? Let’s think about this together. There is what I want to say, what I am saying, what I am feeling, what I am thinking, what he is hearing, his internal response to my words, his external response to my words, my perception of the topic or issue, his perception of the topic or issue, my body language, his body language, my understanding of what the non-verbal cues mean, his understanding of what the non-verbal cues mean. I could go on and on. There are so many variables influencing effective communication that if a couple isn’t committed to learning to understand one another, they are walking through life together without a really important tool in their toolbox. When trouble comes, as it usually will at points, they are not armed very well to come through it stronger.
I have noticed a few things that help a lot in communicating well as I have lived out my own relationships and by observing others. One of the biggest things I have learned is not to hold on to offenses. Whether a person is purposely trying to be offensive or it’s unintentional, if I choose to react to that I end up more focused on defending myself than on dealing with the issue at hand. This can be really easy in some situations and really hard in others, and some people know exactly which buttons to press in order to cause a reaction. I love the story of Jesus in the Bible where he has just communicated something that really offended many of the people when He talked about how people would need to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Most of the people who heard this message left and when he turned to his friends he said “Are you going to leave too?” meaning are you going to hold onto an offense or push past it to hear what I am really trying to communicate to you? Peter’s response was genius “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” He humbles himself and affirms that he wants to hear from the Lord. The full story can be read here. It’s a perfect example of continuing to push through the need to communicate even when it would be easier to say forget it and go on misunderstanding the context because we don’t want to let go of our perceived right to be justified.
Another thing I have witnessed in my own life and by watching the communication efforts of others is that a spoon full of sugar goes a long way. Mother Teresa was quoted as saying “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” If I want to bring something to the attention of my husband, whether it’s small or big, the best first course of action is to be sure that my words are filled with grace and kindness. Affirm that you care for him and in cases where it is a significant issue, let him know that you want to use the situation to strengthen your relationship.
Also, establish between you and your husband that honest emotions and thoughts, with appropriate filters, are acceptable and safe. Talk about what “constructive criticism” looks like for each of you. How do you want to be approached when he has been hurt by you? What if you see something in his life that needs addressing? How does he want you to bring it up? If there is a problem the last thing you want is to feel that you can’t bring it up for fear of hurting each other. You have to be willing to work through the tough stuff and be willing to have one another highlight the areas where you both need to grow. Establishing that it is safe for both of you to be forthright in your communication, with grace and love, makes a big difference in allowing communication to flow effectively.
If you haven’t taken the time to read The Five Love Languages, I would strongly encourage you to do so. The basic message of the book is that everyone has a primary “language” or two that they communicate love by. Physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and gifts. Understanding how you and your husband show love and feel loved is a significant part of establishing good communication. We are always getting letters from people who are in situations where their spouse is not speaking their love language. A woman who says, “I work really hard at being attractive for him and he never notices” may need to hear her husband say “You look hot” in order to believe that he notices. If she doesn’t hear the words, love has not been expressed. She speaks in words of affirmation. A woman who says, “I feel like such a freak. I have a higher drive for sex than my husband and he doesn’t even think about my needs” needs to connect sexually with her husband in order to feel loved. If he rejects her or doesn’t meet her advances enthusiastically, she doesn’t feel loved. A recent email we got about this actually said the words, “It’s one way that i feel loved and desired.” She speaks in physical touch. Also realize that things you do in direct contrast to a primary love language will speak to your spouse that you do not care for them, even though it is not true. You may unintentionally be communicating something very contrary to your real feelings. So if you and your husband haven’t read this book and discussed it for yourselves, I would strongly encourage you to do so. It will make a huge difference.
A final thought is that sometimes we have traveled for so long in differing ways of communicating that a legitimate and helpful resource is to find a good biblical counselor who will help the two of you get back on the same page again. This is the Christian Counselors Directory and it will allow you to search for counselors in the US and in other countries as well. If this is a real need for you and your spouse please be willing to pursue it. Some people feel bad about seeking out counseling, but humbling ourselves and asking for help is very important when the need is legitimate.