Home Life by Bev and Phil Haas
In His Needs Her Needs (Baker, 2001) Dr. Willard Harley lists conversation (#2) and openness (#3) among the top needs of wives. Communication didn’t make it on the husbands’ list of top five needs! In a national survey on the issues of married couples, researchers found that the vast majority of couples studied (82 percent) expressed the same wish you expressed: a desire that their partners would be more willing to share feelings. We suspect this wish for deeper sharing came mostly from the wives.
As you can see, your concern is quite common. As common as communication problems are, we must not take them lightly. Researchers also uncovered a connection between communication strengths and marital satisfaction. The ability and the willingness to communicate are among the most important factors in maintaining a satisfying relationship. Communication is at the heart of a happy marriage.
Different Communication Styles
You and your spouse have different communication styles. Although we all need to have both a sense of independence and a sense of intimacy with others, men seem to lean toward independence while women lean toward intimacy. A woman, needing closeness, will tell her spouse where she’s going and what she’s going to do. A man, needing freedom, may find it more difficult to see why it’s important to share this type of information. Women tend to emphasize interdependence and connection whereas men see independence as more important.
When an issue arises, Bev wants to talk about how she feels (connection) whereas Phil wants to find a solution (action). Bev believes the better style of communication is hers; Phil knows the best style is really his! You get the point, I’m sure.
Actually, the best way to communicate is not yours or his, but rather a blending of the two. The two of you must find an acceptable balance. The greater the differences in communication style, the harder you will have to work at blending your two styles.
Cultivating Communication Skills
Communication is a complex process, but understanding certain principles and working on specific skills will improve your communication as a couple. Before we move on to skills, we need to point out that good communication is built first on who you are and only later on the skills you work on. Having said that, we’ll focus on two fundamental skills to help you communicate more successfully. The first is about expressing yourself well and the second is about listening well. Self-expression, which is a deeper level of communication, requires transparency. In marital relationships the discloser is usually aware of how the receiver will react on the basis of what has happened previously. Consider how you react when your husband makes a run at transparency. Your reaction will either encourage or inhibit more self-disclosure. Regardless of past cycles, continue being open with your husband and don’t make the mistake of expecting him to be as open as you. That’s probably an unrealistic expectation. Instead, remind yourself that he communicates differently than you do.
If we had to pick one communication skill to improve a marriage, it wouldn’t be speaking; instead, we would choose listening. James gives notable advice when he says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19). Good listening requires suspending judgment and spending more effort to understand the other person. Too often we fall into the habit of listening for an opening to jump in and express ourselves. That’s not what James is talking about. Being “quick to listen” happens when the listener simply lets the speaker express himself without interruption while encouraging him to continue.
Active listening and self-disclosure are two communication skills we would encourage you and your husband to work on. In doing so, we believe you’ll develop more positive communication and experience more closeness in your marriage. Improving these two couple communication skills will take practice and perseverance, but it’s worth the effort!
Send your questions about family life to Phil and Bev Haas in care of The Lookout, 8805 Governor’s Hill Drive, Suite 400, Cincinnati, OH 45249, firstname.lastname@example.org.We regret that personal replies are not always possible. Phil and Bev Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They are the parents of two children, and they have one grandson.