Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Focus on Marriage, Part 2: Communication 101
Communicating within marriage is a key tool for resilient relationships. What is communicated? How is the message shared and received? As clergy, some of the key skills I review with couples in pre-marital counseling are tools for communication. Engaged couples can’t imagine this will ever be a problem. Yet, we’ve all witnessed at restaurants the quiet couple at the table who seemingly have nothing to say to each other, eating silently and spending more time on their phones than in communication with each other. What happened?
Good communication, as with any skill, takes intentional practice. In busy lives, communication with a spouse can become shorter and more infrequent over time, especially when there are children. It is easy to let good communication skills slip.Some surveys indicate that couples can spend as little as 15 minutes a day in real communication with each other. Here are a few suggestions to help improve the quality and quantity of communication.
Set aside time to talk. In busy schedules time for important conversations is easily lost. By important, I don’t mean wills, and trusts, though they are important too. Rather, what is important in your spouse’s life? What is important to you? What are your long term dreams as a couple? Try to set asaide 30-45 minutes a few times a week to talk.
Have an attitude of gratitude. Express appreciation when your spouse does something considerate or helpful, like providing a sleep in day, washing dishes, filling the car with gas, and so forth. Simply saying thank you for the way each person fills the everyday roles in the relationship can help build up the marriage.
Talk about the things that worry you. Many parents hold on to grief, guilt, and anxiety about the future. There can be a sense of embarrassment in sharing these feelings inside the marriage. “I wish I could say to my spouse that I am scared about….” Or “I have never said it out loud, but I feel our child has a disability because of me.” Communication about these secretly held feelings can be very healing, releasing an emotional burden.
Express your needs or wants clearly. Be specific when communicating with your spouse. Avoid thinking that he or she can read your mind. If you have a need or expectation, remove the guess work and let your spouse know.
Model Respectful Listening. Avoid multi-tasking, especially when the topic is serious in nature. Reflective listening is also a good tool. Repeat back in your own words what you hear your partner say.
Monitor your mood. No one is in a good mood all the time. If in a bad mood, why is that? Hunger, fatigue, illness, time, expectations? Let your spouse know if you are having a bad day and why. It may help avoid an argument.
The rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken." Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:22-24 NRS)
Loving God, thank you for the gift of words and expression. Help us to use those gifts to build up our relationships. Amen