I was addressing my ministry team the other day about how we hear people based on our relationship with them. For instance, we have certain people in our circles who tend to complain constantly (or, at least it seems constant). Therefore, whenever we see them walking up to us we immediately expect them to complain. And, it won’t matter what they are saying to us because we will hear “complaining” in their tone. This is the filter that we have created, over time, with that person.
In marriage we all have filters when it comes to our spouses. I gave this example to my staff: My husband looks at me as I come in the room and says, “Oh, are you going to wear that dress?” What I hear him say is, “You look awful in that dress” or “I don’t want to be seen in public with you wearing that dress.” Now turn this around and my girlfriend says to me, “Oh, are you going to wear that dress?” My response would most likely be, “Oh, do you think I should have worn the other dress?” or “You’re right, should I change?” The tone of my response would also be very different between my husband and my girlfriend. Friends, we just hear our spouses in a different way than we hear others in our lives. Sad, but true.
Want to ditch the filter and hear clearer in your marriage? Here are five tips for you:
- Assume the best of your spouse – In the scenario above with my husband and the dress it is clear that I assumed he was criticizing me in some way. If this were a true to life scenario, it would be more likely that he was commenting on the fact that I was dressed up and was wondering if he was under-dressed. So, his comment was about him, not me. Always assume that your spouse cares about you and your feelings and would not intentionally say something hurtful to you. In most cases, their comment was not meant to be hurtful so don’t automatically take it that way.
- Don’t put in what’s not there – As a rule, we often tend to put words into our spouses mouths. This is something we cultivate over time because we over analize and seek to understand our spouses words on a different level than we do others. Because we are closer to our spouse than any other person, everything is super sensitive and we hang on every word they say. Therefore, like in the example above, we hear something that we ourselves fabricate in our mind, as opposed to what they actually said. Imagine how clear you and your spouse can communicate if you took each others words at face value. If you take each word for what it is and digest that without your brain putting in what doesn’t exist, then you are truly hearing your spouses heart and not your own worries and insecurities.
- Take emotion out of it – Oh boy, this is so hard . . . especially for us girls. I’m a very passionate person, which means that my emotions tie into most everything I hear, say, or do. Yes, we feel very deeply and it is most apparent when we feel hurt or angered by something our spouse says. But, in all honesty, every time I feel a conversation with my husband spinning out of control and I am painfully aware that we are no longer hearing each other, I realize that we are both speaking from emotion and not from our hearts or minds. Our words are becoming hurtful because we are so full of emotion. Feeling emotions isn’t the problem here (you can’t help what you feel), but it’s when the emotions cloud what each of us are trying to say and hear that becomes the problem. When you are listening, do so with a clear mind and heart. If you find that your feelings are clouding your ability to hear them, take a step back and sort through your feelings before resuming the conversation. But remember that constructive conversation comes through a calm and clear heart and mind.
- Ask questions if unclear – Many arguments in my household could have been avoided had one or both of us asked for clarifications. I have done the forehead slap more times that I’d like to admit when, after an hour of arguing, we both realize that we simply misunderstood each other. Had we asked for clarification the argument never would have taken place. If you are second guessing what you heard your spouse say – ask for clarification.
- Share your feelings, if needed – If you are hearing your spouse clearly and what they are saying to you is truly hurting you (for instance, your spouse uses sarcasm often in your conversation and it is becoming hurtful), tell them how it is making you feel. Sometimes we are just thick-headed and literally clueless about how we are making others feel. If you’ve always laughed at your spouses snarky jokes or how they make fun of you for something, they may not realize that it now hurts you when they do it. Remember, they don’t know what they don’t know. You can only hold them accountable for their behavior if you have been clear with them about your feelings.
Now, here is a caveat – I am very aware that these “tips” are for people who have healthy marriages (or, at least, somewhat healthy marriages). There are people in this world who have developed unhealthy patterns in their marriages and are well beyond a point where simply communicating better can help them. If you are in one of these relationships, I encourage you to seek out professional marriage counseling. Once anger and resentment have built up to a certain point, simple “tips” won’t help. Couples in this situation will need professional help to dig themselves out of their unhealthy behaviors and into a healthier relationship.
For the rest of you, good luck and I hope these tips help you communicate better!