You Make No Sense
Five tips for improving marital communication.
with Glen Hoos
A man called his neighbor to help him move a couch that had become stuck in
the doorway. They pushed and pulled until they were exhausted, but the couch
wouldn’t budge. “Forget it,” the man finally said. “We’ll never get this in.”
The neighbor looked at him quizzically and said, “In?”
Do you ever feel like you and your spouse are working against each other?
Men, do you struggle with talking with your wife to the point that you feel
she’s speaking a foreign language? Women, do you need a crowbar to get your
husband to open up and really talk…about anything? If you are still missing the
mark in communicating with your mate, here are some suggestions.
Learn to listen
All of us, men and women, have got to learn to listen patiently. Not easy.
Sometimes we assume we understand what our mate is saying, and instead of really
listening to them when they are talking, we spend the whole time plotting our
response. We mentally shoot down points that they may not even be making, and we
miss their point entirely. Tragic but true.
Donalyn deserves to be heard, as does your mate. I need to fight the
temptation to “know what she is going to say.” I must be quiet, stop and listen
to her – and I don’t just mean physical quietness, either. I need to refrain
from mentally rehearsing my argument and really give her my full attention and
focus. It validates who she is and respects how she feels. It fosters
co-operation, rather than competition, between us.
In many couples there is one person who is more verbal and the other is less
so. Two thirds of the time the woman is more verbal than the man, but sometimes
it is the man who talks more. It is especially important for the talker to learn
good listening skills and to give your mate the time to talk. If you feel like
your spouse isn’t communicative enough, make sure you’re giving them a chance to
open up. If you are filling the air with words, your spouse won’t be able to
share unless they are willing to fight for “air time.” That isn’t likely to
happen, and instead it drives them deeper into privacy.
Risk going deeper
If we want to truly understand another person, we need to take the time and
the risk to communicate at a meaningful level. It starts gradually and
progresses to more intimate, heartfelt discussion. You see, there are several
levels of communication, and all have their place.
• Cliché: When we communicate in clichés, we really aren’t
sharing anything of ourselves. It’s all on the surface, like “Nice day, isn’t
it?” or “How about those Canucks!” It’s easy to communicate at this level
because there’s no risk involved. We aren’t personally invested in the
- Fact: When we are dealing in facts, we are sharing what we
know. We stick to surface details without passing judgment on them. For example,
when our spouse asks us how our day was, we might say, “I spent all day in
meetings,” offering nothing more. It’s a comfortable kind of conversation
because, again, we are not sharing anything personal about ourselves.
- Opinion: When we offer up an opinion, we move beyond the
facts and share what we think about those facts. The level of personal
vulnerability increases a bit. Instead of just saying, “I spent all day in
meetings,” we might say, “I spent all day in meetings. I think we should’ve been
able to finish in an hour, but we kind of went around in circles.”
- Emotion: When we move from facts, to thoughts, to feelings,
we really begin sharing something of ourselves. The risk increases, but so does
the emotional connection with the other person as we allow them a glimpse at
what is going on inside us. For example, “I spent all day in meetings. It was
really frustrating, because I suggested a good solution early in the day, and it
took six hours of discussion for my boss to agree to my plan. We could have been
done in an hour!”
- Transparency: Full transparency is the riskiest level of
communication, because it’s here that our heart is laid bare for another to see.
We fear sharing at this depth because there is a chance we will be rejected when
the person sees us for who we really are. For example, “Today was really
difficult. I don’t feel like my boss really values my contributions or trusts
that I can get the job done. I think it’s starting to rub off on me, because I
find myself feeling inadequate.”
The deeper we go, the more intimate the relationship becomes. A good marriage
is one in which the couple is continuously growing in transparent disclosure. We
need to seek to understand our spouse to their core. Rather than growing
complacent or trying to fit them into your own mould, put in the effort to get
to their heart. Just listen and let them express who they are. As you get to
know their heart, you’ll likely grow in your desire to be with them.
Seek clarification over frustration
How many times have you and your spouse had an argument, only to discover
that the fight could have been avoided if you had truly taken the time to
understand one another? My wife and I have had times where, as we worked through
an area of disagreement, we discovered that we didn’t really disagree at all…we
only thought we disagreed because we were too impatient to fully understand one
So many fights are escalated because we don’t make the effort to clarify what
the other person is trying to communicate. We say, “Well, I thought you said
this …”, and it wasn’t that at all. It’s important to clarify. Clarifying is
simply saying, “If I hear you correctly, I hear you saying this…” Then the other
person says, “No, I didn’t mean that, I meant this…” The spouse has a chance
to restate themselves, to ensure they are understood. Perceived communication
without clarification usually leads to frustration! No one wins.
Remember: Differing opinions are not wrong
Men and women are different…and that’s okay. I have different opinions than
the guys I play hockey with. I have different opinions than those I work with. I
have different opinions with a lot of people. It doesn’t mean that one of us
Sometimes in a marriage, every area of disagreement automatically becomes a
battle. It becomes a contest, with each partner trying to prove that they are
right. Remember: it’s okay to have different opinions. Now, there are times when
you’ve got to come to agreement on decisions that need to be made, so those
differences will need to be worked through. But we’ve got to drop this need to
win fights, as well as the need to blame the other person. It’s a trap that many
couples fall into. Ultimately, what’s more important: winning the fight, or
having harmony in your home? Would you rather be right, or happy?
Resolve miscommunications at your best times
This one seems basic, but it’s so critical. Fights get worse when you are
tired or in a bad mood. I have to tell you, some of the worst fights in my
marriage were late at night. It’s now 1am, 2am, and it went from a level two
fight to a level five or six fight just because of the time of day it was. We’re
bushed and we know we have to get up early. There may even be certain times of
the month that are bad times for resolving disagreements.
We will reach resolution more quickly if we do it at our best times. Schedule
a time to work through your issues – a time that is good for both of you.
Miscommunication gets resolved so much more quickly and peacefully when we are
well-rested and prepared to work at it together. Don’t shoot yourself in the
foot by adding bad timing to your list of frustrations.
Learning to communicate with your spouse is a process. Yes, sometimes it
feels like we are speaking different languages. But over time, and with enough
effort, we can learn to understand one another: maybe not perfectly, maybe not
100% of the time, but at least enough to get that couch through the door!
Used by permission of FamilyLife Canada. Copyright 2003.