Learning to talk to your spouse in a healthy way to avoid miscommunications.
Conflict over little things.
The tense atmosphere in the house.
Needs aren’t being met.
All of these are side effects of a communication breakdown in a marriage relationship. We all know we should be consistently working on better communication with our spouse, but what are some practical ways to do that?
Being in the thick of life with children in the home brings an immense amount of joy, but also intensifies everything else: fatigue, busy schedules, financial pressure and generally pouring a lot of oneself into your young humans. As a result, focusing intentionally on things like communication can be challenging.
The “should work on it” items are often pushed out of the way by the “must be done to survive” to-do list.
Take heart! There is a way to clarify expectations and attend to unmet needs without spending hours each night hashing it out. Here are some simple things you can do and questions you can ask to check in with your partner on a regular basis to avoid the breakdown:
- Set a time to openly discuss how things are going between the two of you and in the family in general. This interval of time might really vary based on life situation and personality type. Some couples might feel a weekly check-in is what they need. Others may need to meet more or less frequently based on their particular circumstances. Whatever the time frame, choose one you both feel comfortable with and stick to it.
In your discussion time, create a safe space where each partner can honestly and respectfully share any unmet expectations. Make sure to include a moment of gratitude for the expectations that were met or exceeded by their partner.
“How have I supported you well this week?”
“How can I support you differently this week?”
James 1:19-20 (NIV) tells us: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” It’s important to find ways to ask and share kindly and respectfully while allowing for honesty.
- Look through the calendar of upcoming events to make sure you’re on the same page regarding all the family activities. Work together to achieve a doable balance of responsibilities. Be humble enough to bring up times when you would need extra support. Lean into your spouse. Marriage is not a contest of who is stronger.
- Schedule a regular time for the two of you to just have fun together. That could be a babysitter and a night out, or just a movie night at home after the kids go to bed.
It doesn’t need to be fancy to be intentional. This kind of time together is an investment in your relationship. In the same way that we make deposits into a financial institution to have sufficient funds in a time of need, investing in each other creates “Grace Space”. When you have a strong relationship that is not just functional, but fun and enjoyable, it can make it easier to give some grace when your spouse, or yourself, comes up short on an expectation.
These planned-out approaches are helpful, but what about when things are happening in the moment?
My husband and I have had some communication snags over the years that we’ve discovered are “hot spots”, or touchy subjects, for the other. In order to alleviate some of the tension surrounding communication in those areas, we’ve collaborated and come up with some code words or certain ways of saying things that allow for communication without causing a flare-up in the other person.
For example, when we were first married, we would be in the car together at a stoplight and my husband would be looking at his phone while stopped and wouldn’t see that the light had turned green. So, my pragmatic self would just say “Green” to let him know the light had changed. I had no idea for months that this frustrated him until he was finally honest with me about it. As we discussed it, I asked him how I could say it in a way that wouldn’t be frustrating to him. As silly as it might sound, we agreed that I would say “Watermelon” instead of “Green”.
Proverbs 15:1 (NIV) says “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” For my husband, changing the word I was using was something simple I could do that felt like a soft answer to him and diffused any irritation.
Part of this process is respecting your spouse’s sensitivities. It’s likely that the things that irritate him are not the same things that irritate you and vice versa, so it’s important to hear each other out, try to understand the other’s point of view, and come up with a solution that everyone can live with.
There will be times in your relationship when the tips listed above are not sufficient, and that is okay. Reaching out to a third party can be the tool you need to express expectations and needs in a healthy way and in a safe atmosphere. A licensed, Christian counselor/therapist can give you and your spouse the communication tools you need to draw closer to each other again.
It’s very difficult to be completely objective about your own situation, so if you find that trying to express expectations and communicate needs clearly isn’t going well, an outside perspective from someone who is trained can be very life-giving.
Sometimes this can be hard to do, but engaging a professional for relational or emotional challenges is similar to hiring a trainer to help you get into physical shape; they have the education and training to help you establish and reach your fitness goals. A counselor can help you do the same with your family or spousal dynamic.
Communication will not always come naturally with your spouse, but humbly practicing these three concepts will help you connect deeper each time you engage with each other:
Listen with intention and compassion.
Be willing to have empathy, or at least sympathy, for your spouse’s frustration.
Find a reasonable way to attend to their need.
Liz Dixon has a Master’s degree in social work and is married to Russell Dixon, who is the pastor of Sunset Canyon Baptist Church in Dripping Springs, TX. She is the mother to David (2) and Drew (1). She loves to cook and spends as much time outside as possible with her boys.