“Can We Talk?” Conflict and Communication in Marriage
There I was sitting across the table from them: two young adults who were engaged to get married. Our initial session went well. We introduced ourselves and gave the cliff notes version of our life stories. I joked and laughed with them to break the ice. Everything was going okay, that is until we jumped into our first major topic for the evening. Right off the back, I could tell their relationship was in trouble. “How so?” you might ask. Because of how they communicated with each other.
Communication is one of the main issues that we deal with in relationships in general and marriages in particular. It is especially challenging when conflict surfaces. Sometimes your experience in communicating with your spouse during conflict can be like driving through a dead spot while talking on your cell phone: a lot of interference, breaking up, and dropped calls. We all have those moments. But through prayer and some work, we can experience better communication with our spouses in times of tension. Here are 15 random, rapid fire pointers to help you communicate more effectively in marriage when facing conflict (Note: I alternate at times between “they” and “he or she” in reference to spouses so as to minimize repetitiveness):
1. Seek to not respond when you are highly frustrated, angry, or emotional.
2. Call a timeout to calm down, pray, and think.
3. Ask questions of your spouse before you make statements to your spouse.
4. Acknowledge and articulate when you are becoming defensive or if something bothered or hurt you.
A quick word to the husbands, the men (women are not excluded from this point, but I am a man and want to speak to them specifically for a second) who are not okay with sharing their feelings: Gentlemen, we need to understand that it is not “unmanly” for us to be honest about how we feel. We need to become more comfortable with verbally expressing how we feel. The truth is, even if we internalize our hurt or pain, it will come out in other ways – ways that generally are not helpful and healthy for our marriages.
5. General rule of thumb: Learn to take what your spouse says at face value. In other words, stop reading into what they are saying. If you are unsure what they meant by what they said, ask, don’t assume.
6. Don’t formulate rebuttals in your mind while your spouse is talking in an effort to win an argument.
7. When the conflict is coming from outside sources, your spouse doesn’t always need you to be in “Consultant” mode.
He or she needs you to switch to “Companion” mode at times . A Consultant is focused on solutions, fixing stuff. A Companion is dedicated to cultivating relationships, i.e., sharing, sympathizing, and empathizing with someone.
How do you determine which mode your spouse needs you in? Ask. However, in my estimation, it is best to set companion mode as your default.
8. Talk to and with your spouse, not at him or her.
9. Don’t always run from conflict. All conflict is not unhealthy. Some issues you need to lean into and work your way through as husband and wife because resolving them will be healthy for you two in the long run.
10. Don’t maliciously push your spouse’s buttons.
11. Work not to speak in absolutes: “You always…,” “You never…,” Instead, you can say, “You have a habit of doing something,” or “You don’t do this all the time, but lately it has been happening quite frequently…”
12. Own your failure to communicate without referring to your spouse’s failure to do so in the past.
13. Instead of saying you need to communicate better, ask what would help us to communicate more effectively in situations like this.
14. If you are a need-space-to-process guy or gal, don’t let a lot of time go by before you talk to your spouse.
Additionally, it would be helpful to give your spouse a specific time that you will be ready to talk. Don’t leave your spouse in limbo.
15. If you are a deal-with-it-right-now guy or gal, and your spouse is a need-space-to-process type of person, then give your spouse time.
Don’t try to force them to talk when they are not ready. It is better to bear momentary tension (to give them the time that they need to process) than to incite a major blowup (because you pressed them to talk).