Is communication as important in marriage as you keep hearing from well-meaning friends and pop culture? And is all communication helpful or can some of it actually harm a marriage or romantic relationship?

It seems that everywhere we turn we hear that all our marriage problems could be solved if we'd just "communicate." And that the "key" to every issue that could ever come up in marriage cowers at the very feet of "communication."

One wonders how marriage counselors stay in business and how marriage help books continue to fill the shelves since the communication "secret" has apparently been let out of the bag.

The answer, based on our research and the research of others, is that "communication" is much too vague of a concept to be helpful unless properly understood and applied. I do happen to agree that communication is very important. But what you communicate, how you communicate and when you communicate is where the focus should be placed. Sometimes it's actually far better not to communicate. Silence, at certain times, can be golden in a relationship.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Examine with me some questions and answers that can help you successfully communicate in a way that will move your relationship forward and even make it stronger.

Who Is This Person?

If it's your spouse, you owe this person a lot more than just a few thrown together sentences. This person has vowed to stand by you through sickness and in health, for better or worse until death do you part. He/she has likely already weathered stomach flu, dirty diapers, taxes, bills, wrinkles and morning breath with you. Don't you think they deserve your best effort at communication without sloppy, unprepared rants?

Many of us are usually polite to strangers. In fact, we often let salespeople come into our homes or talk to us on the phone because we don't want to be rude or hurt their feelings. The person walking with us through life deserves that kind of courtesy and a lot more. So before we attempt any kind of communication we should remind ourselves of this person's place and value in our life.

What You Communicate

So you want to communicate? Well what is communication in the first place?

Would you agree that communication could be defined as simply sending a message to someone? If so, then we must first know what message we're trying to send. Thinking out loud, though understandable at times, should be prefaced and used only with extreme caution. You don't want to realize that what you're saying is selfish, insensitive, harsh, unreasonable or even incorrect after you've said them out loud to your spouse. Words are hard to take back and often leave hurt and doubt in the heart of your spouse even if you do.

So with sensitive topics, it would be wise of you to say your words out loud to yourself first instead of "trying them out" on your spouse. You might have some editing to do on some of the words that come out wrong.

By asking you to do some editing, it might sound like I'm asking you to do work or even like I'm suggesting you be careful with your words. You're right! You might even be thinking that when two people are emotionally intimate that such care need not be taken with words and that you should each be free to simply speak your mind. That idea might sound romantic and even poetic, but be in a relationship long enough and you'll likely find that much hurt and damage could be avoided if we actually did some preparation before we attempted to communicate.

Be kind and do your best to put yourself in the position of the listener.

Give some thought to your words before you say them so that you aren't unintentionally harsh or unclear. This secret alone can be a relationship saver.

When You Communicate

When you're angry -- this might be the time that you go to another room and listen to your words out loud before you say them to your spouse. And then it's likely best to wait until you calm down. When we're angry, judgment and logic can be more difficult to exercise than when we're calm. If you're honest with yourself, you'd agree that you're much more reasonable and rational when you haven't lost control of your temper.