by Andrew Cromwell
As a pastor, I do my fair share of counseling, both with couples that are preparing to get married and with those who have already crossed that golden threshold into nuptial bliss. Without fail, every couple I meet with says they need to improve their communication skills. To you, dear reader, I have no doubt this is not a novel piece of information. For all of us, when it comes to those we spend the most time with, those we have committed our lives and hearts to, these are the ones with whom we often are the most challenged in the area of our communication.
The sad thing is that instead of getting better at communicating over the years of marriage, what we often do is simply reinforce our bad communication habits. We fight about the same old things in the same old unsuccessful ways. Our positions become so entrenched and so immovable that we no longer fight about the issue. Instead, whenever we begin to get close to the landmine that is the issue, we are distracted by all the barbed wire, camouflage netting and machine guns that are our past arguments, bitterness and judgments.
We've all seen the couples on TV who are asked to practice assertive communication and active listening. The memorable ones go horribly wrong. The wife says, "When you don't come home from work until after 9pm every night, I feel like you don't love me." The husband replies, "I heard you say that you hate my work and you think I don't love you." We all cringe slightly because we know that is not what the wife said, but at the same time we all wonder how much our own arguments are just the same.
Building new communication skills and breaking through old communication patterns is not easy, but then again nothing worth anything in life is easy. You and your spouse may have come to a place where you have forged an uneasy peace and in order to move forward in your relationship, things are actually going to have to get uglier before they get better. You are going to have to face issues that are uncomfortable and even explosive, but if you are committed to walk through it together then you can come out on the other side with greater intimacy and a stronger relationship.
If you want to see your relationship grow, I would suggest you do the following: First, talk with your spouse and agree together that you are going to seek a stronger, deeper relationship. Second, get some help! Take a marriage class, go to a marriage retreat or seek some counseling. For example, at Koinonia, we have a marriage class called Building a Successful Marriage. There are so many good resources available around us, but we often starve our relationship while surrounded by a wealth of resources. Third, work, work, work! Your marriage is worth it!