Your spouse won’t communicate. How are you supposed to have a marriage?!
If you want to improve your marriage communication, it may seem odd, but you need to start by protecting your fears.
“My spouse won’t listen to me.” “My spouse won’t talk to me.” These are the two complaints I hear most in my coaching practice when it comes to improving your marriage communication.
When your spouse won’t talk, eventually you will quit listening, and when your spouse won’t listen, eventually you will stop talking.
You might still talk about what time the kids need to be at a doctor’s appointment. Or you might listen when your spouse tells you they need a ride to the airport.
But the dreams and fears that underlie the life of your relationship? Those are left behind, and your marriage communication is left to languish. Alienation and loneliness set in. Then it becomes even more difficult to talk. Even more difficult to listen. Your relationship feels empty.
Here is where it’s most difficult—and most critical—to build a bridge of understanding.
Stephen Covey, a renowned psychologist and father of modern business coaching, was asked the single most important thing in communication, and his answer was, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
A simple truth, but why is it so damn hard?
Short answer: because we get distracted by our own fears and desires. The solution is to provide solid protection for all that frightens you and all that you want.
Until you take good care of your own fears and desires, you won’t be capable of waiting to be understood. Your marriage communication will be all about YOU. A relationship of one is lonely.
Once you’re able to seek first to understand, your marriage communication will be revolutionized.
This blog about marriage communication will help you:
- set your need to be understood aside.
- listen with an intensity that invites your spouse to communicate.
Understand yourself before you try to communicate with your spouse.
Seek first to understand yourself. Don’t make your spouse figure out what you want. Take responsibility for understanding what you want in this relationship.
If you understand yourself, you will be capable of setting your fears and desires aside. But until you understand yourself, your animal body will keep interrupting any conversation you have in your marriage.
Conversely, if you demand to be understood first in your marriage communication, your spouse will get demanding too. Too many demands are lethal to good relationship communication.
Marriage communication improves when you discover what your spouse wants.
Remember this guide to help you identify your fears and desires so that you can make a clean ask?
To communicate clearly, you first need to know what you want and what you fear:
- List all the reasons you’re afraid.
- List all the things you want.
- Then combine a fear and a desire to arrive at a clean ask.
List all the reasons you’re afraid:
- I’m afraid my spouse won’t want to visit my family.
- I’m afraid that if I want to spend time with my family, I’ll have to choose between my spouse and my family.
- I’m afraid my spouse likes surfing more than sitting at the table frosting cookies with my siblings.
List all the things you want:
- I want to visit my family during the holidays.
- I want to spend the holidays with my spouse AND my family.
- I want my spouse to enjoy my family as much as I do.
Now we just flip the formula to focus on your spouse. This is the key to building your bridge to better marriage communication.
List all the reasons your spouse is afraid when it comes to holidays and family.
Are you coming up empty? You can’t identify your spouse’s fears? Perfect! This is a signal that spending time discovering what your spouse wants is a good investment in your marriage communication.
Communicate better by asking your spouse questions that open your marriage up to possibilities. Tune in to your curiosity.
Think of your discussion topic. Our example is how to spend time at the holidays. All your questions will attempt to hone in on what your spouse values when it comes to that subject.
Use words and body language that invite your spouse to share. Discover your spouse’s fears, desires, and values by asking questions like these:
- What’s most important to you when it comes to the holidays?
- What concerns do you have about the holidays?
- What memories do you have as a child when it came to the holidays?
See how these questions are helping you to identify what your spouse values?
Remember our cave diving example? Jill asked herself, “What will kill me today?” You are trying to identify those things that will kill your marriage communication, and they reside in your spouse’s core values.
You: “When you think about the holidays, what are you afraid you’ll have to do to make me happy?”
You: “I have a feeling you worry that, in order to make me happy, you’ll have to give up something you love.”
Then—and this is critical—stop talking. Listen. Seek understanding.
As you investigate, you begin to realize the holidays weren’t a happy time for your spouse. Because of that, your spouse would rather ignore the holidays and go to the beach to do something they truly enjoy.
After exploration, you discover this is the list of your spouse’s fears and desires:
Your spouse is afraid:
- of remembering a lonely past holiday.
- they will never get to surf again.
Your spouse wants:
- you to enjoy surfing.
- to spend the holidays surfing with you.
- to replace old, lonely holiday memories with new happy memories.
Now that you are able to understand your spouse’s fears and desires, pause.
Marriage communication is very intimate. You’re talking about the fears and desires that make up the fabric of your daily life.
All that intimacy and introspection can feel like you’re cave diving. In the dark. Come up for air. Give your marriage space by pausing.
This pause will invisibly improve your marriage communication. When you truly understand your spouse’s fears and desires, your heart will change. Your natural compassion and love for your spouse will soften the fears and desires you have.
Then you’ll be able to integrate their desires with your own and improve your communication.