Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. ~ Proverbs 12:18

Maybe it would sound better in a Cockney accent, a la the Geico Gecko. Fifteen minutes could add fifteen or more years to your marriage.

However, there is a catch.

Ask a typical group of couples what they feel would help their marriages and the usual response is communication. Pry further as to what communication means to them and answers vary:

“Having any communication would be a nice change.”

“Really listening to each other.” (Usually this translates, “That jerk doesn’t hear a word I say.”

“A conversation that doesn’t turn into a fight.”

“Not having to listen to the same stuff about the past over and over again.”

“Being able to share your heart without being either ignored, ridiculed, or corrected.”

The list goes on. Feel free mentally to insert your own description here, if you wish. What these people refer to as communication actually means something deeper. According to Miriam-Webster communication is, “a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior.” Two people thrashing each other with angry and bitter words are communicating. However, that communication probably damages the relationship rather than making it better. When most people say that they need better communication, what they really mean is that they need a way to understand and to be understood without fear, rejection, or conflict.

Core of the Issue

In The Marriage Clinic, John Gottman, PhD, examines various research about why people divorce. He concludes, ““In summarizing these research projects, ‘feeling unloved’ was the most commonly cited reason for wanting a divorce (67% of women)…and sensitivity to being belittled (59% men and women)…We must conclude that most marriages end…[as] the result of people…not feeling liked, loved, and respected.”

Of course, the symptoms may range from financial difficulties to problems in the bedroom and more, but the foundation remains the same. Men or women who feel unloved, disrespected, or disliked often find themselves wishing they were out of that relationship. If one partner spends money foolishly while the other tries to get the couple out of debt, money certainly matters, but it is the underlying feeling of being disrespected that lies at the core of the conflict.

It is not usual, for example, for a spouse to refer to their overweight partner, “If there were a medical reason, I would understand. But there isn’t. If s/he cared about me, there would be exercise, cutting back, and taking care of self. S/he would want to look good and be desirable. I feel disrespected!” Often the overweight person replies, “If you loved me as I am, I’d lose the weight. I will not meet some condition, like losing weight, for you to love me. I feel disrespected!” Though their fight is about weight, the underlying issue in the minds of each is feeling unloved, disrespected, disliked, or a combination of the three.

How to Talk Without Fighting

Sometimes the best way to learn to communicate in a positive, bonding manner is to start with something other than the issue causing the current problem. This is not to say that things get better when a couple avoids conflict. It is to say that understanding and being understood makes a better foundation for dealing with problems.

The way one person learns to understand another is to, in some fashion, see the world through that person’s eyes. While that cannot be done perfectly, there are ways to do it well enough to establish genuine connection and communication on an honest rather than defensive level.