When my brother-in-law got married, a friend of his gave him some solid advice, “Marriage is all about communication,” he told him. My brother-in-law shared this with my husband and me when we got married a few years later. While we were in agreement with the statement, we didn’t really know what to do with it at the time.
What is communication in a marriage? Is it simply the act of talking and listening? I’ve come to believe that it’s much more than that. My husband and I recently reflected on this advice that we’d received nearly eight years ago. My husband pointed out that successful communication in a marriage was more than talking and listening, it included understanding—the need for each partner to work to empathize with the other, to try to understand their point of view. Each person also has to work to make themselves understood, to get their point across. Not an easy task.
You may have heard the expression “heart talk” which refers to talking about how you feel rather than talking about what you think. Here is an example:
Talking with your head:
“You didn’t take out the trash after I asked you to five times!”
Talking with your heart:
“It makes me feel discounted when you don’t acknowledge and act on what I ask of you.”
See the difference? Talking from the heart may seem a little uncomfortable to some, after all, we’re talking about feelings, and most of us run for the hills when we have to do that. But communicating this way can be very effective in helping your partner understand where you’re coming from.
My husband and I have also discovered that a key to communicating well is to understand your individual needs. What are you getting from each other in the relationship that is making it work? What are you not getting from each other? Or, in other words, what’s not working? Marriage is partly a journey of self-awareness and you have to have the confidence to bridge the subject of open communication with your spouse.
Do you feel comfortable asking for what you need? Try some of these phrases out:
“I need to feel valued”
“I need to feel respected”
“I need to have some autonomy”
“I need proactive communication”
“I need to be unconditionally loved”
“I need to be listened to”
“I need to be supported and encouraged”
This may seem like a lot of “I needs”, but being clear about what you need and asking for it is the only way you’re likely to get it. And having need doesn’t make you needy. Would you say your child was needy if they said any of the following?
“I need food to eat”
“I need a bed to sleep in”
“I need unconditional love”
“I need respect”
“I need to feel valued and important to you”
“I need to be listened to”
“I need you”
Of course you wouldn’t! And it’s no different in a marriage. How many married people don’t ask for what they need and maybe haven’t even thought about it? I suspect many. Most of us are just trying to get through each day and our hectic schedules don’t leave much time to reflect.
Good communication is key to a good marriage, but it’s more than simply talking and listening.
Do you talk to your spouse with your heart or your head? Are you asking for what you need?