It’s something you hear all time: you’ve gotta have good communication to have a good marriage. And I speak from the experience of being in a marriage where the communication has gone through phases of being really good at times, like in the beginning of our relationship when we were first in love and getting to know each other. But in time as the grinding realities of daily life and raising children ensued and frustrations set in, our communication broke down to a pretty destructive level where we could no longer hear each other.
We began to blame each other for our unhappiness and what we each perceived as not working in our marriage. We literally had to re-learn how to communicate with each other in a healthy and effective way.
The need for good communication can’t be overstated.
Communication is not just about what we say and how we say it, but because it’s a two way street, it is equally as much about how we listen. There are two kinds of listening: active listening and argumentative listening. Studies have shown that only 25 percent to 50 percent of what we hear we actually remember, suggesting that we are failing to really absorb what someone is saying.
Active listening is the conscious effort to understand the complete message being sent,
not only hearing the words a person is saying. This means a fundamental ability to embrace the feelings behind the words. In order to do this, you as a listener must be willing to devote your entire attention to your spouse as the speaker.
Argumentative listening, on the other hand, is the opposite of active listening.
The argumentative listener filters what a speaker says, and makes assumptions that will result in a response that is usually a rebuttal based on what the listener has selectively heard. We’ve all seen this: it is the person who has got their response formulated before they’ve even heard what the other person has said.
The response is usually emotionally charged, without the actual message being absorbed. Argumentative listening is characterized by judgmental statements that project the listener’s own standards onto the speaker without taking into account the speaker’s feelings. It lacks empathy and displays an unawareness of the emotional filters that influence it.
Additionally, some studies suggest that as much as 70% of how we communicate is through non-verbal modes sometimes referred to as “paralanguage.” This is body language: gestures, facial expressions and postures. When we our words say one thing, but our body language says something else, this sends a mixed message and miscommunication occurs.
Terry Northcutt, Director of Marriage Enrichment Programs at Family Dynamics Institute, writes in this article about what constitutes good communication in a marriage. He says that it is respectful, it’s quantitative (meaning it can be measured), it’s a two-way street, it probes for more insight, and it’s honest.
The next time you and your spouse find yourselves in a difficult conversation, notice what kinds of listening and speaking habits you are practicing. Can you really feel what he is trying to tell you? Have you formulated your response before he’s finished speaking? Is there sarcasm in your voice, or are your arms folded across your chest while you’re telling him you’re not mad? Practice being an active listener and see if you can influence your partner to do the same. A little effort can go a long way toward creating a rockin’ marriage!