How to Speak Your Spouse's Language: Ten Easy Steps to Great Communication from One of America's Foremost Counselors
By H. Norman Wright
Make the Most of Verbal and Nonverbal Communication
You're at a social gathering with a group of friends. You're listening to a newcomer talk on and on. During a lull in the conversation, two of you excuse yourselves, and as you walk away you ask, "Did you understand what he was trying to say?" Your friend replies with a laugh, "No. I'm not even sure that he knew what he was trying to say!"
An uncommon occurrence? No! People talk without knowing for sure what they want to get across. Their purpose is clouded, and their presentation leaves the listener confused and perplexed. I've experienced both sides of this problem. On occasion I've wondered what the other individual or speaker is trying to get across, and at other times. I've caused others to wonder what I really wanted to say.
Perhaps some of the problems in communication can be seen in this exchange. Imagine a couple coming to a counselor because they are at the point of getting a divorce. The counselor asks the wife, "Does your husband beat you up?"
She answers, "No, I beat him up by several hours every morning."
Then the counselor asks the husband, "Do you hold a grudge?"
The husband responds, "No, we have a carport."
The exasperated counselor asks the couple, "What grounds do you have for your problems?"
The wife answers, "We have about four acres."
Finally, the counselor asks, "Why did you come here today?"
Together they say, "We can't seem to communicate."
Rules For Clear Communication
Following a few basic communication principles can change the process.
Know When Something Needs to Be Said and Say It Straight
This means you don't assume that other people know what you think, feel, w ant, or need. Communication should be dear and direct. If anything, assume the other knows very little about what you're going to say and that you need to make it clear-even when you're married to the other person! None of us can attend a school for mind reading. We're all failures at being clairvoyant. I have heard people say, '"We've been married for twenty years. Why should I have to tell her... ?" "He should know how much that hurts." Or "It was so obvious. Why should anyone have to express it?" Obvious to whom? Clearly not to the other party.
Communicating directly means you don't make assumptions, you don't hint, you're not devious, and you don't go through other people in order to share your message. All these approaches lead to distortions. One of my favorite examples is of the woman who tried to get her point across to her husband by making sweeping generalizations about what "everyone" thought or felt. Her husband stayed out late quite often, and she felt irritated. But she didn't want to be direct about her emotions.
One day she said, "Some wives would be angry at your staying out so late at night."
"You mad or something?" he asked.
"Oh, no. I'm not," she said. "But some wives would be."
When you are direct, you speak the truth by stating your real needs and feelings. When you ask questions, you ask truthful ones.
How can a question be devious? Easily. If you ask a question and you want only one type of response, that becomes a setup. "Do I look fat in this dress?" or "I'm not looking any older, am I?" are questions you don't want to hear or answer. When you ask, your partner should have the freedom to give his or her own honest answer, no matter how you respond. If you don't want to hear an answer, don't ask a question!
If you feel angry about something, don't say you're tired. If you don't want to go to a social gathering, say so instead of "Oh, I don't know. I guess I could go for a while...." By not being completely honest, we create false impressions, find that our needs aren't being met. and perhaps protect ourselves, but in the long run we create distance between ourselves and others.
When I'm confused about a person's message to me, I just ask, "What are you saying? I would like to be sure I understand you." This puts responsibility on the other person to clarify. Sometimes I have to repeat this two or three times to draw out the real intent. Creating an atmosphere of comfort that will assist the other person to share is one of the listener's important roles.
When you talk, ask yourself: Why am I saying this? What do I want to say? What do I want the other to hear?
Be Aware of the Importance of Timing
An old proverb states, "A word spoken at the right moment, how good it is!" (Prov. 15:23). Most emotions should be shared at the moment you experience them, since delaying distorts them. When you respond immediately, you allow your spouse to learn what you feel and need. For example, in a conversation, what's important to you may not seem significant to the other. Delaying your response may allow the person to totally forget what he or she said. Then he or she wonders what you're talking about when you bring it up later, and you end up wondering why he or she is so insensitive in not remembering.
We also need to give an immediate response to minimize our own distortion. Most of us aren't aware of how we distort messages, but we all do it sometimes. Why do we distort? Because what we see and what we hear are often confused or affected by what we think and feel! There's clutter in our minds. Filters are working.
That's right. The feelings we experience, as well as our immediate or previous thoughts, can distort what we take in through our eyes and ears. To avoid confusion, sometimes I ask myself, What have I been thinking about Joyce? Are my thoughts valid at this time? What am I feeling right now? By asking myself these questions while we're still communicating, I give myself the opportunity to clarify her point of view. Maybe I need to ask her a question or share what she did again. At the same time, I've learned to delay my own reaction long enough to help me understand the meaning Joyce wants to get across.
Are you aware of the two most critical times for communication between a husband and wife? These involve just four minutes. One is the first four minutes of the day that you see one another and the other is the first four minutes when you're reunited at the end of the day. These eight minutes can set the tone for the day as well as the evening. This is a time where you can share your love and interests and affirm one another, or this can be a time full of angry, griping, critical, attacking comments. What's shared sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Examine the patterns you've established in your marriage. Do you say the same things to each other morning after morning and evening after evening? Think about the way you've responded to each other each morning for the past week and compare your responses with the following:
Are you a silent partner? "Don't expect me to talk until I've had my third cup of coffee."
Are you a commander? "Okay, we have ten minutes to get into the kitchen. I want scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, and half a grapefruit. Come on, come on, get up. You take a shower first. I'll give you eight minutes. Then I'll shave...."
Are you an efficiency expert? "You know, .Toe, I tell you every morning, if you'd wake up at seven instead of seven-thirty, you'd have five minutes for your hot shave, seven minutes to shower, six minutes to shine your shoes, eight minutes to dress, and four minutes to comb your hair. Then you could come to the kitchen just as I'm putting the eggs on the table. Now, why don't you listen? I tell you this every morning."
What do you want in the morning? Closeness and intimacy or quiet and privacy? Have you ever shared with one another what works best for you? Some are morning people, some aren't.
The second important time of the day impacts what happens the rest of the evening. How you interact at this time can determine whether you spend the evening at the North Pole or on the warm sands of a Hawaiian beach.