Crafting a strong marriage means having the correct tools in your toolbox. The important tool of communication needs recalibrating as time goes on. Sharing is what communication is all about. The word actually comes from the Latin word communicare which means “to share.”
In a marriage this sharing has many sides. Yet there are three main areas that are critical for a healthy relationship to be maintained and flourish. They are progressive and can help identify where you are and where you want to go in this arena of sharing life together.
Room Mate Level of Communication
Couples exchange information continually. “We need milk.” “Susie has to be at soccer by 6:00.” “Are you working this weekend?” This is the “To Do” communication of daily interactions. It is surface information given and received in order for life to happen smoothly in cohabitation. It’s the “roommate” level of sharing and is simply an exchange of external information.
Team Mate Level of Communication
The second level of communication is the sharing of internal information. It’s the “I think” category that shares your thoughts and ideas with one another. “I think we should go away for the weekend.” “I have an idea about how we could save better.” This level of sharing puts ideas on the table that could benefit the unit. Listening helps generate ideas. This is the “teammate” level of sharing. It requires interest and respect from both partners in a joint effort to benefit the whole. This level is foundational to a strong relationship.
Intimate Level of Communication
The third level of communication is sharing information of the heart. It’s the “I feel” information. In our busy culture many couples share well at the “roommate” and “teammate” level, but don’t take the time to share what’s going on within. This is the “intimate” level of sharing and when it’s missing, couples can find themselves feeling distant and out of touch. When one is unaware of the other’s emotional and spiritual well being, he or she can be blindsided when the relationship breaks down. Some need the help of a third party to nurture this deeper part of their relationship. When this sharing is willingly mutual and feels safe to both partners, it is commonly known as the “soul mate” level.
Rules of Engagement
“We Need to Talk” benefits from some “rules of engagement” to move forward in sharing. Here are four steps, using the word T.A.L.K. as a guide.
- Set a time to talk. Know what you are bringing to the table.
Whether it’s a level 1 sharing (eg. Susie’s soccer times have changed); a level 2 (eg. I have an idea about paying off our mortgage faster); or a level 3 (eg. I’m feeling overwhelmed by work right now); choose one or two specific things to zero in on to find solutions together. If the topic is too broad (eg. I’m unhappy) a third party may be needed to help identify issues. Listen to one another and don’t interrupt. Remember — you are on the same team and looking for forward movement.
- Choose your attitude.
If feelings have been hurt, come with an attitude to work toward healing. Drop the tendency toward self-defence and move toward defending your relationship. If one of you feels angry, wait until you have cooled off. Get help if the anger doesn’t cool. Remember — you are on the same team and looking for forward movement.
- Be clear and reasonable. Try to identify the facts as well as the feelings you want to address.
Whether it’s level 1 sharing, (“Picking Susie up on Wednesdays isn’t going to work for me any longer”); level 2 (“What other solutions can we come up with for Wednesdays?”); level 3 (“I feel ignored and disrespected when you leave it all for me to figure out”). Work toward a mutually agreed upon step forward. Baby steps work best.
- Revisit the topic at a specific time to see if what you agreed upon is working.
Move toward checking in on each other’s feelings surrounding the topic. It’s important to check in on feelings now and then in order to identify if thoughts on the subject need reframing together. If you get stuck and need help seeing things in a different light, (reframing), ask for help. Remember — you are on the same team and looking for forward movement.
- Be mindful of your tones and words. Choose to be kind and not hurtful. Change the question “why?” to “how?” How can we move forward in this? Lay aside self-defence and work together to defend the relationship. Remember — you are on the same team and looking for forward movement.
When faith in God is a part of the relationship there is even greater potential for growth. God helps those who call on Him. Praying together about an issue can be powerful. Ask for God’s wisdom, patience and understanding. He will give it. Here is a suggested prayer:
Dear God, thank you that you care about our relationship. Please grant me patience to listen and to really hear. Please help me to be honest, wise, and gentle in my responses. Fill me with your peace and your strength as I move from self defence to defending our relationship. Show us the steps forward in keeping our marriage strong and growing. Amen.