By Steven Knight, Family Life Pastor
There are many reasons why conflict happens in our marriages. Marital conflict can take place over money, sex, kids, extended family, expectations, household responsibilities, and more.
A main reason why we have conflict on these topics is poor communication. When couples begin to improve their communication, the health of their marriages will begin to improve dramatically.
First and foremost, however, we need to be seeking the Lord and His direction in prayer as we seek to improve our marriages. We need to pray for our spouses and pray for real transformation to take place in our own hearts. If we are going to see real change happen in our marriages, then it will take the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to bring about that change.
As you prayerfully consider and begin to implement these five steps to improve the communication in your marriage, remember that true progress will be made if you seek first to put Christ at the center of your life and your marriage.
Are you ready to have fewer fights and a healthier marriage? Take a look at these steps to see how you can improve the communication in your marriage.
For couples to communicate well, they need to start by listening to their spouse well. Good listening involves several skills:
Keep Eye Contact: Make sure you keep eye contact while you are both talking. Looking away can indicate that you aren’t interested in the conversation.
Avoid Interruptions: Don’t interrupt the other person. If you interrupt what they are saying, then it shows that you don’t really care about what they have to say – you are more focused on making yourself be heard or winning an argument.
Listen Mentally: Listen mentally to what your spouse is saying. Even if you appear to be listening, you might be starting to tune out your spouse as you prepare your next response or argument in your head. Don’t do it! Listen fully to what your spouse has to say, then if needed, take a moment to process your thoughts before responding.
Affirm Before Responding: Before you begin to respond to what they have said, depending on the situation, it usually is appropriate to affirm what they have shared before responding. This makes your spouse feel valued, because you have listened to what they have said and understand what they are saying. This practice is especially helpful when you are discussing an issue together.
Ask Follow-up Questions: After your spouse shares with you in a conversation, seek to ask questions to help understand what is under the surface of what your spouse is saying. Asking a follow-up question will help explore what your spouse said, it will show them that you care, and it will build more trust with your spouse. Follow-up questions can also help clarify in case there might be any confusion regarding what your spouse has said. For example:
- “You said that you have had a hard week and just want to relax this weekend. When you say that you just want to “relax,” what does that look like to you?”
- “I know this afternoon will be pretty busy for you. You said that you will be gone for a while. Can you give me an estimate of how long you might be gone for?”
- “You said that you would be open to eating out anywhere tonight. Do you have any preferences for where you would like to eat?”
The foundation of good communication skills in marriage is good listening skills. Start by developing good listening skills, then continue to implement the following steps.
Adopt an Attitude of Grace
What is your attitude like when you are communicating with your spouse? What does it look like during an argument? When you both need to work through an issue and come to a mutual decision, the right way to approach the conversation is to have an attitude of grace. An attitude of grace involves having a humble spirit, being open to learning from any potential mistakes you have made, and being ready to receive the feedback or thoughts that your spouse has with grace. The Bible addresses the correct way to respond in an argument:
“A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” – Proverbs 15:1
Are your answers gentle? Adjust your attitude in your communication and adopt an attitude of grace. By making this change, your communication will improve greatly and the important conversations with your spouse will become less stressful and more enjoyable.
Another quick tip on the attitude of grace – go into your conversations with the goal that you will both be winners. Your goal as a spouse should not be to win every discussion (which means your spouse loses every discussion), but that you both can reach a conclusion that leaves you both as “winners.” It’s not always possible to reach this goal, but it should be the starting goal of every couple to both become “winners” at the end of a discussion.
When talking with your spouse, here are a few ways to make sure you are treating them with the love and respect that you should give them and that will help you have a healthy conversation.
Check Your Tone: What does your tone sound like when you are talking with your spouse? The best person to ask about this is… your spouse! When you are talking through a variety of topics, or having an argument, try to make sure that you are keeping a tone that shows love and respect to your spouse. When you begin to raise your voice, start to sound mean, etc., that’s when your tone begins to have a negative impact on your conversation, regardless of what the conversation is about.
Share Your Feelings: When responding to your spouse, it is important to share your feelings in a constructive way. Make sure that you use non-accusatory language, which can be translated as being on the “offensive” against them. The biggest indicator of accusatory language is when you start sentences by using the word “you.” This immediately puts your spouse on the defensive, when instead you should both want to be having a discussion “on the same side” as each other. For example, here is one way that you can change how you share your feelings with your spouse to achieve this goal:
- Bad Example #1: “You are very frustrating when you take things into your own hands all the time.”
- Good Example #1: “I am very frustrated by ____. It makes me feel sad that I wasn’t able to help you with this.”
- Bad Example #2: “You are impossible to talk to about the kids.”
- Good Example #2: “I am having a hard time right now, because it doesn’t seem like you want to talk about ____ with the kids. It makes me frustrated that I feel like I have to think through ___ by myself.”
Choose Your Words Lovingly: When talking with your spouse, select the words you use carefully and lovingly. Yes, you want to be open with each other, but make sure that your words are seasoned with love towards your spouse. For Christians, your spouse is first and foremost a child of God who is deeply loved by his/her Creator. With this in mind, you should treat your spouse with the same mindset, showing them the same love that they deserve as a child of God. In this way, you can treat your spouse as more important than yourself:
Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. – Philippians 1:3-4
When responding to your spouse, it can be powerful to say “I understand” when responding to what they have shared. “I’m sorry” is another important phrase that should be used whenever you’ve made a mistake that needs to be owned and that you need to ask forgiveness for. Avoid any harsh statements and stay away from untrue generalizations like “you always” and “you never.” Choose your words lovingly and your conversation will be much more enjoyable and productive.
Clarify the Statement or Question: If you want to make sure you are understanding what your spouse is saying, and there is a chance that there might be some confusion or miscommunication, then a helpful response is to say “this is what I think I am hearing. You said __________. Is that correct?” That way, you are not making assumptions and are clearing up any potential misunderstandings, so that you can continue to have good communication in the conversation.
Don’t Walk Away: Are you getting frustrated during a conversation? Most spouses have either a “fight or flight” mentality that shows itself at some point in heated conversations. Those with a “fight” mentality will stay in the conversation until things are worked out. Those with a “flight” mentality will begin to retreat from the conversation at some point, either physically or by simply not engaging in the conversation anymore. If you need some time to think or need to walk away for a few minutes to cool yourself down, make sure you talk to your spouse about it first. Ask them, “I am getting really upset and I need to cool down so that I can continue this conversation well and treat you lovingly like I should be doing. Do you mind if I take a 5-minute walk to cool off and collect my thoughts?” Make sure that if you do this, your spouse agrees to it, otherwise it can have a negative impact on your conversation.
Pick Your Battles
Do you and your spouse fight a lot? Maybe you need to take some steps to grow in your communication. However, another factor to improve your marriage is deciding what is worth the time, effort, and intentionality it takes to talk things out. You have to decide how to “pick your battles” in your relationship. Are you making a big deal out of small things? For example:
- Are you bothered by the way your spouse organizes the dishwasher?
- Is your spouse an irritating driver at times? (ex: too slow, too fast, etc)
- Does it bother you how your spouse asks you if you want to do something, when they are obviously asking you to take care of it yourself? Here’s an example: “Would you like to change the baby’s diaper?” Hmm… let me think about if I would enjoy that experience today…
Does this sound like you? If so, you might need to let some of the little things go and just focus on the bigger conversations that need to happen. Don’t make mountains out of mole hills. Just focus on the big things and let the little things go. Most of the time, the little things won’t matter to you long-term anyways. If some of those small things eventually start to become bigger things, then you can talk about them together.
Pray For Your Spouse
Do you want to improve communication in your marriage? Don’t forget to pray for your spouse regularly. Pray for them every day. Before having big conversations, take time to pray beforehand and afterwards. When you seek the Lord for wisdom and ask Him for good communication in your marriage, you’ll also begin to focus more on how your conversations can be honoring to Him.
“Lord, as we begin this conversation, we ask that you would give us the wisdom to make the right decision. We ask that you would help us communicate well and listen to each other well. May we put each other before ourselves and show love and respect to each other in this conversation. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Ready to Improve Your Communication in Your Marriage?
If you apply these five steps, you will begin to see improvement in the communication in your marriage. However, don’t start this process by thinking “Wow, my spouse has a lot to work on!” Start by working on it yourself. Model it for your spouse. For a while, the improvement might even be one-way, where you are the spouse improving the communication in your marriage. However, over time, you will begin to see improvements in your communication, and your spouse will notice these changes and might even put them into practice himself/herself.
While working on the communication in your marriage, don’t forget that Christ needs to be at the center of your marriage. Everything you do in your marriage should be to honor and glorify Him as you seek to follow Him daily in your life and in your marriage. We are called to make our attitude like Jesus’ attitude, who gave us the ultimate example of humility (Phil. 2:5-11).
The health of every marriage can improve greatly through improved communication. Are you ready to have a healthier, deeper, stronger, and Christ-centered marriage?