Do you and your husband ever struggle to communicate? In this post, Ellie Hunja shares four ways you can improve your marriage communication: by growing in understanding, by cultivating joy, through mutual vulnerability, and by pursuing ongoing sanctification.
Is it just me, or does navigating communication in marriage sometimes feel like being dropped into a foreign country with zero knowledge of the language?
Marriage is truly a collision of cultures, even if you and your spouse grew up in the same town.
Our families of origin, our life experiences, and our own unique wiring all impact our inner worlds, and we quickly learn in marriage that things we take for granted as “facts” or “common sense” are far more subjective than we once thought.
Conflicts stemming from communication in marriage are a universal experience, but there are four ways we can pursue more effective marriage communication:
- Growing in Understanding
- Cultivating joy
- Mutual vulnerability
- Ongoing sanctification.
In today’s post, let’s take a look at each of these values more in-depth, as each of them can have a dramatic effect on your communication in marriage.
Related post: Four Marriage Communication Skills That Prevent Fights
1. Seek to Grow in Understanding
My husband and I have a running joke: I’ll utter an unfinished thought, completely absent of context, and then genuinely expect him to reply. When he (naturally) responds with confusion, I laugh at myself and then remind him of 1 Peter 3:7: “Babe, aren’t you supposed to be living with your wife in an understanding way?”
I’m not sure mind-reading is what Peter meant in that passage, but I often operate as if my husband and I have far more mutual understanding than we actually do. And if you’ve ever started a sentence or thought with “OBVIOUSLY…” after a disagreement with your spouse, then I’m betting you’ve fallen into the same trap.
The fact is, the vast majority of our inner worlds are far from “obvious” to our spouses. I’ve wasted so much emotional energy being utterly frustrated when our marriage communication reaches an impasse, or when my husband can’t magically finish my sentences (see above). We assume that intimacy automatically brings understanding, but learning our spouse is a process that doesn’t seem to have a finish line.
In light of this, humility is essential as we reluctantly admit that maybe – just maybe – there’s more than one “right” way to view something that we always assumed was a given.
We can embrace this in theory, but in conflict, our humility is tested. Anger stemming from emotional hurt can make me dig in my heels and insist that there’s NO POSSIBLE WAY my spouse didn’t realize how much his actions would offend me. How could he not see that?!
In order to have the strength to withhold judgment and make space for multiple perspectives in those scenarios, we need to commit to growing in understanding each other when emotions aren’t so high. Observing how my husband manages the other relationships in his life, how he responds to life circumstances, and hearing his thought processes can all help me get a bit closer to knowing what makes him tick. This is where understanding can truly lead to intimacy and can soften the edges of our marriage communication in the heat of the moment.
In other words, if we wait until conflict arises to attempt to see things our spouse’s way, we’ll be fighting an uphill battle against our sinful nature. But if we pursue humility and growth in understanding as an everyday process, we’ll be better equipped when our patience is tested.
Related Post: Four Marriage Communication Skills That Prevent Fights
2. Look for Ways to Cultivate Joy
A mere three months after my husband and I started dating, I left South Africa (where we had met) to begin a master’s program in my home state of Michigan. What followed was a 19-month period during which we saw each other ONCE.
(A decade later, the “call dropped” sound on Skype is still traumatic for us!)
That long-distance chapter taught us a lot about communication in marriage, but the lesson that sticks with me to this day is how crucial it is to balance tough conversations with times of fun and playfulness.
Our relationship was deep conversation after deep conversation, with no movie dates or walks in the park or minigolf outings sprinkled in where we could simply enjoy one another as human beings. Let me tell you, that was draining, and it was only God’s grace that got us past the finish line!
But now, instead of 9,000 miles and poor internet connections standing between us, there are the daily burdens of family life: parenting and work stress, appointments to schedule and bills to pay, decisions to discuss, and heavy emotions to work through. If we aren’t intentional, our communication in marriage can become purely administrative and functional rather than rich and intimate.
When we find ourselves hitting that wall, incorporating play and lightheartedness is key to overcoming it.
Breaking up our routine to simply have fun – whatever that looks like for us – reminds us that we’re more than just two people who live together and co-parent.
Inside, there is a deep sense of connection and delight in one another rooted in a decade of friendship and love. When we’re able to access the joy and simplicity of that part of our relationship more, our “love tanks” are filled in a way that eases the tension of hard conversations.
This makes marriage communcation much easier.
3. Commit to Mutual Vulnerability
Can I be honest? This one is really hard.
According to Brene Brown, “the definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.”
I pride myself on my vulnerability. I have a natural bent toward openness and trust, and I’m secure enough in myself and in God to pursue deep relationships and the emotional honesty they require.
But when it comes to communication in marriage, I sometimes struggle to offer my husband the same space to be vulnerable that I’ve built for myself. I expect him to be my rock, the one I can bring all my “mess” to – but something inside me doesn’t want him to show me his mess in return.
It’s scary to acknowledge that your “rock” has tender parts, too – emotions they’re processing, hurts that haven’t fully healed, fears they’re hesitant to admit. I want to be able to fall apart and know that my husband will be a reliable safety net, catching me every time.
The problem is, no human was made to play that role. (Encanto fans, think: Luisa.)
Cultivating mutual vulnerability in marriage requires making God our safety net – not our spouse.
It means getting comfortable with the idea that there may be days that our spouse will be falling apart, and trusting that God will continue to hold us both in His capable hands.
Allowing my spouse to be vulnerable means facing my own fears, instead of allowing those fears to stifle my spouse’s freedom of expression. In this way, mutual vulnerability throws the doors of authentic marriage communication open wide, creating a healthy and honest space where we can truly bear one another’s burdens and place our trust in the One who ultimately bore them all.
Related Post: How to Be More Vulnerable in Relationships
4. Pursing Ongoing Sanctification
On our wedding day, we vow to love the imperfect human who stands before us just as they are, “for better or worse.” And most of us learn, either through wise counsel or experience, that trying to change our spouse is a futile endeavor.
As Christians, though, we’re called to our own daily process of growth and change – sanctification. Each of us journeys alongside Jesus, learning His ways and His character, becoming more like Him each day as we meditate on His teachings.
This process counters my own temptation to simply declare, “this is just who I am!” when my own unhealthy patterns surface in marriage communication.
There is so much beauty in the unconditional nature of both our salvation in Christ and our wedding vows, but I confess that this sense of security can make me complacent when it comes to spiritual growth and holding myself accountable.
Committing to the process of sanctification is central to healthy marriage communication because our sinful nature often rears its ugly head in difficult conversations. The Bible sets a high standard for us:
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29
This is only achievable with God’s help – a dependence on and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit inside of us. If we place our relationship with God on the back burner, the fruits of that relationship (patience, kindness, self-control, etc.) will inevitably wither. Conversely, as we commit to daily growth in Jesus, we will find that we’re more sensitive to God’s voice when we need His redirection most.
To pursue these values, take your marriage communication out of autopilot
Working on your marriage communication can feel daunting when we’re juggling so many other roles and obligations. I find that when my marriage isn’t facing a significant challenge, I can make the mistake of letting everything else – parenting, ministry, work, friendships – take priority.
But our marriages are the central human relationships of our lives.
In a healthy marriage, we give and receive unconditional support, spiritual nourishment, encouragement, accountability, and a sense of connection that sustains us through difficulty. This core relationship deserves so much more than simply coasting through. Let’s commit to living out these values with our spouse – for the health of our marriages, and ultimately for the glory of God.
Has life’s daily pressures thrust your marriage communication into autopilot? What’s one way you can incorporate more understanding, playfulness, or vulnerability into your marriage communication?
Ellie Hunja writes about parenting, faith, mental health, autism awareness, and more at EllieHunja.com.
She is a wife, a mother of two, and a leader at her church, where her husband serves as an elder. She holds a Master of Social Work and is passionate about social justice and mercy ministry.