In-To-Me-See: Develop your communication skills for a great relationship

A great marriage is all about intimacy! Our definition is In-To-Me-See. We want to be undertstood by the one person who should know us best. Our spouse! That’s the goal of a great marriage. When we reach the point where we complete each others statements and are able to express our deepest thoughts, hopes, desires and dreams with each other. This is the way it looks when “two become one.”

When Jamie and I married almost thirty years ago, we started out ill-equipped for marriage. Counseling from our pastor was minimal. Though we had no trouble communicating while courting and we appeared to be well matched, once we married communication became more difficult. Living with someone is considerably different from dating, so very shortly after marriage we began to experience significant problems. We had several core issues with which we struggled, however, the fundamental situation was that we hadn’t learned how to communicate with each other. The initial things that most newlyweds deal with are finding the balance of give and take, agreement on financial expenditures, learning to share duties and responsibilities, not being selfish, dealing with anger, expressing feelings appropriately and learning the best approach in discussing difficult topics.

Our lack of communication skills only increased the magnitude of the other issues we faced. I was very introverted and began shutting down after marriage. I did not know how to express my feelings in this relationship called marriage. Unfortunately when I did express feelings they were expressed with angry words and actions. Although I was never violent with Jamie, I crushed her spirit with my words. Jamie often thought that I should know what she was thinking without her expressing her thoughts to me. Bottom line, we were often mad at each other.

This had become a pattern that Jamie could no longer live with. We reached a breaking point about two years into our marriage. Jamie told me that if things didn’t change we would need to consider divorce. We’d both made a committment to each other for life in our marriage vows so I understood the gravity of her statement. It was at that point we both decided to submit ourselves to a higher power. That’s when our situation began to change.

We desperately needed intimacy and to learn some communcation skills. We felt led to begin doing the following exercise: Each night after dinner, we would sit down together without interuption and talk with each other over a cup of coffee. These conversations started out as very surface “How was your day” kind of talk. Jamie wanted to know more of the details of what I was thinking about and how I felt about situations that occured. It was exhausting for me because I was not accustomed to expressing my inner thoughts on a daily basis. I didn’t know how to communicate my feelings well but we continued.

Over time, our conversations gained depth and we began to share more of ourselves with each other. We were understanding each other. With a better understanding came a deep abiding trust. We built trust by being honest and expressing our true feelings in a non-threatening way. Our conversation time increased and I actually missed it when we didn’t have that time together. We were building intimacy!

This exercise had an incredibly powerful impact upon us in every area of our relationship because of our changing perspective. We came to a better understanding of one another because we were learning why we felt the way we did about certain things. Jamie helped me to deal with the anger that I had inside and resolve it (so many men deal with this sort of anger). For example: If Jamie asked me to do something for her and I forgot to do it and she asked again, I would get mad at her.

I had worked for someone who would ask me to do something and the person would come behind me and redo the job. There was a sensitivity I had about being checked up on. Even though this was displaced anger toward Jamie, it revealed the root cause of my behavior. Instead of Jamie asking me again, I asked her to just put a reminder note up in a place where I would see it. The next step was for me to tell her that I’d found her note and I would do the chore by such and such a time.

We learned to listen carefully to each other and give feedback so that we each understood what we were trying to communicate. When we talked to one another we looked at each other to let the other know they had our undivided attention. Then we would repeat back what we understood the other to say. Sometimes we would go back and forth until we got it right. You’d be suprised how much life experiences interfere in our overall comprehension.

Today after almost 30 years of marriage, we’re more in love than the day of our wedding. We have a deep and abiding respect for each others point of view. Although we are such different creatures, we understand each other and we each bring a fresh and unique perspective to life’s issues.

Effective communication is an essential element in building intimacy leading us to a great marriage. We’d like to help you develop the same communication skills that transformed our marriage. The first thing to remember is that you’re in this together. You are a team and should attack all of life’s challenges together because two are better than one.

To start we suggest a daily dialogue of positive things that you like about each other. In even the rockiest of relationships there are some things you’re doing well. Start by focusing on those it’ll give you cred to deal with the not-so-good stuff.

In all marital communications there are two parties at work, the one talking and the one listening, each are important. For the one talking, assertiveness is the ability to express one’s feelings and ask for what one wants. For the listener, active listening is the ability to let our partner know that we’ve understood them by restating their message.

Here’s a simple example of what this looks like:
Speaker: “I’m feeling stressed out about the weekend. While I know you planned going away, I wanted to know if you’d consider rescheduling your hunting trip?”

Listener: “I heard you say your feeling stressed out about this weekend and you’d like me to reschedule my hunting trip, is that right?”

When one knows what the other person feels and wants and knows that they’ve been heard and understood, intimacy is increased. In the example above, now that the couple understands each other they can work to resolve their scheduling issue. We often find in our counseling sessions that couples simply don’t listen to each other. They state their opinions and then shut out the others. Not a good situation to be in.

When talking together we should give full attention to the one speaking then restate the words and confirm that we’ve been understood. This is especially important for newlyweds in the bonding process to focus on effectively communicating with each other. Focusing on the good qualities and praising each other often before dealing with any negative issues builds rapport. Avoid criticism when possible, however, if you must address issues use constructive criticism with healthy doses of praise.

Alan and Jamie Wood are Pastors, Authors, Conference Speakers and founders of Third Cord Secret Ministries, Inc. They travel internationally leading marriage events helping couples to become all they can be in marriage. Their first book, Third Cord Secret, was published in 2010. They are currently completing their second book, Power Marriage for publication this Spring. They provide premarital and post marital counseling as Prepare-Enrich facilitators. They lead the marriage ministry at Inverness Vineyard Church in Birmingham, AL. where they lead small groups, mentor married couples and develop marriage materials for small group study

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