Healthy communication is an essential part of a strong marriage, and nine times out of ten, marital issues stem from unhealthy communication habits. An excellent first step to overcoming negative behaviors is asking ourselves and our spouse some hard questions and being willing to hear and accept the tough answers that are often hard to swallow. It may feel uncomfortable, but we will never overcome our issues without first admitting that what we are doing or how we are doing it is a problem. So, take a deep breath, and ponder each of these questions to see if there are negative behaviors you can get rid of for the sake of your marriage:
1. Am I a poor listener?
I have been guilty of this more times than I’d like to admit. There are times when our spouse wants to talk about something, but we don’t feel like talking about it at that moment. So, instead of telling them how we truly feel (or offering our listening ear), we end up half-heartedly listening while we think about other things. Sometimes, we only hear part of what our spouse is trying to say and miss the whole picture because we are thinking about our response the entire time. This only leads to more frustration and ultimately ends the conversation.
Instead, we need to give our spouse our best attention by looking at them in the eyes and listening without distractions or wandering thoughts. This will allow us to hear what our spouse has to say, and it will cultivate a closer connection and understanding between us.
2. Am I often critical of what my spouse has to say?
This is a painful one to see in action, and I have even seen continued criticism end marriages. I don’t think any married couple tries to fall into this negative dynamic. It happens little by little, and it is rooted in pride. Criticism can take on a variety of forms from passive-aggressiveness to abrupt and even harsh directness. Both approaches carry the same amount of sting.
A critical spouse often feels like they need to correct almost everything their spouse says. Or, this spouse feels like they need to one-up whatever their spouse says and does, and the critical spouse is quick to point this out every time. If there is a mistake or flaw of any kind, the critical spouse lets their spouse know it, whether in private or public. Little by little, the criticized spouse feels unloved and disrespected, and the relationship breaks down.
Instead of this negative approach, we need to resist being critical of our spouse. As much as possible, we need to overlook the petty stuff that may get on our nerves. If our spouse does something wrong or we need to point something out to them, then, by all means, we need to address it. However, we need to approach our spouse most respectfully and positively as we can so that we can keep our relationship healthy.
3. Do I often respond to my spouse with accusing words like “You NEVER” or “You ALWAYS”?
These words will lead to a fight. They are often said in a derogatory fashion. Therefore, they rarely help the conversation. One spouse may say, “You NEVER listen to me,” and then the other might say, “Well, you ALWAYS say the same thing, so why should I?”-and on and on. It’s maddening and hurtful. These words aren’t inherently wrong. It depends on how we use them.
Instead, use these words in a positive light by saying things like, “You ALWAYS know how to brighten up my day,” or “You NEVER give up, and I love that about you.” This will make our spouse feel like a million bucks, and it will keep the conversation going in the right direction.
4. Do I often use one-word responses like “Fine” or “Whatever” or “Okay”?
Some of you may already do this, but if you don’t, I encourage you to join with your spouse in prayer every day. Ask for God’s help! When we pray together, we are not only connecting with God but also sharing our hearts in a vulnerable way. I firmly believe in the power of prayer, and I believe God will help us in our time of need.
These words are often ones we use to end conversations-not keep them going. We say these when we don’t know what else to say, or we’re just too tired to come up with a response at that moment.
Instead of shutting things down, we need to offer our spouse a more mindful response. This is easier said than done, but it is well worth the time and effort.
So, how did you do? What did you learn about yourself from this exercise? The next step is to make it your mission to make the necessary changes to start healthily communicating with your spouse. If you aren’t sure where to start, you can check out lots of helpful articles and videos at xomarriage.com. You may also consider attending Christian counseling, talking to a XO Marriage Mediator, or attending one of our XO Marriage Conferences. The important thing is that you do something to move your marriage in the right direction and stay the course. Great days are ahead!