By Michelle S. Lazurek, Crosswalk.com
Communication is one of the ways couples encounter a breakdown in their marriage. When two people are dating, their communication is high in compliments, and they often choose not to see the worst in each other. However, when they get married, it is easy to see each other's flaws because you live with your spouse daily. It's easy to call out the flaw, but if the other person doesn't change, it's easy to become like a broken record, spewing negative ideas about each other, causing a rift in the relationship.
There are two types of communication: verbal and nonverbal. Verbal communication is composed of the actual words you say to the other. Nonverbal, however, are the gestures, looks, and tone of your body language that the other spouse can read to help them understand what you're feeling and thinking. As two people get to know each other intimately, as in a marriage relationship, these nonverbal cues become easier to spot. Even if a person is saying they're not angry or that they have forgiven, non-verbal cues may say otherwise. Negative comments can go from a simple statement of fact to assassinating someone's character. Couples who endure this day after day can cause frequent arguments or, eventually, silence. When couples are not communicating or only communicating when they argue, it is time for them to work on their communication skills to foster a better marriage relationship. Here are six ways to improve communication as a couple:
1. Change Your Attitude
Pride, at the heart of any relationship, can destroy it. Scripture says, "stand firm and be careful you do not fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). A person who lives their life in pride and arrogance will destroy the intimacy a marriage relationship provides. Each person should analyze if their communication is not great in their relationship. Are there ways you are angry at this person and have not forgiven them? Unforgiveness can give way to bitterness and resentment, which can cause communication breakdowns, "for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." Believe the best in your spouse. If you have trouble finding the good qualities about your spouse, recall some of the early days of your relationship. What were some of the qualities that attracted you to your spouse? Write out the details of some of those early dates. What were some of the things you talked about? Did you share hopes and dreams? Did you have the same goals for the future? Spend a week dwelling on those memories. Does this change your attitude about your spouse? Sometimes this simple change in perspective will change your communication with them.
2. Respect One Another
Ephesians 5 is one of the most common passages couples look to when they want to have a biblically based marriage: "Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."
It is clear from this passage that wives must respect their husbands. However, respect must be earned. If a husband loves his wife the way Christ loved us, there will be no reason for her not to respect him. However, if he is placing his needs and desires before her, respect will not quickly result. The husband's job is more difficult than the wife's job. For a husband to love his wife the same way Christ loved the church, he must give up and sacrifice his desires and needs to put her first. If a wife feels loved in this way, when conflict arises, she will be more apt to give way to his desires when he expresses them. This will allow the husband to feel respected in his leadership and the wife to feel loved because her needs and desires are being met.
3. Talk it Through
Some couples find it easier to sweep issues under the rug and not talk about them instead of having a hard conversation to improve their relationship. Although challenging discussions are hard, they ultimately prove beneficial for both parties. Both people learn about themselves and their spouses as a result of these conversations. During these conversations, both parties can communicate their preferences in future interactions. They can also work on "I" statements instead of "you" statements which would come off as preachy and attacking. Working through your issues together demonstrates that both of you are still invested in your relationship and want to make it work. When one spouse doesn't want to talk about the issue, it can communicate the wrong message, meaning they care more about their own unease with the situation than loving each other through the disagreement.
4. Use the Sandwich Method
The sandwich method is a standard communication tactic where someone starts off with positive things about the person or the relationship. They highlight the good qualities and the parts they enjoy about the relationship. After they tell the positive, they pivot into communicating the more negative aspects. They try to use the most affirming language possible while still communicating a problem or issue in the relationship. Then they end with more affirming positive statements. This is an excellent tool for couples learning better communication techniques.
5. Communicate Preferences
One of the ways couples can communicate their needs and desires is through sharing their preferences. Stating to the other what they prefer accurately expresses their specific need yet gives them no pressure for the spouse to oblige. For example, one person might say, "I'd prefer it if instead you placed your dishes in the sink rather than leaving them in the living room." This allows the person to be heard and their needs expressed without the other feeling like their efforts or investment in the relationship is not enough. To communicate preferences accurately, start with "instead of…, I'd prefer if…" this still uses "I" statements and allows the direct need to be expressed.
6. Get a Mediator
Sometimes, couples simply can't communicate on their own. Their communication quickly goes from "I" statements to You statements, and attacks and blame result. Having a third party in the room to help end the conflict and remind them to use proper "I" statements will help communication flow easier. The mediator will also be able to be a third party which is an unbiased glimpse into this situation. They will be able to see things from a different perspective and provide tips and strategies for communicating effectively with both parties. This way, both parties feel heard and appreciated rather than ganged up on by the other. You can enlist the help of your pastor or another elder, or you can go to a counselor or have a friend help. No matter whom you choose, make sure they have not heard any of the situation beforehand. That way, it will give them an unbiased look into the situation.
Communication can be difficult, especially for feeling deep emotional wounds from past arguments. Both parties need to improve their communication for a marriage relationship to run effectively. Both parties must be dedicated to improving their communication and changing their way of thinking so that what comes from their mouths doesn't overflow from an angry or unforgiving heart.
Michelle S. Lazurek is a multi-genre award-winning author, speaker, pastor's wife, and mother. She is a literary agent for Wordwise Media Services and a certified writing coach. Her new children’s book Who God Wants Me to Be encourages girls to discover God’s plan for their careers. When not working, she enjoys sipping a Starbucks latte, collecting 80s memorabilia, and spending time with her family and her crazy dog. For more info, please visit her website www.michellelazurek.