The Real Secret to Great Communication

Remember those first few months of love when everything seemed not only good but perfect? That old saying was so true for that moment in time: "We were living on love." 

Somewhere between six months and two years later, things began to change, and we started asking ourselves, “What happened to the perfect marriage I thought I was going to have?” We thought we had married the love of our lives, but then that person changed! And we realized that, just maybe, we changed a little bit ourselves. 

Those moments of "living on love" were gone!

In our early marriage days, we thought we knew the person we had wed–and then were surprised by how little we actually knew each other. 

Do I Value My Spouse?

It amazes me that in a world full of technology shortcuts and helps, we can’t get this marriage thing right. Our computers shut off when the electricity fails, and our marriages shut down when the sparks subside. 

But is having a great marriage really as complicated as it sounds?

Here at the Bridge, we work on helping couples learn to value each other in their marriages and relationships. Communication is one of the core vehicles we help couples learn how to use. Why? Because communication is where value deficits frequently occur. 

We often hear, "If we could learn to just talk things out, we could solve most of our problems." While there is great truth in that, problem-solving really begins when we learn to value each other. 

When it comes to “talking things out,” we often have our whole agenda planned in our minds, and we feel compelled to get that agenda out! We don't think about our partner's hurt feelings or the lack of respect we’ve shown them. We focus on our own needs instead of caring about their needs, and we blaze ahead to solve the problem at hand. 

James 1:19 says, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." James tells us how to value each other. Let’s read that again: quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. We get it backward! We get angry quickly, blast out words, and barely stop to listen. We usually know we’re not behaving well, but we can't seem to help it!

The simple truth is this: we must value our spouses as much as we value ourselves to accomplish this instruction by James.


Valuing Requires That We Change Our Own Hearts

We will not learn to listen to our partner’s needs if we try to follow James’s instructions by simply jumping through the hoops. To become effective listeners, we have to work on our own hearts to change how we view and value others. 

This saying is sometimes true, "We treat our neighbor better than we do our spouse." If we listen to our neighbor but not to our spouse, we are devaluing our spouse!  

As a Christian life coach, I enjoy having the opportunity to help others. I have found that the hardest person to change is me! And the hardest person you will ever have to deal with is you. 

We can never really change until we take the time to know ourselves. But getting to truly know ourselves can be scary and time-consuming. We put it off. We procrastinate. We shove it under the rug. We accomplish tasks when there’s a deadline, and we show up to meetings when our paycheck’s at stake, but it’s a different story when we have to make the effort to change ourselves. We downplay the importance of it: "I am who I am, and if people don't like me, they just have to deal with it." 

The question we must ask ourselves is, "Would I want to be with me if I were my spouse?" Would I want to be friends with me if I were my neighbor? 

Wrapping It Up

Every relationship has issues that we have to work through. The big question is, "How do I change myself so that I show value to those closest to me?" 

Learn to Listen

Mark Batterson talks about learning new habits in his book, "Do It for a Day." We can begin a new habit in our relationships by learning to listen to our spouses and value what they are saying. 

At The Bridge, we call this process “listening from our hearts.” This means cultivating an awareness of our spouse's feelings, pain, sensitivities, etc. When we focus on listening like that and responding with empathy, we show value to our partner. That sets the stage for productive communication. 


Focus on the 80%

Batterson tells the story of well-known marriage counselor Gary Smalley. Gary said marriage is 80 percent good and 20 percent bad. When we focus on the 20 percent bad, that’s all we see, and we’re unhappy. What happens when we switch our minds to the 80 percent good–from the negative to the positive? It makes a difference.

The apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8, "Fix your thoughts on things that are true, honorable, right, lovely, and admirable." This yields many more benefits than focusing on the 20 percent bad or on our self-absorbed agenda, as I talked about earlier. 

Thinking about others in excellent and lovely ways brings great benefits to our own selves and our marriages. Today, let’s think about things that are worthy of praise. Let’s switch our thinking by valuing the ones closest to us. How? First, by listening to understand, then by communicating from that understanding. In this way, we demonstrate value to our partners. Let’s see what happens!

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