Listening is the not-so-secret ingredient in communication. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Studies show that robust and affirming relationships are built on a foundation developed by listening to one another.

When looking at ways to improve communication in marriage it is worth asking if either party is really listening or if both people are trying to prove they are right, getting annoyed if the other person keeps talking while they are interrupting.

In The Road Less Traveled author M. Scott Peck observed that you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time. Some of our most frequently made listening mistakes are:

  • Allowing yourself to be distracted.
  • Thinking of something else while your spouse is talking.
  • Making a judgment about what they are saying.
  • Listening with a set outcome in mind.

Communication in marriage is built upon the skill of listening well, also known as active listening. Far more than simply not talking, active listening is a practice whereby you take a genuine interest in the other person. This is demonstrated when you feel curious about what they are saying, rather than racing to anticipate their words and intentions.

Active listening is defined as being invested in the communication, and this is shown in non-verbal communication. It is seen when you put the words and ideas of your counterpart above your internal dialogue, suspending judgment and being able to tolerate silence in the conversation.

Practice communication in marriage.

As an exercise to evaluate how you and your spouse communicate with one another, take part in an active listening exercise.

Sit facing one another and start a timer for ten minutes. The first person will use this full time to talk about their day while the second person practices active listening and pays attention with a sincere interest. The second person is permitted to speak only to ask clarifying questions but should not interrupt the first person. Any silence is welcome. Just relax and wait it out.

Once the full ten minutes are up it is the second person’s turn and the timer starts for a second period of ten minutes. The same listening requirements are practiced, and you will both find that ten minutes is a long time to simply listen.

Do not be surprised at the level of detail you learn about your spouse, and how by doing this listening exercise you add value to your relationship as well as to your general communication. Practice makes progress, and by practicing this type of active listening regularly such as once each week, you will see that you grow together in your communication in marriage.

Non-violent communication method.

Another excellent method to improve communication in marriage is Marshall B Rosenberg’s non-violent communication. This is founded upon the willingness and receptiveness of both marriage partners to become familiar with issues and come to understand them in a non-judgmental manner.

This approach is found to be especially important because when you set out with the intention to change someone you will create resistance. It is an effective technique to enable both people to discuss an issue that is bugging one of you.

For example, perhaps your spouse forgot to get you a card or gift to celebrate your wedding anniversary and you feel angry and disappointed. You may follow these four steps in sequential order to dramatically increase the chance that the outcome of the conversation will be positive.

Step 1: Only observe.

The first thing you do is to communicate what you observe but resist labeling or interpreting these observations. In the example of your marriage partner forgetting a card or gift, the observation is simply: They forgot to get you a card or gift for your anniversary.

You may interpret what has happened as a sign that you do not mean a significant amount to them, or that something else was more important which then made them forget. But instead of starting out expressing how hurt you are based on your assumption, rather say, “I see that you forgot to get a card or a gift in celebration of our wedding anniversary.” This is a factual observation with no evaluation.

Step 2: Express your feelings, not thoughts.

As a second step, it is key that you share your feelings. Arguments often grow out of hidden emotions so try to understand your own emotions and communicate them in a way that does not extend judgment.

Should a present be forgotten, you could express your emotions by saying, “I feel sad,” or “I feel confused that you didn’t remember a gift because I now wonder if you think our marriage relationship is worth celebrating.”

Step 3: Show what your needs are.

By first understanding and then expressing your needs you extend to your marriage partner the opportunity to say whether or not they can and want to satisfy them. This can be phrased as, “I would like for me and our relationship to be treated in a considerate manner. Then I will know that both I and our relationship are important to you.”

Step 4: Make a request.

During this step, you clarify your request, not state a demand. What would your partner have to do for you to feel like your needs are met? One way of expressing this could be to say, “Exchanging gifts as part of mutually important celebrations is important to me.”

This process may seem simple, but it is certainly not easy to accomplish. While it may feel clumsy during your first attempts at following the steps you will find that you will improve communication in marriage. The process is designed to demonstrate to your spouse that while you love them and accept them for the person they are, you can ask in a non-violent manner for what your need so that you feel happy.

Active constructive responding model.

While improving personal communication in marriage can certainly be improved through the non-violent communication method, the Active Constructive Responding Model can help you improve how you respond as a receiver of communication.

Barbara Fredrickson is an expert in showing the benefits of positive emotions for your well-being, and conversations create good chances to increase positive emotions. Many people who respond well are familiar with the idea of appreciative feedback which leans toward being supportive, inspiring, and focused on the strengths of the given situation.

The Active Constructive Responding Model can be used to improve communication in marriage and recognize poor responding habits so that they can be improved. The model holds that communication can be active or passive, and constructive or destructive. For example, if your spouse tells you that they did well in an event they entered, here are four different response types according to the model:

  • Nurturing (active constructive): “Wow, what fantastic news! I am really pleased for you! Tell me all about it!”
  • Cold (passive constructive): “Okay, good for you”
  • Ignorant (passive destructive): “Oh look at the time. Sorry, but I do not have time to listen to you.”
  • Hurtful (active destructive): “Really? You’re normally pathetic so someone probably made a mistake.”

By now you will have realized that of each of those scenarios only one response improves communication in marriage: the active constructive way. This is characterized by showing enthusiasm and sincere interest.

You congratulate them and acknowledge the effort they put in to achieve a good result. You ask questions about what it took to do well, how they found the process, and what commendations they received. By asking more questions you provide an opportunity for your spouse to relive the affirming experience and bring all the positive emotions to the surface. In this way, you nurture a virtuous cycle of positive emotions and enhance the joy they feel.

Christian counseling for communication in marriage.

If you are looking for additional help in dealing with communication in marriage beyond this article, please browse our online counselor directory or contact our office to schedule an appointment. We would be honored to walk with you toward a place of healing and hope.

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