How to Communicate Better with Your Spouse


One of the greatest challenges in marriage is to learn how to talk and listen to a spouse who has a different style of communication than our own. Sometimes, Susan and I find ourselves talking at each other more than with each other because our personal styles of communication are so different. Susan likes the whole story, I just want the punch line. Susan tells me details, I only want the bottom line. Susan shares her feelings, I give the facts. Susan likes to discuss it, I like to solve it. Get the picture?

In fact, just the other day, Susan and I were in a meeting where she started to go into great detail and thought I’d want to know all the details. Of course, I just wanted to bottom line so I told her, impatiently, that she’s sharing too much information. Well, the better approach would have been for me to either just hear her out, or, if needed, politely interrupt and ask if she could just summarize for now and then we could set another meeting if she wanted me to hear more details.

It takes work to develop skills to talk and listen to a spouse who has a different style of communicating than we do. Here are some of those communication “personalities” with tips on how to better communicate with a spouse who has that style.

Details Danny or Danielle

When you talk to Danny or Danielle, you don’t just get a story, you get ALL the story. Details that even seem frivolous to you are everything to them. Part of this comes from a keen sense of observation and often from a desire to understand and communicate the full breadth of a situation.

Talking Tip: When communicating to Danny or Danielle, think of some details that you can sprinkle into the conversation to liven it up for them. If they ask you for more details, don’t get irritated just add what you think might be most helpful. Your efforts will help them engage better in what you’re discussing.

Listening Tip: Patience. Build patience with them. Details may not be important to you but, to Danny and Danielle, they don’t feel heard if they don’t have the opportunity to share them. If you don’t have time for the amount of detail that your spouse is likely to want to share, either wait for a better time to bring something up or ask them if you can discuss it later so you can have time to hear them out sufficiently.

Generalities Jim or Jessica

Jim and Jessica aren’t into specifics at all. They just tell you the gist of things. And there can be a bit of vagueness in what they are saying. Sometimes this comes from a desire to identify the overarching principles or values that they see in play.

Talking TipGive Jim and Jessica not just the information you’re wanting them to hear, but the general conclusions you either see or are asking them to share with you. Specifics are better communicated to them when accompanied by general terms and ideas that help them process the specifics.

Listening Tip: When Jim or Jessica speak in generalities about a situation, you may have to draw some more specifics out. Ask them a lot of follow-up questions. After they answer, repeat back what you think they’re saying and how you think that they think that applies to the situation. It might take a bit of work, but hearing them out means getting to the specifics behind the generalities of their style.

Think Out Loud Luke or Lauren

To Luke or Lauren, conversations are an opportunity to think through things to a conclusion, not share an already reached decision. Oftentimes, they’re “out loud” thinking is not at all what they’ve decided or believe. They’re just processing their thoughts.

Talking TipIf you’re talking about something you have already thought through, tell them up-front that you are not really discussing something in order to figure it out. This is especially true if you’re asking them for advice or a decision. If you don’t have time to hear them think it through out loud, tell them you’d like them to think about it and get back to you.

Listening Tip: Clarity is always needed when married to a Luke or Lauren. You might leave a conversation thinking they have decided something that they really haven’t agreed to in their mind. So regularly ask this spouse if they are “thinking out loud or decided” about the topic.

Solve It Steve and Sarah

Steve or Sarah are problem solvers and like to tell you how to fix something. Talking to this spouse can be frustrating if you just want them to hear you out, not fix the problem.

Talking Tip: If you don’t need them to fix something that you’re wrestling with, but you need to talk about it, tell them right up front. Say something like, “I need to talk about something, but I’m not looking for you to fix it. I just want you to listen. Would you be willing to hear me out without jumping in with a solution?”

Listening Tip: You might not be looking for a fix from Steve or Sarah. But if they do suggest a solution, let them know you heard them and thank them for offering the solution, even if you didn’t want to hear it and even if you don’t agree with their suggestion.

Feelings Frank and Faith

When you’re married to a Frank or Faith, you don’t just get the information you get the full emotional landscape of a situation.

Talking Tip: When communicating with Frank or Faith, realize that they’re going to be curious about your feelings on the matter. They not only care about what is happening but also about how that makes you feel. If you need to cut through some of that, perhaps because you’re not as interested in the emotions of a situation, just be up-front with them about it.

Listening Tip: Hearing out a Frank or Faith also requires some patience. But if you’re married to a Frank or Faith, understand that if they don’t think you get their feelings, you haven’t really listened well to them. Acknowledging the emotions that you sense they are feeling behind what they say, not just what they say, helps them know they’ve been heard. Repeat back to them what you think they’re saying and add something like, “It seems like that really makes you feel [sad, happy, afraid], does it?”

Which type of communicator are you married to? What has worked well for you when you are talking or listening to them?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.