Think back to the period of time when you and your spouse were falling in love with each other. You spent hour after hour together. You discovered you were attracted to each other. But perhaps the most critical part of that process involved words. You talked and talked and talked. Communication is how you fell in love and communication is how you will stay in love.
Whether you’ve been married for a year or for thirty years, your relationship is only going to be as strong as your ability to communicate. Here are five essential elements that need to be present to ensure good communication in your marriage:
The Right Tone
Everything you say in marriage has to be said with the right tone. In fact, often tone communicates more than the literal words themselves. Saying “You’re so wonderful” in a loving tone is very different from growling “You’re so wonderful” in a sarcastic, biting tone.
Tone tells the other person whether or not you care. It can show empathy and understanding. It can convey security to women or respect to men. These are significant needs, and tone helps deliver them. Always watch your tone when you’re speaking to your spouse.
For communication to accomplish what it needs to accomplish, it has to have enough time. For instance, your marriage will greatly benefit from setting aside several days every year for proactive communication. Instead of reacting to events as they happen, you get away together and plan ahead. You spent time working on your yearly budget, for example, or go on a vision retreat to seek God together.
Meanwhile, personal communication requires at least an hour or so daily. This is where a husband and wife catch up with one another at the end of the day. You put down your phones and, face to face, talk about work, the kids, or any issues that may have come up. If you can’t find an hour a day to talk, you’re too busy.
Finally, intimate communication may take you five to ten minutes a day. This is any kind of loving talk: You say what you love or appreciate about each other. This can be a part of sex, but it doesn’t have to be. Though it’s just a short portion of your day, time spent in intimate communication is also essential to a strong marriage.
An Atmosphere of Trust
Trust has to be earned in marriage, and your spouse will not open his or her heart to you if they do not trust you. I once heard someone say trust is “earned in drops and lost in buckets.” You build trust by being faithful, servant-hearted, sacrificial and humble. You also build it by being caring, empathetic and attentive.
During periods of conflict, you build trust by being approachable and responsible. Your spouse knows that he or she won’t pay a price by telling you something. When confronted, you don’t deflect blame or cast accusations. You also build trust by maintaining confidentiality-the details of your marriage stay inside your marriage.
Early in our marriage, Karen had no trust for me. I didn’t deserve it anyway. I was not a good husband. I was inattentive. I had no empathy. I was only able to rebuild her trust one day at a time as I started to do the right thing, to take responsibility, and to communicate with her on a heart level.
An Atmosphere of Truth and Love
Ephesians 4:15 uses the phrase, “speaking the truth in love” as it relates to the process of becoming Christlike. Those two things-truth and love-have to accompany each other. Communication requires truthfulness, and if you don’t speak the truth in your marriage you have a big problem. But grace has to pave the way for words of truth. Speaking the truth without love is simply mean. It can feel like an attack.
For instance, here are two different ways to approach a conversation. Let’s say your spouse says something that hurts your feelings. You could confront your spouse by saying, “Listen, yesterday you said this, and you meant this, and I know you were trying to pay me back for what happened last week.” You jump into the conversation having already come to a conclusion. It might feel like you’re speaking the truth, but your spouse will immediately go on the defensive.
A better approach is to start the conversation with gentleness. The first three minutes of a conversation will dictate the full conversation, so let love lead: “I don’t know if this is right, but something you said to me yesterday really hurt my feelings. I don’t want to attack you, but I do want to understand what you meant.” Grace has to go first.
Husbands and wives differ from each other by God’s design, and we have to respect those differences. Compatibility in marriage isn’t based on sameness, but on shared character, faith and values. Early in my marriage, I completely rejected so many things about Karen because I didn’t understand her. She wasn’t like me! Gradually I learned that’s a good thing. If both of you are the same, then one of you is unnecessary.
Today we are a team. We don’t criticize each other. We don’t take advantage of each other’s weaknesses. But we have learned to celebrate the ways we are different. That’s how marriage works. We each have different strengths, and that allows us to help each other. Karen supplies what I lack and vice versa. We are stronger as a couple than we are as individuals.
To communicate successfully in a marriage, you have to be careful about your tone. You have to set aside time. You have to create an atmosphere of trust and season truth with love and grace. And you must be able to accept each other’s differences. Pursue these five goals and you’ll find that your communication improves.
And when communication improves, so does your marriage.
Founder & CEO of MarriageToday