The Direct Communication Series: 6 Elements of Direct Communication

by | Aug 6, 2021 | Connecting | 17 comments

6 elements of Direct communication
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What does direct communication look like? And what ISN’T direct communication?

This month our series will focus on direct communication in marriage: How to state your feelings and thoughts clearly, without beating around the bush. And how to listen effectively to your spouse so that you’re both sure that you’re heard and understood.

And even though we’re talking mostly about a marriage situation, these tips really apply for pretty much all relationships.

We talked on Tuesday about the five big hindrances to direct communication, and why people often find it so difficult. Before we start trying to fix these problems, let’s make sure the basics are covered and that we understand what direct communication looks like.

In direct communication, you manage your emotions as well as possible so that your words are clear and convey the message.

It’s okay to be angry and upset and to cry. But those times when your emotions aren’t under control are probably not the best times for conversations where you want to get a point clearly across and come to a resolution.

So for sure–have your emotions! But calm down before you start a conversation where you want your spouse to hear what you have to say.

In direct communication, you own your feelings and express them.

When you want your spouse to understand what you’re thinking and feeling, you need to express what you’re thinking and feeling. And that means owning your own thoughts and feelings. Often we try to fob our feelings or thoughts off onto someone else, because it can feel very uncomfortable owning our own thoughts and feelings, but it’s important to be clear.

For instance, instead of saying, “you’re always playing video games and you’re always ignoring me!”, you say, “I feel lonely in our marriage, especially when you spend so much time on video games and we don’t get to spend time together.”

The first is an accusation; the second explains a problem that you are having, and gives your spouse the opportunity to address that problem.

One of the keys to emotionally healthy relationships is recognizing that your feelings are your own. So when you’re talking, express what you’re feeling!

In direct communication, you state clearly what you are hoping to achieve from the conversation.

Part of communication is letting your spouse know what you are expecting from this conversation. And that means you need to have an end goal in mind, too! Do you want them simply to listen to your feelings and thoughts and support you? Do you want some encouragement for feeling overwhelmed? Do you want advice for how to fix a situation? Or do you want your spouse to actually change something he or she is doing?

State that clearly up front:

  • “I’d like to have a talk, and I don’t expect you to do anything. I just would like you to listen and support me. I can’t change anything so I don’t need advice, but I’d like your support.”
  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed and I don’t know how to handle all that’s on my plate. If I talk about all my upcoming responsibilities, can you please help me figure out what to drop?”
  • “I’m having a problem with the way we’re handling our finances, and I’d like to talk about it and come to a solution.”

or, as we talked about before,

  • “I feel lonely in our marriage, especially when you spend so much time on video games and we don’t get to spend time together. I’d like to talk about how we can prioritize the relationship so I feel connected with you.”

Before you even begin, give your spouse a heads up on what you’re looking for.

In direct communication, you ask clearly for anything you want from your spouse.

I wrote in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage about the difficulty many women have in speaking up for what they want.

A couple was washing dishes after Thanksgiving dinner when his mom came into the kitchen and started talking about Aunt Betty, and how lonely she was in the nursing home, and how few residents were still of sound mind that she could talk to. When the mom left the kitchen, the wife turned to her husband and said, “your mom wants you to visit Aunt Betty.” The husband looked flabbergasted and said, “If Mom wanted that she would have asked me!”

He called his mom back into the kitchen and said, “are you trying to get me to visit Aunt Betty?” His mom, relieved, replied: “well, of course! I’ve been waiting!”

Do you have a hard time asking for what you want?

You can change the dynamic in your marriage and make talking about your own needs easier!

If your marriage is in a communication rut, it’s time for some change.

Sometimes we’re even told as women that we shouldn’t ask clearly, because to do so would be unsubmissive.

In Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper writes of the dilemma of when a man is lost and needs directions from a woman:

“For example, a housewife in her backyard may be asked by a man how to get to the freeway. At that point she is giving a kind of leadership. She has superior knowledge that the man needs and he submits himself to her guidance. But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man in which neither of them feels their mature femininity or masculinity compromised.”

John Piper

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

And how would his masculinity be compromised, according to Piper? If she spoke directly.

“To the degree that a woman’s influence over man is personal and directive it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order.”

John Piper

Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Got that? She’s in sin if she’s direct.

Nope. We need to get rid of that idea (and we’ll talk about it more later in the month). If you want something, ask for it directly. Anything else is not speaking truth, and Jesus wants us to speak truth.

In direct communication, you leave your spouse free to respond.

Direct communication is a two-way street–just as you share your own thoughts and opinions and feelings, so your spouse is also free to share his or her thoughts and opinions.

That means that while you certainly can bring up what needs to be talked about, and can be very clear in what you want, your spouse is also free to respond how he or she wants. You don’t control the outcome; you only control your part in it.

That’s really the hardest thing to let go of–the thought that you can’t force your spouse to “get it” or come around to your way of seeing things. And if it’s apparent that the conversation isn’t going anywhere, then often healthy communication may involve tabling something for further discussion later, too.

In direct communication, you remain consistent and you follow through.

One woman commented earlier this week about a problem she often gets into when she’s trying to bring something up with her husband–he’ll immediately start weeping and talk about what a terrible person he is and how she must hate being married to him. He takes the focus off of the issue at hand and starts making himself the center of the story.

In direct communication, you remain consistent, and keep coming back to the thing that you need to resolve.

“I see that you’re feeling badly right now, and that is not my intention. I’m happy to talk about that later. But right now we are talking about how lonely I feel when you play video games every night, and I’d like to stick to that conversation.”

If he refuses to talk about your issue, then you can end the conversation–without talking about his issue.

In fact, this is the really important thing that wraps everything up together: 

A Key Principle in Direct Communication–
Say What You Mean, and Mean What You Say

If you’re talking about something that is important to you, you need to make sure that all of your communication–not just verbal, but how you relate to your spouse–matches what you are saying.

If this is important to you, and your spouse tries to change the subject, you do not talk about another subject. You stick to what you brought up, or you end the conversation. To allow yourself to be sidetracked shows your spouse, “this actually isn’t that important.” (you can, of course, talk about the issues your spouse wants to discuss at another time).

If this is important to you, and your spouse refuses to listen to your concerns or address them, then you follow through in other ways. Life doesn’t just go back to normal.

This is the hardest skill to learn–how to follow through. I’m not talking about punishing your spouse, but if something needs to be dealt with and it’s important to you, then that needs to be apparent to your spouse. If they refuse to address it, that doesn’t mean you have to back down or let it go.

For more on that, please see my Iron Sharpens Iron series from last year!

Here are all the elements of direct communication put together:

List of Elements of Direct Communication

We’ll also talk later in the month about what to do if your spouse truly won’t address an issue. But for now, remember that direct communication isn’t just about what you say–it’s about whether how you act reflects the words you are saying. If something is important to you–act like it’s important to you, too!

6 Elements of Direct Communication

What do you think? What do you find the hardest? Let’s talk in the comments!

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Phil

    Hi Sheila – I would add this comment to your article. Grace and I went through some counseling last year – we found a very IMPORTANT tid bit in using the I Feel statement method that I believe many of us miss and its actually quite big. Grace and I are quite good at using the I feel statement method but It was pointed out to us that when you use the I feel statement you need to use a descriptive immediately following the I feel statement. Such as was used in the article I feel lonely, I I feel overwhelmed….because when we say I feel like or we say I feel that or I feel you <—— big no no etc etc….the other person tends to stop listening and or the person is now expected to figure out what the I feeling really is….so I would just say to folks that one should practice this…as I have found it very hard to do and would suspect it is difficult for others as well. We found writing each other letters with I feel statements is a good way to practice…and it really helps the road to direct communication..

    • A2bbethany

      After 3 years of marriage, we’re just now starting to use verbal communication for the disagreements. It’s actually great, having a firm foundation of texting direct communication. Because when talking about it seems like it’s being circular, we can step back into it.
      He’s good at using the “I feel like” statement, and Im not. So I state it,(I want you to go through those boxes) and then I explain my thoughts.(they’re sitting there and you haven’t gone through to separate trash/treasures. And I think it’s something you should do.) The snafu was that he felt like I wanted to throw it all out and purge his special things. Verbally I had a harder time realizing that

    • Whitney

      This is a great point, Phil. NVC, or non-violent communication, would label the “I feel like you…” as thought statements in disguise. Those are your own interpretations of the person’s actions, not emotions. Same with unloved, unheard, disrespected, etc. Those are not true emotions but are thoughts about the other person. NVC is big on the distinction between thoughts and emotions.

      • Phil

        Appreciate the expansion on this. And really interesting….Had to read it like 4 times to really understand it and wrap my head around. something maybe easy to say but very difficult to cut through…

  2. Anon

    My husband & I communicated directly right from the start of our dating relationship, and you know, it has saved us SO many problems! So I’d say to anyone dating, make sure you marry someone you can communicate directly with – if you’re already practicing it as a dating or engaged couple, it is so much easier to build it into your marriage. We’ve had a couple of situations that have been resolved with hardly any trouble at all, but if we hadn’t used direct communication, could potentially have blown way out of proportion and caused us both a lot of stress!

    And don’t get me started on Piper & asking for directions. If a man is not mature enough to receive navigational directions from a woman, he isn’t mature enough to be out on his own, never mind in charge of a vehicle. I mean, seriously, if the bank is down the next turning on the left, what’s wrong with her saying ‘you need to take the next turning on the left’?!!! It’s a sight more useful than ‘oh, maybe you could try turning left down the next street – I hear it’s a very nice street to drive down and it’s the kind of street that might have a bank on it.’

    • Laura

      My thoughts exactly on Piper and directions! I laughed when Sheila put that tidbit about Piper in this article. As I read it to my mother, she laughed and said, “That’s so stupid!”

      I’m sure most men (Christian or not) do not think much about asking a woman for directions. The majority of men don’t like it when we beat around the bush. “Just say what you mean and mean what you say!”

      Piper, Wayne Grudem, and the other men who started the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood obviously have issues. They cover up their insecurities with puffed-up pride and hierarchal theology.

      • EOF

        I don’t think it crosses their minds until they’re told (from the church) that there’s something “wrong” with taking directions from a woman. Or letting a woman drive or tell him where to park, or whatever. (Those were big ones in my church back in the day.)

        Who comes up with this stuff, and how did it become so mainstream? I wish I’d seen it as the legalism it is long ago. But because church leaders said it was so…

  3. Elaine

    So how in the world does the housewife give directions???!! 😂 This is such a cliff-hanger for me!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think it’s like, “I find that if I go straight up the street, and then turn left at the third stoplight, I find the highway.” Or something stupid like that!

      • Rebecca

        Hahahaha this is so stupid. I think if a man (or anyone!!) is asking for directions he probably wants you to “direct” him! 🤔

  4. EOF

    This is really helpful, Shiela. Thank you. I love the image with the 6 steps. That’s going to help me solidify these steps in my mind so I can put them into practice! I hope you make more of them in this series.

  5. Melissa

    John Piper is making things WAY too complicated. Dude, it’s just directions!!!

  6. Jo

    Do these leaders really have such fragile egos, low self-esteem, and/or low self-worth that they must see themselves as more knowledgeable, more experienced, and just plain all-around better than every woman on the planet? And if such men happen to meet a random female with more ability in a particular area, it’s the woman who has to abase herself to an imaginary “lower” or “inferior” position?

    Really? So ALL men are like this, needing to be handled with kid gloves if there’s the slightest chance a woman may be good at something, or at least better at it than a given man?

    How do these guys ever learn to throw a fast ball, change the oil in a car, paint a wall, or do any other activity that requires practice and direction from someone who knows more than they do? Or does the presence of testicles on the teacher make it OK for these poor men to learn from someone else without having a nervous breakdown?

  7. Jennifer

    Spot On!!! Thank you for this article. This is the very thing my husband and I have been working on in therapy. Our therapist calls it “bringing our needs to a conversational level.”

    It’s been difficult for both of us (responsible first-born children) to marry each other and realize we’re big do-ers and not used to getting our needs met. We resented each other and basically refused to speak each other’s love language. Very little listening and trust the first ten years of marriage.

    Since we began counseling to work on communication, we’ve learned to recognize our feelings, needs, intentionally practice direct communication. We have never been happier in our marriage!

  8. Jo

    Sorry, Sheila, we seem to have been so amused by the horror and shame of a man asking for traveling directions from a woman that we got a little sidetracked from the real content! 🤣🤣🤣

    It’s going to be very hard to do any of this. After three-plus decades of keeping my lip zipped about my needs, tending to him, and hoping that since I was taking care of him, he might notice just one or two of my needs, because that’s what a “Christian” wife does, after all, and because that’s what all the stupid books say, to say that I’m irate is an understatement.

    I think these (male!) authors came up with this concept and put a patina of “biblical” and “Christian” on it because it gives men a nice out. Let’s face it. Most men don’t notice anything that doesn’t affect their own comfort and convenience. “Hon, would you mind doing a load of laundry? I’m almost out of underwear.” “Hon, when are you going to the dry cleaner’s? I’m down to my last two dress shirts.” Meanwhile, he hasn’t noticed that SHE’S been wearing the same clothes for three days because he STILL hasn’t arranged for the washing machine repair he said he’d take care of. And since she doesn’t want to be a nag, she mentioned it once and is waiting the prescribed ten to twenty days to bring it up again—and she’ll have to be pleasant about it, of course, even though it’s greatly inconvenienced HER.

    And it’s not “soft” and “feminine” and “Christian womanly” to be direct. We’re told so explicitly and implicitly, so it’s going to be very hard to change these longstanding habits of (mis)communication. Even the mere voicing of needs is going to be interpreted as nagging, because it pretty much flat out tells husbands they’re falling short. So I’m really hoping the upcoming posts will help with overcoming these very practical roadblocks. Otherwise, I’ve survived thirty years waiting for things to change without them doing so, and simply knowing that change will NOT be forthcoming will make the next thirty a lot easier to get through.

  9. Nessie

    Most men I know seem to think the women in their lives are overly verbose. Not in a bad way, just that women tend to speak with greater word count than men in their circles. So this idea of Piper’s to speak indirectly and submissively increases that word count since she has to add so many words to make sure she subordinates herself. Most of the guys I know much prefer concise answers. Less to wade through or remember. Less to be mucked up in confusion from too many words.

    Secondly, when Piper states, “But we all know that there is a way for that housewife to direct the man…” he doubly undermines women in referring to her as THAT HOUSEwife, whereas he refers to him as THE man. In addition to “that” vs. “the”, why does her occupation have to play into this scenario (I’m a housewife- it can be hard work, as it can be hard work for career women, just in different ways)? It seems he is being derogatory or condescending in multiple facets here.

    Lastly, about the backyard scenario… I’d be quite on alert if a strange man walked up to me while I was in my backyard to ask me for directions to the highway. I’m pretty sure my backyard is NOT going to be how one gets to the highway. Just sayin’… 😉

    Appreciate this series! My hubs is reading through it and says he is learning much, too. And he doesn’t feel one bit emasculated with your direct speak! 😀

  10. Ariel

    First of all, this is a great article! It is amazing how easy it is slip into hints rather than just directly ask for what we want. And that just hurts both spouses.

    And secondly, this is nitpicky, but “directive” isn’t actually a synonym for “direct” – I believe directive means basically telling someone what to do, directing them, etc. Not quite the same as “direct,” meaning to being clear, to the point. So I *think* that’s what Piper was trying to say (though those quotes are really strange to me, makes men out to be quite weak if you ask me)… that when women are “directive” in the sense of telling men what to do, it can be offensive. I don’t think he was advising women to not be clear. But I could be wrong, I haven’t read a lot on his views of gender roles.


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