Almost all of the couples who attend our Intensive Marriage Retreats have one common ongoing problem: Communication. We have also found that couples who say their communication is good can often use some help to improve it.
Men and women are naturally different when it comes to communication. Women are generally better communicators, and men are generally not as good or more concise (that is a kind way of putting it!) when it comes to their communication. Women sometimes take longer to explain what they are thinking, and men will sometimes not explain what they think, how, or why, which can be very frustrating to their spouses.
There are exceptions to these, with some men over-communicating and some women bottling things up or failing to communicate. Still, these are generally uncommon and often the result of years of not being heard or childhood influence or trauma. Usually, in a marriage, these differing communication styles cause outstanding issues because the husband or wife can’t understand why their spouse doesn’t communicate with them in the way they need.
*some books take this idea much further, which will be listed at the end of this article.
Here are some tips to improve communication and start rebuilding a healthier relationship.
- You need to set aside time to practice good communication. We recommend at least 15 minutes every day where you are focused without distraction on talking with your spouse. If they are willing, you may want to sit close, even in each other’s arms or side by side. Physical contact can go a long way toward showing you are present in your mind and body. Do this alone with no TV, phone, or computer to cause either of you to not listen to the other. Also, plan this when there will be fewer interruptions from children or others.
- Make the environment a neutral, no-judgment, anger-free zone. If conversations with your spouse end in a tense, angry standoff or one spouse ranting and raving at the other, neither of you will enjoy or look forward to the time. The goal is that this time should be one of connection and developing emotional intimacy with one another. Make a conscious effort and choice not to allow your spouse’s words to make you angry or defensive. (This is easier said than done when the relationship is not in a good place).
- When you engage your spouse, have an attitude toward them that is open and welcoming of anything they want to say. This is often communicated through good facial expressions and body language. Do not be judgmental, condescending, or dismissive. If you are disinterested in what they are saying, they will see it and be less likely to share with you anything of importance to them. If it is important to them, you need to make it essential to you!
- The most effective communicators take time to listen well. If you are not listening, you are likely missing some of the cues from your spouse that make them feel they are essential to you. Don’t ignore, interrupt, or dismiss what they say. Don’t rehearse in your mind a response or rebuttal. Instead, listen to understand them and what they want to communicate.
- Ask questions that help your spouse go deeper. These should be open-ended questions to help you make sure you understand. Do not ask “yes” or “no” questions or “why” questions. Do not judge their answers but seek to understand them.
- Once your spouse has finished speaking, show them you heard them by repeating what they said or continuing to ask questions to understand more completely.
- Lastly, take turns. This should never be a one-sided conversation. After you have listened to your spouse for a set amount of time, take some time to share your thoughts, ideas, dreams, and heart with them. This allows you both to feel a deeper connection with one another.
The one thing I have found most helpful in communication is (#1 above) setting aside time daily to do it! It seems simple, but it is often missing in many marriages. Life is so busy with work, kids, and other things that consume our time that we do not take the time to engage the spouse, who should be the most crucial person in our life! By the end of the day, we have nothing left for them. So if we don’t make it a priority, then our spouse will feel disconnected from us. This is especially true when it continues daily, weekly, and monthly!
As mentioned earlier, we recommend at least 15 minutes a day of intimate connecting conversation. If you are unsure of what to talk about, a good acronym and mnemonic device is this: R.I.N.G.S. Categorize what you share under these headings:
R = Real (what is a natural emotion, struggle, fear, or hurt that you are dealing with based on your day?)
I = Information (tell your spouse something they may not know; something you read at work, a phone call from a relative that shared information, a news headline that caught your eye).
N = Needs (what is something you need from your spouse? This could be help with chores or picking up kids from school or something that would make you feel more connected to them).
G = Grateful (what are you thankful for or glad about? Is there anything you have thanked God for lately? Share that with your spouse).
S = Someday (dream together; share something you look forward to in the future with your spouse)
Some Further Reading for understanding the differences between men and women:
- Men are Like Waffles and Women are Like Spaghetti
- Men are from Mars and Women are From Venus
- Love and Respect