Your husband seems to say one thing yet do another. Your wife seems to expect you to read her mind. You and your spouse are frustrated that what you heard each other say wasn’t what was meant. Sometimes it can be like your spouse is speaking a different language from yours – one you don’t understand.

But you can learn to speak your spouse’s language when you work on communication skills in your marriage. Here’s how:

Make your marriage a covenant, not just a contract. God intended marriage to be much more than the contractual relationship it typically is in our society. Viewed as a contract, marriage is simply about what and your spouse agree to do for each other (and if either of you fail, the relationship can be canceled). But God designed marriage to be a covenant, a permanent relationship that’s built on unconditional love. The first step in effectively communicating with your spouse is for both of you to view your marriage as a covenant. Be willing to love your spouse with a steadfast love. Decide to focus on what you can do for your spouse, instead of on what you want your spouse to do for you.

Realize that communication leads to intimacy. The better you and your spouse communicate, the closer your relationship will become. Aim to build intimacy by focusing on your communication skills. Think of how loved you each will feel in a truly intimate marriage, and let that thought motivate you to improve the way you communicate.

Plan a daily sharing time with your spouse. Schedule a time each day or night to give each other a few minutes of undivided attention. Take turns asking each other to share three experiences that happened in your lives today and how you feel about them.

Change unhealthy communication patterns. Instead of trying to achieve peace at any price, recognize that conflict is necessary to deal with issues and find solutions to problems. Rather than blaming your spouse for everything, ask God to show you how you’ve contributed to problems. Then take responsibility for your own failures, confess them to God, and ask for His help to change. Instead of expressing only your reasonable thoughts and hiding your feelings, realize that you must share your emotions as well as your logic if you’re going to build true intimacy with your spouse. Rather than ignoring your spouse’s offensive actions or comments, hoping that they’ll go away, realize that the problems between you will never go away on their own. The only way to get them to go away is to work together to solve them.

Raise the level of your communication. Get to know the five different levels of communication. Then aim to go to the highest level – level five – with your spouse. Level one is hallway talk like “Fine, how are you?”. Level two is reporter talk like “Just give me the facts.” Level three is intellectual talk like “Do you know what I think?”. Level four is emotional talk like “Do you know how I feel?”. Level five is the most intimate – loving, genuine truth talk like “Let’s be honest.” On this level, you can speak the truth in love to each other. You can be honest but not condemning, and open but not demanding. You can give each other the freedom to think and feel differently about issues, situations, and people. You work to understand each other’s thoughts and feelings, looking for ways to grow together in spite of your differences.

Get to know yourself well. You must know yourself before you can share yourself with your spouse. Train yourself to become more attentive to your five senses (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and tasting) to be able to fully experience situations. Pay closer attention to the way you interpret your experiences. Notice how the way you interpret experiences affects your emotions and your behavior. Consider what your spouse may have said or done lately that you interpreted in a wrong way.  Ask God to help you avoid jumping to conclusions about situations in your marriage, and instead take the time to find out what truly motivated your spouse to speak or act in certain ways. Get to know your emotions, what triggers them, and how the way you feel affects the way you behave. Recognize your desires, and the different values you place on each of them. Consider whether your desires are good or bad, loving or selfish – and how those desires and their varying intensities are affecting your marriage. Then come to understand how your behavior reveals the reality of your choices. When you act a certain way toward your spouse, you’re making a choice, whether you’re fully aware of it or not. If you pay more attention to the choices you’re making – even at the subconscious level – you can change your behavior by changing your choices. Ask God to help you integrate your feelings and desires with your intellect and your will. Instead of letting your changing emotions rule your life, decide to live by the timeless truths of the Bible. Pray for the strength you need to deal with your emotions maturely, so you can remain committed to your marriage even during tough times.

Learn the art of self-revelation. Once you discover who you truly are, be willing to share yourself with your spouse in order to build intimacy in your marriage. Practice telling your spouse about your experiences, interpretations, feelings, desires, and behavior. The more you reveal about yourself, the less your spouse has to guess, and the better he or she can understand you – which will draw the two of your closer together.

Clarify your priorities and goals. Aim to work with your spouse to grow together into the people God wants you become. Think and pray about your current priorities in life: your faith, family, friends, work, church, personal enrichment, etc.  Consider whether or not each one reflects what’s important to God. A successful marriage depends on both you and your spouse bringing your priorities in line with God’s priorities. Once you and your spouse agree with God and each other about priorities, it’s time to set goals to help you accomplish your priorities. Be sure to make your goals specific, realistic, and measurable. Set goals for the growth you’d like to see happen in your marriage, and keep in mind that growth usually happens gradually, so be patient with each other as long as you’re making some progress. Discuss your goals with your spouse regularly to keep each other motivated and on track.

Make time for what’s most important. You and your spouse may be very busy, but how much are you actually accomplishing? Examine the ways you’re currently using your time. Write down how you spend your time over the course of a week; then analyze the information to decide what to eliminate. Delegate some of your responsibilities, such as by having your children take over certain household chores or hiring someone to help with tasks like doing your taxes or mowing your lawn. Schedule time to be your spouse in focused ways, rather than hoping that you can do so spontaneously and having other activities take over. Encourage each other to take time regularly to be alone, and use that time to think, pray, and reflect on life.

Identify your differences and make them assets. Notice the many differences between your personality and that of your spouse: one of you likes to stay up late and one likes to get up early, one likes to save money and one likes to spend, one talks a lot and the other is quiet, one is neat and one is messy, etc. Remember that God has created each of you to be unique. No matter how much your spouse’s different approach to life may irritate you, decide not to view your differences as liabilities. If you work together to discover how your differences complement each other, those differences can become assets, strengthening your marriage. Don’t condemn each other for being different. Instead, ask God to help you make the most of your differences so that they’ll enhance your lives together. Whenever you and your spouse notice how one of your strengths is helping the other in an area in which he or she is weak, thank each other.

Change defensive attitudes. Remember that your spouse is not your enemy; he or she is your ally. Figure out what’s causing you to feel defensive in your marriage: perhaps self-esteem issues, unresolved conflict, or physical deprivation. Understand how you usually express defensiveness: through verbal retaliation, withdrawal, or speaking to your spouse through your children instead of directly. Whenever you catch yourself reacting defensively, learn from the experience by asking yourself: “What emotions did I feel when I responded defensively?”, “What message did my spouse’s statement communicate to me?”, “What did my response, verbally or behaviorally, communicate to my spouse?”, and “What did my response reveal about me?”. Also consider how larger issues in your marriage may be contributing to your defensiveness, and discuss those issues with your spouse. Then explore ways of relating to each other more constructively. For example, when you want your spouse to do something, approach him or her with a request instead of a demand. Also, rather than saying “You should …” or “You ought …” say “In my opinion …”.  The more you and your spouse feel that you value and believe in each other, the less defensive you’ll each become.

Build intimacy. Ask God to help both you and your spouse be transparent and open with one another so you’ll enjoy the freedom to know and be known. Make sure you’re each experiencing intimacy with God, since you can’t be experience intimacy with each other until you each are close to God first. Communicate with God often through prayer, and communicate with your spouse honestly and openly each day. Confess your own selfishness whenever you recognize it and ask for mercy and forgiveness whenever you need it. Ask God to pour out His love for your spouse through you and make you an agent of positive change in your spouse’s life. Over time, work to regain trust that has been lost in your relationship. Develop stronger emotional intimacy by expressing love, respect, and appreciation to your spouse more often. Build stronger intellectual intimacy by learning how to listen to each other well and discussing ideas in ways that respect each other when your opinions differ. Develop stronger sexual intimacy by working together until you both find mutual fulfillment in your physical relationship. Stay committed to each other, refraining from looking outside your marriage for sexual fulfillment. Communicate often and openly about your sexual needs and desires. Look out for your spouse’s best interests in other areas of your lives, too, to grow the kind of love you need to fuel a healthy sexual connection. Build stronger spiritual intimacy by encouraging each other to become more like Christ every day. Pray together, talk about what God is doing in each of your lives, study the Bible together, and serve God together through your local church and in other ways as He leads you. Dream together about the future, and ask God to make His dreams for your marriage come true.

Published January 14, 2008


Adapted from Now You’re Speaking My Language, copyright 2007 by Gary Chapman. Published by B&H Publishing Group, Nashville, Tn., www.bhpublishinggroup.com.           

Gary Chapman has traveled extensively around the world challenging couples to pursue healthy, growing marriages. Since 1979, Gary has written more than 20 books. His book The Five Love Languages has sold 4 million copies in English alone and has been translated into 36 languages. He has also appeared on several television and radio programs and has his own daily radio program called “A Love Language Minute” that can be heard on more than 100 radio stations across the United States. In addition to his busy writing and seminar schedule, Gary Chapman is a senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he has served for 36 years. Gary and his wife, Karolyn, have been married for 45 years, have two adult children, and two grandchildren.