When it comes to communication, the first thing that is important is to take a look at you. Don’t look to your mate to see what he or she is doing wrong, but see if there is something that you haven’t been doing right. For example, when I was first married, I used phrases like, “You always do this” and “You never do that.” Always and never, I discovered were words John didn’t appreciate, ones that put him on the defense. In the end, I didn’t get my point across, mainly because those words made him unwilling to hear it.
I also believe it’s as important to find the right time to talk. I’m most awake in the morning, but John is not a morning person. John likes to talk at night, and sometimes I have a hard time staying awake.
Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it more eloquently by saying:There is one topic peremptorily forbidden to all well-bred, to all rational mortals, namely, their distempers. If you have not slept, or if you have slept, or if you have a headache, or sciatica, or leprosy, or thunderstroke, I beseech you, by all the angels, to hold your peace and not pollute the morning.
John and I have found that walks right after dinner are a great time for communication. We walk on a bike trail near our home. We’re alone, without distractions. We’re both looking ahead (which helps me). And we are both completely focused on each other’s words instead of TV, or email, or kids.
We also enjoy dinner conversations or going to bed early, which works for both of us. In addition to sharing the things that happened during the day, we also discuss how we felt about them. This is the harder part for me. Yet we’ve discovered that if John talks honestly and is willing to listen, then as the minutes tick by, I become comfortable doing the same.
John’s also learned not to be shy when trying to figure out what’s going on in my mind and heart.
“The more convinced you are of what’s going on with your partner, the less you probably know,” says Toni Poynter, author of Now and Forever. “Never underestimate the clarifying power of a direct question.”
When I give John an overview of my day, he is now quick to ask: How do you feel about that? What were you thinking when that was happening? What are you going to do now? These questions not only help him get a glimpse inside me, they also help me clarify my emotions and thoughts . . . which usually get pushed to the back burner in the midst of a busy day.
Of course, to ask direct questions such as these, one has to truly listen. How many times do I let my mind wander when John is talking? Or perhaps I’m thinking of my response . . . especially during conflict. I’m always thinking ahead . . . trying to figure out just what to say.
We pay attention only long enough to develop a counter-argument; we critique [their] ideas; we mentally grade and pigeon-hole each other . . . People often listen with an agenda, to sell, or petition, or seduce. Seldom is there a deep, open-hearted, unjudging reception of the other . . . By contrast, if someone truly listens to me, my spirit begins to expand.”[ii]
Of course, what we say is a small part of communication. Body language is also huge. I didn’t realize this until I saw it in my daughter, now age 14. I can read her face, the flip of her hair, the roll of her eyes, the movement of her hands, like a book. I suppose it’s in the genes.
“I speak two languages Body and English,” said Mae West. Isn’t that the truth? And the amazing thing about knowing your spouse is understanding their unique language—even if they’re trying not to speak it.
How do you get time to communicate?
© Tricia Goyer author of Generation NeXt Marriage