Tried and True Technique for Marriage Communication

I’m a wordsmith. I hang on every word that is said. I’m a literal listener. My wife, Susan, is not. She’s a big picture person. She’s intuitive and reads emotions. Because of our differing styles of communication and information processing, whenever Susan and I have a tough topic we need to address, we use what’s been called the speaker/listener technique.

Relationship expert and friend Dr. Gary Smalley also calls it “drive-thru communication” because you communicate kind of like you do when you’re in a drive-thru. You give your order and the cashier repeats it back to you, “So that’s two burgers, a fry and a coke.” Then you either say, “That’s right” or, if they don’t hear it correctly, you repeat the order. Well that type of communication is effective in marriage too.

How it Works

1. Only one person speaks at a time. Use an object such as a pencil or even the TV remote (but make sure the TV is off) to designate who the current speaker is, that is, who has the floor.

2. The speaker makes one statement or point and the listener repeats it back so that the speaker knows the listener clearly understood.

3. When the speaker feels like they have been heard and understood on the points they are trying to make, the speaker and listener switch roles.

Let me illustrate. The spouse who has the floor says, “Honey, when you come home from work and immediately sit in front of the TV, it makes me feel like the TV is more important to you than I am.” Then the other person repeats it back, “O.K. so it bothers you when I come home and go right for the TV. It makes you feel unimportant.” “Exactly,” the spouse who is the speaker says. And then the couple should discuss a resolution using the same speaker-listener technique.  You can also read my blog on putting conflict to R.E.S.T.

Also, in this example, notice how the spouse addressing the issue diplomatically phrased her concerns. She essentially said “In situation X, when you do Y, I feel Z.” This is a good way to communicate because you’re talking about how you “feel” instead of accusing or focusing on the other person’s actions.

While using this technique, it’s very important to be an active listener. That means that you are giving them your full attention and looking them in the eyes, not reading your text messages or watching the TV. You are watching their body language…do they seem happy, sad or angry? You are thinking about what they are saying, not how you are going to respond.  My parenting as a good listener blog will give you more practical advice on this.

Here is a short video clip of my wife and me demonstrating the speaker-listener technique. Have you ever tried the speaker-listener technique? Has it worked for you?


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