A man called his neighbour to help him move a couch that had become stuck in the doorway. They pushed and pulled until they were exhausted, but the couch wouldn’t budge. “Forget it,” the man finally said. “We’ll never get this in.”

The neighbour looked at him quizzically and said, “In?”

Do you ever feel like you and your spouse are working against each other? Men, do you struggle with talking with your wife to the point that you feel she’s speaking a foreign language? Women, do you need a crowbar to get your husband to open up and really talk?about anything? If you are still missing the mark in communicating with your mate, here are some suggestions.

Learn to Listen

All of us, men and women, have got to learn to listen patiently. Not easy. Sometimes we assume we understand what our mate is saying, and instead of really listening to them when they are talking, we spend the whole time plotting our response. We mentally shoot down points that they may not even be making, and we miss their point entirely. Tragic but true.

Donalyn deserves to be heard, as does your mate. I need to fight the temptation to “know what she is going to say.” I must be quiet, stop and listen to her – and I don’t just mean physical quietness, either. I need to refrain from mentally rehearsing my argument and really give her my full attention and focus. It validates who she is and respects how she feels. It fosters co-operation, rather than competition, between us.

In many couples there is one person who is more verbal and the other is less so. Two thirds of the time the woman is more verbal than the man, but sometimes it is the man who talks more. It is especially important for the talker to learn good listening skills and to give your mate the time to talk. If you feel like your spouse isn’t communicative enough, make sure you’re giving them a chance to open up. If you are filling the air with words, your spouse won’t be able to share unless they are willing to fight for “air time”. That isn’t likely to happen, and instead it drives them deeper into privacy.

Risk Going Deeper

If we want to truly understand another person, we need to take the time and the risk to communicate at a meaningful level. It starts gradually and progresses to more intimate, heartfelt discussion. You see, there are several levels of communication, and all have their place.

Cliche: When we communicate in cliche we really aren’t sharing anything of ourselves. It’s all on the surface, like “Nice day, isn’t it?” or “How about those Canucks!” It’s easy to communicate at this level because there’s no risk involved. We aren’t personally invested in the conversation.

Fact: When we are dealing in facts, we are sharing what we know. We stick to surface details without passing judgment on them. For example, when our spouse asks us how our day was, we might say, “I spent all day in meetings,” offering nothing more. It’s a comfortable kind of conversation because, again, we are not sharing anything personal about ourselves.

Opinion: When we offer up an opinion, we move beyond the facts and share what we think about those facts. The level of personal vulnerability increases a bit. Instead of just saying, “I spent all day in meetings,” we might say, “I spent all day in meetings. I think we should’ve been able to finish in an hour, but we kind of went around in circles.”

Emotion: When we move from facts, to thoughts, to feelings, we really begin sharing something of ourselves. The risk increases, but so does the emotional connection with the other person as we allow them a glimpse at what is going on inside us. For example, “I spent all day in meetings. It was really frustrating, because I suggested a good solution early in the day, and it took six hours of discussion for my boss to agree to my plan. We could have been done in an hour!”

Transparency: Full transparency is the riskiest level of communication, because it’s here that our heart is laid bare for another to see. We fear sharing at this depth because there is a chance we will be rejected when the person sees us for who we really are. For example, “Today was really difficult. I don’t feel like my boss really values my contributions or trusts that I can get the job done. I think it’s starting to rub off on me, because I find myself feeling inadequate.”

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The deeper we go, the more intimate the relationship becomes. A good marriage is one in which the couple is continuously growing in transparent disclosure. We need to seek to understand our spouse to their core. Rather than growing complacent or trying to fit them into your own mould, put in the effort to get to their heart. Just listen and let them express who they are. As you get to know their heart, you’ll likely grow in your desire to be with them.

Seek Clarification over Frustration

How many times have you and your spouse had an argument, only to discover that the fight could have been avoided if you had truly taken the time to understand one another? My wife and I have had times where, as we worked through an area of disagreement, we discovered that we didn’t really disagree at all?we only thought we disagreed because we were too impatient to fully understand one another.

So many fights are escalated because we don’t make the effort to clarify what the other person is trying to communicate. We say, “Well, I thought you said this ?”, and it wasn’t that at all. It’s important to clarify. Clarifying is simply saying, “If I hear you correctly, I hear you saying this?” Then the other person says, “No, I didn’t mean that, I meant this…” The spouse has a chance to restate themselves, to ensure they are understood. Perceived communication without clarification usually leads to frustration! No one wins.

Remember: Differing Opinions Are Not Wrong

Men and women are different?and that’s okay. I have different opinions than the guys I play hockey with. I have different opinions than those I work with. I have different opinions with a lot of people. It doesn’t mean that one of us wrong.

Sometimes in a marriage, every area of disagreement automatically becomes a battle. It becomes a contest, with each partner trying to prove that they are right. Remember: it’s okay to have different opinions. Now, there are times when you’ve got to come to agreement on decisions that need to be made, so those differences will need to be worked through. But we’ve got to drop this need to win fights, as well as the need to blame the other person. It’s a trap that many couples fall into. Ultimately, what’s more important: winning the fight, or having harmony in your home? Would you rather be right, or happy?

Resolve Miscommunications at Your Best Times

This one seems basic, but it’s so critical. Fights get worse when you are tired or in a bad mood. I have to tell you, some of the worst fights in my marriage were late at night. It’s now 1am, 2am, and it went from a level two fight to a level five or six fight just because of the time of day it was. We’re bushed and we know we have to get up early. There may even be certain times of the month that are bad times for resolving disagreements.

We will reach resolution more quickly if we do it at our best times. Schedule a time to work through your issues – a time that is good for both of you. Miscommunication gets resolved so much more quickly and peacefully when we are well-rested and prepared to work at it together. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by adding bad timing to your list of frustrations.

Learning to communicate with your spouse is a process. Yes, sometimes it feels like we are speaking different languages. But over time, and with enough effort, we can learn to understand one another: maybe not perfectly, maybe not 100% of the time, but at least enough to get that couch through the door!

Copyright © 2006 FamilyLife Canada. FamilyLife, Canada is a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, Canada

By Dr. Dave Currie, with Glen Hoos

Dr. Dave Currie is the National Director of FamilyLife Canada . He and his wife Donalyn live in Abbotsford , BC , and are regular speakers at FamilyLife Marriage Conferences. Dave is also the host of Marriage Uncensored, a television program airing on CH Victoria, NOW TV (BC) and CH Hamilton (Ontario).