Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective
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Love Talk: Connect Through Healthy Communication

  • Whitney Hopler Contributing Writer
  • 2005 17 Feb
Love Talk: Connect Through Healthy Communication

Everyone wants to be known and understood. When you and your spouse give this gift to each other, you strengthen the bond between you. In fact, many research studies indicate that improving your communication increases the quality of your marriage more than anything else you can do.

In order to communicate successfully, however, you need to learn what to say and how to say it best - in ways that truly reach your partner. You need to learn his or her language of love.

Here's how you can learn to speak your spouse's love language:

• Make meaningful conversations a priority. Make time to talk on a regular basis. Eliminate distractions so you can give all your attention to your discussions with your spouse. Don't multitask while you're talking. Do take advantage of quiet times (such as in the car or in the house after your kids are asleep) to hold conversations.

• Pay attention to your nonverbal communication. Make eye contact with your spouse, lean slightly toward him or her with a relaxed posture, avoid gestures that might be distracting, and talk in a space that allows you both to sit close together in privacy.

• Clarify what you think you heard your spouse say. After your spouse makes a point, repeat back what you think you heard to clarify the message. Give your spouse a chance to correct you if you misunderstood what he or she said.

•Avoid unsolicited advice. Don't give your spouse advice when he or she doesn't ask for it. Realize that your partner may not be ready yet to follow through on any advice and would only feel guilty if you offer unwanted counsel.

• Be genuine. Know that you must be sincere and authentic if your spouse is to trust you.

• Open up with your spouse. Strive to be honest, vulnerable, and willing to talk about anything with your spouse. If you have emotional wounds that are keeping you from opening up, seek healing for them. Enlist the help of a mentor, counselor, or coach who can provide the encouragement, support, and accountability you need.

• Recognize your spouse's fear factor. Understand that people are all hardwired to want emotional safety during conversations. Know that every person has one main type of compelling need that motivates him or her emotionally, and he or she feels fear whenever that need is threatened.

Consider what makes you and your spouse feel emotionally safe. Is it gaining control of time, winning approval from others, maintaining loyalty, or achieving quality standards? Once you identify each of your main fear factors, you can use that information to converse in a way that feels emotionally safe to each of you. For example, if your spouse fears losing control of his time, you can reach him more effectively if you learn how to speak concisely and stay focused on the topic at hand.

• Discover how your spouse tackles problems. Consider whether your spouse solves problems aggressively or passively. An aggressive problem solver says, "Let's do it now." He or she is a self-starter, bold, determined, and tenacious. But under stress, he or she becomes impatient and blunt. In conflict, he or she becomes intimidating and confrontational.

A passive problem solver says, "Let's give it some time." He or she is considerate, self-controlled, patient, and cooperative. But under stress, he or she becomes anxious and slow. In conflict, he or she becomes indecisive and withdrawn. Use this information to learn more about your spouse's style of talking.

• Consider how you and your spouse influence each other. Think about whether your spouse is influenced more powerfully by facts or feelings. Figure out whether facts or feelings influence you the most. Someone influenced by facts says, "Let's look at all the evidence." He or she is realistic, logical, reflective, and calm. But under stress, he or she becomes pessimistic and introspective. In conflict, he or she becomes skeptical and uncommunicative.

Someone influenced by feelings says, "Trust me, it will work great." He or she is optimistic, friendly, outgoing, and inspiring. But under stress, he or she becomes impulsive and unrealistic. In conflict, he or she becomes a poor listener and unreliable. Use this knowledge to make your conversations more productive.

• Learn how your spouse reacts to change. Figure out whether your spouse is resistant to change or accepting of change. A person who is resistant to change says, "Let's keep things the way they are." He or she is stable, loyal, a team player, and methodical. Under stress, he or she becomes slow-paced and inflexible. In conflict, he or she becomes stubborn and sullen.

A person who is accepting of change says, "Let's try something new." He or she is energetic, progressive, spontaneous, and flexible. But under stress, he or she becomes intense and restless. In conflict, he or she becomes distracted and impulsive. Use this information to negotiate change more successfully with your spouse.

• Study how your spouse makes decisions. Is your spouse cautious or spontaneous? A cautious decision maker says, "I'm not sure yet." He or she is conscientious, has high standards, and is accurate. But under stress, he or she becomes an exacting perfectionist. In conflict, he or she becomes indecisive and unyielding.

A spontaneous decision maker says, "Let's go for it." He or she is bold, decisive, and independent. But under stress, he or she becomes controversial and insensitive. And in conflict, he or she becomes reckless and overconfident.

• Empathize with your spouse. Ask God to help you see the world as your partner sees it. Try to imagine yourself experiencing life as your spouse does. Try to understand why your partner feels the way he or she does. Know that empathizing with your spouse will help create a strong connection with him or her.

• Understand gender differences. Remember that, in conversations, men tend to analyze the information and women tend to sympathize with the speaker. Generally, men are concerned with getting results, achieving goals, and getting to the bottom line efficiently. Women are concerned with harmony and sharing to improve relationships. No matter what your gender, try to use both your head and your heart when talking and listening to your spouse.

• Listen with your "third ear." Give your full attention to what your spouse says and how he or she says it. Ponder your spouse's message so you can hear the message beneath the words. Take the time to acknowledge and show appreciation for your partner's thoughts and feelings.

• Know when to stop talking. Understand that there are certain times when being silent is more effective than talking. Stop talking when one of you isn't ready to discuss the topic at hand; wait for a better time. Stop talking when you've already said it many times and your partner just isn't responding; you may have to agree to disagree. Stop talking when you need more time to think about a question your spouse asks you; this will give you time to come up with a thoughtful response. Stop talking when one of you is being unreasonable; this allows time and space to relax and revisit the discussion later. Stop talking when you've forgotten the problem you were talking about; cool down, remember, then get back on track. Stop talking when you're spewing unsolicited advice or criticism; your spouse probably won't listen to that. Stop talking when you're talking about something so you can avoid doing it; stop procrastinating and start acting.

• Monitor and improve your self-talk. Be aware of the thoughts that run through your mind on a regular basis. Know that they cut physical grooves into your brain and influence you in powerful ways. Think about what you say to yourself, and ask God to correct inaccurate thoughts in your internal dialogue. Decide to think thoughts that respect yourself and your spouse. Think positive thoughts frequently, and after a while, those positive thoughts will cut new grooves in your brain and help you overcome an unhealthy habit of negative thoughts.

• Let your spouse know what you appreciate about him or her. Make a list of things you appreciate about your partner. Focus on character traits (honesty, creativity, etc.) rather than on what he or she does for you. Show your list to your spouse, and ask your spouse to show you his or her list of your own good character traits. Each of you keep your lists in places where you can read them often. Every few months, revise your lists to keep them fresh.

• Strive for connection rather than perfection. Realize that both of you are bound to make mistakes as you strive to communicate better. Give each other permission to do so. Know that you can still connect as long as you make an effort to do so.

Adapted from Love Talk: Speak Each Other's Language Like You Never Have Before, copyright 2004 by Les and Leslie Parrott. Published by Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Mich.,

Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott are co-directors of the Center for Relationship Development at Seattle Pacific University (SPU), a groundbreaking program dedicated to teaching the basics of good relationships. Les Parrott is a professor of clinical psychology at SPU, and Leslie is a marriage and family therapist at SPU. The Parrotts are authors of the Gold Medallion Award-winning Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts, Becoming Soul Mates, Love Is, Relationships, and When Bad Things Happen to Good Marriages. They have been featured on Oprah, CBS This Morning, CNN, and The New York Times. They are also frequent guest speakers and have written for a variety of magazines. The Parrotts are hosts of the national radio broadcast Love Talk. They live in Seattle, Washington, with their two sons.