When communication is working between husband and wife, it seems the rest of the relationship follows. But what happens when communication is broken or toxic? Arguments, misunderstandings, judgments and name calling are just a few of the problems that rise up when we don’t practice healthy communication. And I do mean it is a practice!
I’ve found that if a couple truly wants connection, they will make it a priority to practice healthy communication skills, if they have the right tools. But, before I get to those, let me tell you what we must know about connection. A great teacher of scripture once said that there are only two goals in a relationship. Connection or disconnection. I find this to be very true!
If connection or disconnection are the only two goals, spouses must agree on connection in order to have a healthy marriage and to have healthy communication practices. If you and your spouse can agree on and share the goal of connection, I believe you can be successful.
The idea of toxic communication is easy to understand. Yelling, arguing, name calling, judgements, the list goes on. The first step to healthy communication is to recognize your toxic habits and decide to keep them out of your marriage at all costs.
On the other-hand, understanding and mastering healthy communication takes love, forgiveness and practice. Once you and your spouse commit to it, you can begin to resolve the deeper issues of disconnection and truly get to know one another. Healthy communication is your tool to discovering all that is beautiful and wonderful about your spouse.
When your goal is to turn healthy communication practices into a lifestyle, you will begin resolving issues between yourselves that have stuck around for years. Resolved issues leads to a closer and more unbreakable connection. You might define that as marriage success.
How does a couple start building healthy habits after they have developed toxic ones?
Here are two exercises that will help you replace toxic communication with its healthy counterpart.
This first exercise I call an “Understanding Appointment”.
The goal of communication is first to understand, then to be understood. To accomplish “understanding” we can set appointments with each other.
How it works:
Set a time each week or twice a week where you can communicate with each other privately. I recommend an appointment for 30 or 60 minutes. Bring a notepad and pen.
Here is an example of the “Understanding Appointment” with the husband starting first.
- Both: Sit in front of each other. Decide who is going to begin understanding first.
- Husband: Resolve to only ask questions and to make no assumptions. Wife: Resolve to answer questions and to make no assumptions either.
- Both: Decide together what unresolved issue to discuss.
- Husband: Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes. Ask questions about the chosen issue. The questions must crafted in a way that helps you understand what your wife is thinking and feeling when dealing with this issue.
- Husband: Take notes on the answers she gives. Periodically repeat back what you have heard from her. Make it your point to know exactly what she is thinking and feeling, don’t think you know, ask her! Did I say take notes?
Wife: clarify what he missed in your explanation. Keeping in mind the goal is to bring understanding to him. Don’t assume he should just know! Be patient.
- After the timer sounds you will reverse roles for the same amount of time.
Assumption free zone.
Assumptions, judgments, past offences must stay out of this appointment! This appointment is an assumption free zone! This is very important! If you both do not protect this time by keeping those things out you will dread this exercise and probably never want to do it again!
If either one of you at anytime feels upset to the point you can no longer communicate calmly and peacefully or achieve the goal of understanding say, “I need a break”. When you take your break resist the urge to lash out. The opposite spouse must respect this timeout knowing you may also need to take a timeout and will want the same courtesy. Pause the timer and come back when you’re ready. Protect your connection! If you need to not talk during the break, then don’t. The timeout is there so you can regain yourself and come back to a healthy communication exercise.
The second exercise I call a “Getting to know you appointment”
How it works:
Again, set a time of 30 or 60 minutes where the two of you can be uninterrupted. Meet at least 3 times each week. All you are going to do is get to know each other.
- You are not allowed to talk about kids, family members, jobs, debts, bills, etc.
- You can ask questions like:
- “How are you doing?”
- “How are you enjoying life?”
- “What is your favorite thing to do in the summer?”
- “What movie would you like to watch tonight?”
- In an open conversation get to know each other through applying the principle of understanding. Seek to understand before you seek to be understood. When you both do this you have communication harmony.
This simple exercise places you and your spouse in a conversation where you simply focus on getting to know each other. You are building your friendship.
Lesson in scripture
1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.”
1 Samuel 1:19-20
19 They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her. 20 And in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.”
In Genesis and in 1 Samuel the word “know” is used before announcing the birth of a child. Often we assume that “know” means sex however “knowing” does not mean sex. “Know” leads to understanding, to intimacy, to sex, to a child.
“Know” is translated from the hebrew word yāḏa‘. Yāḏa‘ is a verb.
Here’s the definition:
- To know someone relationally
- to know, learn, perceive,
- to discern, experience,
- to confess, consider,
- All of this is encapsulated in this thought:
- To know you and to make myself known to you.
When this happens in a healthy way in a marriage, a beautiful harmony is created.
In these biblical accounts the result of “knowing” each other became the conception and delivery of a child. I’ll explore this idea more in later videos about intimacy and children. For now, we can easily understand that knowing each other is the foundation for intimacy. We know someone through experiences with them and through their words. So, cultivating a good experience where we can exchange healthy words is the first step in a connected marriage.