Communication is vital to your marriage. No matter your age or how long you’ve been married, your success will depend on your ability to communicate. Almost every conflict in marriage begins with a failure to communicate and will be resolved by productive communication.
When God put Adam and Eve together in the first marriage, He described them as becoming united as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). That may be God’s purpose, but becoming one isn’t instantaneous. You have to learn to become one. You grow into unity. Communication is how it happens.
A healthy marriage requires you to communicate in an honest, vulnerable way. One of the goals of every marriage should be to make steady improvements in communication with each other, as husband and wife. You can’t read each other’s minds, but you don’t have to because you’re always telling each other what’s on your mind.
In thinking about communication in marriage, we have to realize that everyone communicates differently. We have unique personalities. To communicate well, we need to know who we are and our own strengths and weaknesses related to communication.
Most people naturally fall into one of three kinds of communication patterns. Unfortunately, none of these is very healthy:
- A passive communicator is quiet and reserved and uncomfortable expressing how they feel. These individuals can be frustrating because, well, they don’t communicate.
- On the opposite side, an aggressive communicator issues commands and often fails to listen very well. These individuals can be domineering and overbearing.
- Then there is the combination of the two. A passive-aggressive communicator might resort to body language or the silent treatment to convey displeasure. These communicators can be manipulative.
If one of these communication styles is your tendency, you need to be aware of it—not to use it as an excuse, but so you can improve upon it. Get feedback from your spouse: How do you experience me as a communicator? How do you experience me when I’m hurt or confused? How do you experience me when I’m wrong?
Ask these questions and listen to the answer, because the fourth kind of communication—the healthiest communication style—is the one we are all striving to embrace. It’s an assertive communicator. This is someone who communicates with transparency and compassion. They avoid manipulation. They don’t dominate.
Instead, they make their desires known clearly. They openly express their ideas, feelings and needs. And they do it while also considering the needs of the other.
Assertive communicators make it possible for both sides to win. They aim to balance the rights and preferences of their partner with their own rights and preferences. Every spouse wants their feelings to be validated and wants to know that their thoughts are being heard.
Once you’ve learned to communicate assertively, there are six categories of communication where you’ll need to apply that style. You won’t talk about all six areas every day, but all of these things should come up in your conversation on a regular basis. You and your spouse need to discuss these areas honestly and consistently.
- Daily information. These are the facts of the day. When are you leaving for work? When will you be home? Who’s picking up the kids? Who’s getting the groceries or starting dinner? Early in our marriage, my wife and I were very independent. I didn’t realize I needed to tell her when I was going to be out playing basketball with my friends. Now that we are more unified—and now that we have three children—we realize how important it is to communicate these basics.
- Partnership discussions. Every day, our marriages are bombarded with opportunities that have to do with your vision and values. These require hard choices and prioritization. They should not be made unilaterally. Some questions are short-term: Should I go to the game tonight or should I stay home to help one of the kids with schoolwork? Others are long-term: Should I consider this new career opportunity? Should we move to another city? These are decisions you must process together. Partnership communication is how you do it.
- Conflict resolution. Conflicts arise when expectations aren’t being met. More often than not, we haven’t even communicated that expectation. The aim of conflict resolution isn’t to figure out who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s to grow deeper in unity and love. Both of you win when you successfully resolve a conflict, but it requires knowing each other’s personality and communication style.
- Emotional connection. Some families never discuss feelings. Others wear their feelings on their sleeves. Regardless of your upbringing, it’s important to check in with your spouse on how they are feeling. What are you struggling with today? What’s got you excited? Be curious. Ask and answer questions. A thriving, godly marriage has no secrets.
- Personal processing. This means inviting your spouse into your mind. What are you thinking about lately? What did you learn today? If God is teaching you something or if you are thinking of trying something new, talk about it with each other. Revealing these kinds of thoughts to each other keeps you from living totally separate interior lives.
- Intimacy. Sex is about more than physical connection. It also requires the personal intimacy forged by communication. Start conversations about your sex life and about your expectations. What kind of affection do you want from me? What is romantic to you? How often do you wish we had sex? This category doesn’t just cover physical intimacy, though. It’s also about spiritual intimacy. Talk about what you’ve read lately in the Bible. Talk about what God is doing in your heart. Pray together and grow in God’s Word together.
Communication is a lifelong learning process and a successful couple will learn to communicate well on a number of different levels. When they do, they will find themselves growing together as one. Words matter, and the way you use those words will determine the health of your marriage.