We are more connected in our social media saturated culture than ever before. The ability to talk with hundreds and thousands of people is easier than ever. Yet, ironically, the art of conversation is dying. We need a revolution in our homes to improve conversations, starting with our spouses.
For example, every day my newsfeed is filled with folks from all walks of life incapable of discussing ideas, politics, religion, or sports without breaking down into bumper sticker slogans and shouting matches.
Conversations between spouses can be similarly hard to maintain. Sometimes they break down into worn out, tired debates. Or we simply get overwhelmed and exhausted by life and don’t seem to have much left to discuss.
But we don’t have to let the art of conversation die in our marriage, nor should we. Here are five tips for better conversations that Susan and I have realized we need to work on, too:
1. Be open-minded.
Give room for differing opinions on little things, which lays a foundation for handling differences on big things. Come into the conversation without your mind being made up, and without being firmly entrenched in the position. A friend of mine says that he and his wife like to “go to a position of neutrality” so they can hear each other out, then come to a decision in unity. Approach each other with the focus on discussion, not persuasion.
2. Be an intentional listener.
Listening is hard, but crucial to good conversation with your spouse. Try to learn what they mean behind just what specific words they say. Don’t think about what you want to say while the other person is still speaking. Listen with the intent that you really want to understand what they are saying, which shows you see their view as being important. Finally, avoid being a defensive listener, ready to pounce on every point with a counterpoint.
3. Pay Close Attention to Body Language.
Paying attention to nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. Don’t just be intentional with your ears, be intentional with your eyes. Your spouse will probably communicate more through their body language than anything they say. Pay close attention to their eyes, posture, and gestures. Also, be aware of what you are portaying through your own body language. For example, folding your arms communicates that you are closed off, while keeping your arms open is more inviting.
4. Identify with them.
I have learned that Susan needs two things from me in a conversation. The first is to know that I understand what she’s thinking. The second is that I understand how she’s feeling. When your spouse knows that you understand their ideas, and their feelings, they feel more safe and positive about your relationship. One way you can do this is to repeat back what emotions you sense are coming through behind their words and ideas. Say something like “It seems like you’re sad/angry/afraid about XYZ; is that correct?”
5. Ask good questions.
People who are especially good at conversations know how to ask great questions. A well-posed question can break awkward silence, invite people into more dialogue, and make people think. Questions also communicate “I want to know more about you” instead of “I want you to know more about me.” But don’t ask things that can be answered with “yes” or “no” or a grunt. Here are some examples of the kinds of questions you might ask:
- What could I do for you this coming week that would remove a burden and lift your spirits?
- How did that make you feel?
- Is there something I’ve done to wrong or hurt you recently that I might be unaware of, but you are reluctant to tell me about?
- Would you be willing to let me share something with you I’ve been thinking about? (and if not…when would be a good time?)
Susan and I sometimes don’t hit the mark—we miss opportunities to have good conversations. We both realize we have work to do, even after 27 years of marriage. But we agree that it’s worth the effort, so we’ll keep working at it. We invite you to do the same!
So what are the ingredients to good conversations in your marriage? Share your ideas in the comments section.