I want to introduce you to my friend Kurt Bubna and his incredible book on marriage. I loved it so much you can find my endorsement on the back cover.
Kurt is a husband, pastor, writer, speaker, encourager and a very dear friend. His book is thoughtful, witty and a refreshingly candid discussion on all things marriage. I promise you’ll be better for reading it. Who doesn’t need a little help figuring out how to thrive in an imperfect marriage?!
Today he offers us 10 Practical Tips for Better Communication, an excerpt from his new book: Mr. & Mrs. ~ How to Thrive in a Perfectly Imperfect Marriage.
Some might be born with the “gift of gab,” but becoming a great communicator in your marriage (or any relationship) takes time and lots of work.
The process of communication involves three items: the message itself, the message sender, and the message receiver. An average verbal message is comprised of content (i.e. the words used), tone of voice, and non-verbal cues. Maintaining consistency between all three aspects is a key ingredient to conveying a message that a receiver can fully understand.
Of course, the content of what you say matters, but so does the way you verbalize it and the way the rest of your body communicates it.
With that in mind, let’s talk about strategies that a sender and a receiver can use to ensure that they’re heard and understood.
1. A sender should be specific.
Proverbs 10:19 helps here: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Using too many words during an important discussion can actually break down intimate communication.
2. A sender should avoid exaggeration.
Prefacing judgments with “You always . . . ” or “You never . . . ” is a sure-fire way to produce backfire. When a sender opts to use broad or inflammatory language, the receiver will become defensive, quickly building a mental moat so they won’t get burned.
3. A sender should be current.
In other words, they should discuss the “here and now” of the relationship and not “ancient history.” Phrases like “I told you so,” “How many times do I have to tell you?” and “When will you ever learn?” humiliate the other person and foster defensiveness.
4. A sender should be self-disclosing.
It’s a “nakedness” of the soul that comes with risks, but better rewards. Such self-disclosure should always be appropriate in both quality and quantity. Responsible self-disclosure brings healing, both to the sender and to the receiver. But negative self-disclosure is like a verbal enema—it’s not fun and it hurts rather than builds up.
5. A sender should own their own feelings.
Owning your own feelings encourages understanding because it’s non-threatening. Those who learn how to take such ownership say, “I feel . . . ” Rather than “You made me feel . . . ”
This takes self-discipline and a keen awareness of your own specific brokenness. You might not be able to control your circumstances, but you can control your attitude.
6. A sender should use emotional word pictures.
Gary Smalley defines an emotional word picture as “a communication tool that uses a story or object to activate simultaneously the emotions and intellect of a person.” Jesus’s parables are emotional word pictures that have engaged the minds and hearts of people for thousands of years. While you don’t have to be as awe-inspiring as him, using emotional word pictures helps to cement our words into another person’s heart.
7. A receiver should be active.
Though it doesn’t appear so on the outside, listening is an active skill. Effective listening requires that the receiver offer their full attention to the sender in order to truly hear what they’re saying and understand what they mean and feel.
8. A receiver should postpone thinking about their response.
This common problem has existed for a long, long time. Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame.” A receiver shouldn’t interrupt a sender, and they also shouldn’t be halfway focusing on the sender’s words while also formulating their own response. For better communication to occur, the receiver needs to focus as much as they can on the sender’s words, tone, and body language.
9. A receiver should ask questions.
The best active listeners are those who ask questions at the right time in order to seek clarity or provide encouragement. Because they want to fill in as many blanks as they can, they ask questions to help themselves better understand the content and the sender’s reasons for sharing that content. This is where we mirror back to the sender what we think we’ve heard them say.
10. A sender and a receiver should be patient with each other.
Here’s the thing about this list. Though it was divided between sender and receiver, its audience is everyone. We ping-pong back and forth between sender and receiver thousands of times every day. Some of us are better at one or the other, but it’s very likely that we all need help in at least one area.
As you begin to put into practice some of the strategies I’ve outlined above, be patient with yourself and your spouse. It may be awkward at first, but I guarantee that you’ll witness surprising results as you both grow into better communicators.
Seeking to enhance your communication in marriage is one of the greatest acts of love you can show to your husband or wife. It means that you want your marriage to succeed, your children to have positive role models, and your spouse to see how much you value them.
Today, make one intentional change to your communication habits. Tomorrow, add another. See if you might just begin to start dancing over what was once a landmine-filled war zone.
 The Language of Love, Gary Smalley, pg. 17
Do yourself a favor and purchase a copy of Kurt’s book!