AUTHOR: Dr. Jo Ann Atkins
Effective Communications in Marriage
Communications is a common theme in my counseling practice with couples. Couples report that they have problems communicating with their significant other about almost everything: the house; money, rearing children, baby momma drama, in-laws and on and on. These problems communicating often escalate and can become arguments chipping away at affections gradually depleting the love bank. If left unchecked, arguments have the potential to get more heated each occasion and can lead to physical altercations, separation and even divorce. Clearly the existence of issues with the children, in-laws or money might be the subject of the argument, however the inability of effectively communicate can prevent the ability to resolve any issues.
Author Gary Collins in his book “Christian Counseling” offers 16 principles for effective communications:
- Avoid double messages: saying something and contradicting it in a non-verbal way. We communicate with words, tone, facial expressions, gestures, and body language.
- Deal with it now: delays have the potential of creating layers of negative emotions.
- In cross cultural relationships, understand that people from different cultures may attach different meaning to certain gestures.
- Always show respect for your partner’s value as a human being.
- Accept that issues can be view uniquely. Don’t assume that your perspective is the only one or the valid one.
- Focus on the current issue. Communicating becomes clouded when the past is dumped into the conversation. It is wise to avoid bringing unrelated grievances, complaints and past sins to the table. “For better or worse” is the promise of forgiveness.
- Fight fair! Resist fault finding, exaggerations, put-downs, name calling, blaming, insults, sarcasm and absolutes…” You always” …” You never.” It is advisable to avoid “You should” or “You shouldn’t” as well. These unfair verbal weapons only escalate an argument due to the attack nature and usually result in the other person taking a defensive posture.
- Be clear, concise and specific with your words.
- Be honest about your feelings, resisting “You made me feel.” Giving your personal power away is an excuse for bad behavior. “I” statements are more concise…” I felt like crap when you said…”
- Be honest, but be sensitive and aware of your spouse’s feelings. We know the words that hurt; intentionally using hurtful words is sabotaging and damaging to any relationship.
- Avoid making or accepting excuses too quickly. Man-up to your actions, whether right or wrong.
- LISTEN carefully, respectfully and courteously WITHOUT interruptions or criticism.
- Ask questions for clarity and be willing to answer any questions to help your spouse gain a meaningful understanding.
- Be conscious of how you are speaking. Use the kind, soft, and polite road to getting your message across. Shouting stimulates the need to be heard and is the driving negative energy of arguments. Emotions fuel disagreements on both sides of an argument. “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” (Prov.15:1)
- Positive statements and humor helps to keep the doors of communication open.
- Be in the habit of giving the gift of life, positive and loving words such as compliments, encouraging words, full attention listening, finding the good, and acts of kindness. (Collins, 1980)
A principle that I add to Collin’s list respectfully is getting an understanding. Resist bringing unrealistic and unspoken expectations to your relationship. Unless your partner is a mind reader, this is a disaster in the making. Expecting your partner to do, say, or uphold certain roles or duties due to gender, age or tradition is an unspoken unfair demand. “It’s a man job to take out the trash” “it’s a woman’s job to make the bed or cook.” Get an understanding and work together to make your marriage work. “Wisdom is the principle thing; therefore, get wisdom; and with all your getting, get understanding.” (Prov. 4:7)
I use these principles in helping couples navigate effective communications. However, it is a good practice to season all of these wonderful principles with the principle that drew them together in the beginning…LOVE. Love is an action word, show the love through hugs, personal thoughtfulness, and love making. There is power in touching and being affectionate, it is a non-verbal way of communicating that can leave your partner melting in your hands.
Collins, G. (1980) Christian Counseling, A Comprehensive Guide, 3rd Edition, Table 18-3, Principles of Effective Communication, Pg. 335
Holy Bible, NIV Translation, Proverbs 4:7 and 15:1