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!”
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.”
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.”
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:
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!
What do you think? What do you find the hardest? Let’s talk in the comments!
The Direct Communication Series
- 5 Reasons Direct Communication is Difficult
- 6 Elements of Direct Communication
- Why Direct Communication Feels Mean–and Why It’s Not
- 3 Reasons Christian Resources Tell Women Direct Communication is a Sin
- 5 Reasons Christian Teaching Discourages Men from Communicating Directly
- The Direct Communication Podcast
- The Real Solution to Nagging
- How to Handle a Spouse’s Negative Reactions to Direct Communication (coming soon)
- 10 Tips to Having that Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Putting Off (coming soon)
- 10 Tips to Talking to Your Spouse About Your Sex Life (coming soon)
And please see my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, with lots on having difficult conversations and resolving conflict!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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