Every married couple learns eventually how vital communication is to a healthy, growing, loving relationship. But great communication is a skill that’s a work in progress and takes a lifetime to master.
Communication is a 2-way street—both talking and listening. Like driving, adhering to a few rules and being mindful and respectful of others keeps traffic flowing safely and effectively.
Gail and I have found that sometimes beginning with a question best sets the tone and gives the other person the chance to give their undivided attention or avoid overreacting. Here are five of our favorite:
- “Are you deep?” Essentially the same as, “Do you have a minute?”, but we like our version better. It’s a respectful interruption and at the same time saying, “I’d like to talk with you but I need your undivided attention.” This is particularly helpful for me. When I’m deep in thought or engaged in a project (or TV or game!), this helps me to push the pause button and take a moment to fully engage with Gail.
“Permission to speak freely?” This works in just about any relationship and is certainly valuable in marriage—especially when you know the subject matter may possibly be sensitive. Great relationships require speaking the truth in love. That requires choosing your words and timing wisely, and it’s helpful for the hearer to have a heads up to prepare themselves, drop defensive walls, and choose to listen without reacting emotionally.
“Would you like to rephrase that?” This is a patient way of giving another the chance for a do-over when they speak before thinking. It’s generally a precursor to a follow up question: “Did you mean to come across unloving/disrespectful?” Instead of letting an ill-conceived statement start what Dr. Emerson Eggerichs describes as “The Crazy Cycle”, the nobler spouse of the moment gives a chance for a take-back. I’m thankful for this and Gail’s gracious use of it. The Crazy Cycle stinks.
“So, if I understand you correctly, you’re saying…” A person understands perfectly what he’s saying and assumes the listener understands as well. If that were always the case, there would be no “misunderstandings.” Meaning can get jumbled in the transference of words from someone’s mouth to another’s ears. If you find yourself miffed or puzzled about what your spouse just said, restate what you think you heard and ask for confirmation or clarification. If still miffed or puzzled, consider Question #2 or #3 and proceed cautiously.
“I’m sorry, honey—I wasn’t paying attention. Would you repeat that?” No matter how much we want to be totally considerate when our spouse speaks, occasionally we drift. It happens. Just own it and ‘fess up. It’s best if you say it before it’s obvious. If you get called out before you even realize you’re stuck in a daydream, don’t try to fake that you weren’t. I find myself asking for a repeat more than I want to, yet to Gail’s credit, she’s always more than willing to do so even though I’ve inconvenienced her.
These are just a few valuable lessons from almost four decades of working to make each day of marriage better. I hope at least one of the above is a help to you in the near future.
Question: What question works to improve your communication with your spouse? Share your answer in the comments below.