We recently analysed the feedback from 400 participants in our online marriage preparation course. The results to the question, “On which of the following areas would you like more formation/education”, surprised us; the most requested item among eleven options was, ‘Improving Communication’.
Why the surprise? Everybody knows that communication is foundational to happy relationships. The surprise is that most people we talk to believe that they are already excellent communicators. Engaged couples are among the most confident, often telling us: “we have a great relationship, we talk for hours!”
Perhaps one of the reasons why ‘improving communication’ was the number one request among our graduates is that having learnt how to truly communicate for intimacy in the course, they have realised that it is so much more than just ‘talking for hours’!
It’s one of the most common mistakes: people think because they are good talkers, they are good communicators. They wrongly believe that communication is primarily about being able to express themselves clearly and confidently. They overlook the fact that effective communication needs both a transmitter (talker) and a receiver (listener).
The thing is, most of the time we are selfish communicators. By that, we mean that we communicate to advance our own agenda. We have something to say, something we want someone else to know or do, so we broadcast it. But if the other isn’t tuned in, it simply doesn’t work. We can have perfect sentence structure, an impressive vocabulary, and laser-sharp logic, but if the receiver isn’t listening, there will be noise, but no communication.
So, if you have something to say, here are three tips to make it more likely to be heard.
Whether it’s at home or work, barging in and blurting out what’s on our mind is more likely to be met with a blank look than one of welcome. One of the things we’ve learnt over the years is that having an important conversation before we leave for work is the worst timing for us. Byron is distracted thinking about what’s ahead in his day, and Francine is preoccupied getting kids organised before she goes to work. It’s just too hard to give each other our full attention. So, we don’t do it anymore; we simply don’t attempt important conversations until the other is able to give us their attention.
Honestly, most of the words that come out of our mouths is chatter; friendly, sociable conversation that makes up the background noise of our relationship. It can be hard for the listener, then, to recognise when we’ve switched to a topic of importance if we don’t alert them. However, the dreaded “Honey we need to talk!”, is the wrong kind of alert. It sends chills down the spine of our beloved and puts them into a defensive mindset. That’s NOT conducive to good communication! Rather, let the other know that you’d like to talk about something important and ask when would be a good time when they could give you their full attention. See? Much nicer.
3. ‘I’ Sentencing
Finally, how we say something matters. If it’s an emotionally charged message, it’s important to use ‘I Sentencing’ as much as possible. This helps us to own our emotional reactions, and also makes it easier for the other to empathise. Instead of the ‘hit and run’ strategy: “You left the car on empty again and it made me late for work! Something has to change here!” try, “Honey, the car was empty this morning. I felt really frustrated and hassled because I was already late for work. How can we organise things so that I don’t get caught like that again?” Hear the difference? It’s not just the words, it’s the tone, it’s the honesty about our emotions. Sooo much better and easier for the other empathise and respond positively.
With any communication, the trick is to approach it with an other-centred mindset. This is especially important in intimate relationships like marriage but is true of any relationship. Think not in terms of ‘how do I get my message over?’ but ‘how can I make it easier for the other to hear me?’
Effective communication is a discipline. When we focus on attending to the needs of the listener, we will be more successful in opening those lines of communication so that genuine connection can occur.
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Francine & Byron Pirola are the founders and principal authors of the SmartLoving series. They are passionate about living Catholic marriage to the full and helping couples reach their marital potential. They have been married since 1988 and have five children.
Their articles may be reproduced for non commercial purposes with appropriate acknowledgement and back links.