So we come to another foundational part of our marriage, and one that I’m sure many married couples would agree is a top priority in a marital relationship: communication.
A break down in communication is often considered a key element of many divorces, so it is easy to see how integral it is to keeping a marriage going.
But there are so so many ways that things can go wrong here, and it can easily go unnoticed – we have often found that it is only when there are other, surface problems in our marriage that we finally realize the underlying issue is a lack of communication.
So how do we keep our communication good?
1. Acknowledge and make the effort to learn each other’s love language.
I already spoke about the importance of this a couple of weeks ago (you can read about it here). But it is true that this is a massive part of maintaining good communication. For instance, I am a Quality Time person, and so I find that it is once we have spent some focused, one-on-one time together that I am at my most relaxed and most trusting, and so am far more likely to open up to my husband about issues that are bothering me.
This is a fairly unpopular view in today’s androgynous society, but nevertheless, the studies show that we do naturally communicate differently, and deal with issues differently (here’s a comedian’s view, but it is based on real research).
In a very tiny nutshell: men retreat to their ‘caves’ and like to problem-solve while women just want someone to listen and empathize. We have found it really helpful to recognize this, as it helps my husband to know upfront that I’m not looking for a solution, but just a bit of empathy. And similarly it helps for me to know that, while I like to externalize my thoughts in voice or on paper to make sense of them, sometimes my husband needs a bit of alone time to work through his thoughts internally, or to solve some smaller ‘problems’ through retreating to his ‘cave’ and playing a game or watching an episode of something or reading.
3. Share with each other first, draw strong boundaries (especially in relationships with others), and do not gossip or speak derisively about your spouse behind their back.
Trust and respect are hugely important parts of communication, and can seriously hinder it if they are missing. I remember during our marriage preparation courses, there was a lot of advice regarding maintaining pure friendships outside of marriage, but making sure each other came first.
I was particularly struck by the way so many couples who had been married for a long time said: “Don’t assume you will never be tempted to cheat on your spouse. Admit rather that you could be, and then draw as many good boundaries as possible to avoid it becoming a reality.” As a result, we are careful to avoid being alone with someone of the opposite sex where possible, but another very important boundary for us is who we share with.
For women, in particular, we build attachments to men who we share with, who listen to us and comfort us. So it makes sense to me to make sure that if I have something troubling me, I go first to my husband (well, as a Christian, after God that is!) and discuss it with him, even if it is difficult. If that is not possible for whatever reason, then a female friend or a counsellor would be my next choice, and once I’d cleared my head a little I would return to my husband with it.
Similarly, my husband is careful about being the ‘knight in shining armour’ to a girl in need. That doesn’t mean ignoring her needs as a human, but it does mean finding a public place to talk in, or even better, bringing someone else in to the conversation.
Finally, part of good communication is not slandering your spouse behind their back. Respect is high on men’s list of priorities, and to have their wives gossip about them to their friends is highly insulting. Nor is this specific to marital relationships – we don’t like it done to us, so we shouldn’t be doing it to other people, full stop. I wish I could say I never did, but it is very much a work in progress for me!
We have come to find that for us, as a couple, we find it infinitely easier to share when we leave the house. It is not that we cannot share with each other at home, but simply that we communicate more freely away from the distractions of our daily life.
When the house needs tidying and cleaning, the internet is on, the DVDs are within reach, and the baby is shouting for attention, we find that our communication is, at best, stop-and-starting and relatively shallow.
However, if we go for a walk together, or find a nice quiet coffee shop where we can sit close together while the baby is asleep (or at least happy) in her pram, then we open up more easily. One issue that has embedded itself between us is broached, it then leads onto another, and before we know it, there is no longer a wall between us, and we feel closer and more in love.
5. Turn off the technology now and then.
We are dreadful at this, but we are trying hard to have “tech-free” nights several times a week after our daughter is in bed. When we succeed in doing this, we communicate far more effectively. Plus, it’s pretty refreshing generally!
If you are a believing couple, this is the number one way to keep communication flowing. Praying daily individually, together for each other, and together for others, brings you closer as a couple, and allows communication to flow. Not only does the question: “What would you like me to pray for for you?” open up the gates to honest communication, but sharing in something as incredibly intimate as prayer forges trust.
There is a reason (and plenty of research to back it up) for the saying: “Couples who pray together, stay together.”
One really useful piece of advice we took from The Marriage Book/The Marriage Preparation Course is the suggestion that at breakfast, you ask each other the question: “What are you worried or anxious about today?” and not only does this open up communication, but we feel that we are doing something about it by praying for each other. It helps us both to feel more peaceful about the day ahead, and to feel closer as a couple, because you are sharing your vulnerability with each other.
It can be awkward at first. It is much harder than personal prayer. Being vulnerable before someone else is incredibly difficult. And we have personally struggled with it, despite knowing its vital importance for our marriage. But when we do make time and effort to pray together, we find it genuinely makes a massive difference.
So if you take nothing else from this, just remember PRAYER. Because it is the single most important thing you can do to improve your marriage. Seriously.
7. Be patient.
Good communication doesn’t happen overnight. Vulnerability is key, and that is not something that comes naturally to many of us. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of energy. But trust me, it is worth it.