“We really need to spend more time with other couples.” Ever since I can remember, my husband has desired a more robust social life, especially when it includes playing board or card games with other couples or families. Well over ten years ago, Eric and I had this conversation once again – we really need to spend more time with other couples. As the more hesitant one in our marriage, I heard him, dreaded it a bit, and went about my day.
Not too long after that conversation, a co-worker of mine invited me to her house for a party. Several couples would be there, and chances were to be plenty of games. My thought was, “Eric would probably love this. He is going to want to go.” So, I pitched him the idea. His initial thought was, “This is Heather’s co-worker. She is going to want to go.”
Thankfully, Eric and I had just started using a numbering system which helped us communicate more effectively. Instead of assuming I wanted to go and leaving it at that, Eric asked, “What’s your number?” I said, “Three.” He said, “Good, I am a two. Let’s stay home.” Communication complete. Problem solved. Each of us was happy.
Ordinarily, I would have put on my big girl pants, agreed to go, and not been happy about it. Not only was it a long drive to her house, but I was not in the mood for a party with people I did not know very well. Eric would have agreed to go, thought he was doing it for me, and been annoyed at the travel time. Conditions for an argument on the way home would have been favorable, especially if we had a rotten time. After settling this situation so easily, we started using numbers to communicate our desires constantly – restaurants, movies, how upset we felt, etc.
Communication is key and the more ways you find to do it successfully, the better off you will be!
Is Communication a Strong Point in Your Relationship?
If you and your significant other communicate well, that is great. Even so, keep working to become better at it. If communication is a struggle point, that is okay if you are both on board for working towards growth. Effective communication is such a vital part of thriving marriages, it is worth your time and effort to learn to do it well.
As you prepare for future conversations with your special someone, keep the following thoughts in mind:
- Plan time to communicate. Eric and I are big advocates of couples having pre-planned weekly discussions. Instead of waiting for issues to pile up or dumping a heavy conversation on someone out of the blue, have a time set aside every week to talk about anything important which needs discussing. Obviously, time-sensitive emergencies do not fall into this category, but most items can wait to be discussed. This gives both people time to mentally prepare.
- Pay attention to the clock. Do not talk too long. When you do have communication sessions, keep them long enough to say what needs to be said, but short enough that frustration does not build. Most of us are not blessed with infinite attention spans. If there is a lot to discuss, take breaks, hug each other, and get something to eat or drink if needed.
- Learn how your partner communicates. Not everyone expresses themselves the same way. If we did, we would always understand each other. Take time to notice how he or she acts when something is weighing on his or her mind. Notice tone of voice and body language when expressing something uncomfortable. Learn to speak the way your partner understands rather than speaking your language at They may be better at writing down their thoughts in advance when knowing they’re going to discuss a topic than having to be ready instantly in a verbal discussion.
- Avoid forcing Following your partner around talking while he or she is clearly trying to get some space to think and process is ill-advised. Though it may feel dismissive or disrespectful for your significant other to walk away from you while you are talking, he or she might be trying to regain inner calm in order to address the issue. Pushing someone who already feels flooded is asking for an explosion. If your partner walks away, give him or her some time before you approach. When you do approach, do so calmly. Or, better yet, ask him or her for a good time to follow up.
- R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Strive to be respectful in how you talk to everyone – but, especially your boyfriend, girlfriend, or spouse. The exact same words can lead to drastically different outcomes depending solely on how they are delivered. You will not always feel respectful, but you will regret showing disrespect. As hard as it may be to show respect when you do not believe he or she deserves it, you will not be sorry for showing such kindness and self-control. It is possible to be firm and respectful simultaneously. Disagreement does not equal disrespect.
- “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18, ESV).
- One at a time. This can be hard to remember, especially if conversations get heated, so we recommend using a small, physical object to signify whose turn it is to talk (e.g., a water bottle, a stress ball, or a ruler) and pass it back and forth. This method of talking will feel odd at first, but it is designed help couples slow down and listen to each other. Talking over one another does little good and often causes more problems than it resolves.
- “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11, ESV).
- “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20, ESV).
- Be more concerned with listening than talking. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3, ESV) As believers, we are called to put others above ourselves which runs counter to what our culture tells us to do. When we know we are right, it can feel like nails on a chalkboard to listen to our partner argue his or her point; but, when we choose to listen rather than formulating our next response, we can learn a lot about each other.
- “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2, ESV).
- “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13, ESV).
- “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, ESV).
- Avoid vague responses such as sure and fine. “Do you want to go to Burger King?” “Sure.” ‘Sure’ could mean “if we have” to or “yes, that sounds amazing!” And we cannot always count on reading our partner’s tone of voice. Instead, try something like, Burger King sounds okay to me but it would not be my first choice. Or, Burger King sounds really good. I would love to go there. It requires slightly more effort, but your message is far more easily understood.
- Own your communication. If you do say sure, fine, or some other vague response, own the outcome. If your significant other takes your fine to mean great, then enjoy your Burger King experience rather than pouting. Use it as a learning opportunity so that next time you can clearly express what you want or do not want.
- Communicate to uplift your relationship and not your ego. If what you have to say will not add bless your relationship, keep your mouth shut until you are able to express yourself wisely.
- “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29, ESV).
- “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6, ESV).
- Pray for guidance. As always, take matters to the Lord in prayer. Ask for wisdom before you approach certain topics or try to explain something. The Holy Spirit can give you the words and the timing. No matter is too large or small to take to our Father.
If communication feels impossible and there appear to be multiple roadblocks in your way, then stop, breathe, and look for the root. Sometimes the root of poor communication comes down to an unresolved issue from the relationship. Other times, stymied communication is a result of learned behaviors or trauma. We all learn ways to protect ourselves as we grow up and after painful breakups, and we unknowingly carry those lessons into our current relationships.
Though understanding the root of communication problems is helpful, it is not enough on its own. From there, the root needs to be removed and that often requires time, patience, some tears, some discomfort, and often some professional help. Just as it is with exercise or healthy eating, the results far outshine the sacrifice.
Are you ready to enhance your communication skills?
Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life. – Brian Tracy
My belief is that communication is the best way to create strong relationships. – Jada Pinkett Smith
To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others. – Tony Robbins
Keep breaking free!!!
Do you and your partner struggle to communicate effectively?
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