First, watch your tone. Between a husband and wife, tone is everything. We have to be extremely careful about the tone we use with our spouse.
For one thing, tone communicates care. A lack of caring in a marriage is deadly. It is impossible to reach higher levels of communication with a person who does not care.
Your tone also communicates to your spouse how you feel about his or her needs. Early in our marriage—during the days when we were struggling—Karen used to tell me “I wish I could record the way you talk to me. I wish you could hear what you sound like.”
When God finally made me aware how I spoke to her, I heard the tone of a husband who was frustrated, angry, and who had checked out of our marriage. My tone spoke loudly to Karen of my dissatisfaction. It caused tremendous insecurity in her.
Second, give your spouse the right to complain. I was dominant in our marriage and became verbally abusive. If Karen shared with me how she felt and I didn’t like it, I would make her pay for it. That attitude destroyed any trust she ever had in me.
A husband or wife absolutely must have freedom to complain about something in your marriage—your behavior, how you treat them, how you make them feel—without having to pay a price for it.
Giving a spouse the freedom to complain says to them “I want to know how you feel. I may not understand it or agree with it, but I will respect it. You will never have to worry about how I’ll respond.” This builds security and trust.
An inability to complain causes spouses to bottle up those concerns. This creates bitterness and all kinds of problems. Be approachable to your spouse. Be humble enough that you can accept gentle instruction from him or her. Be prepared to say you are sorry.
Third, speak the truth in love. The Bible says that Jesus was full of grace and truth. Ephesians 4:15 tells us to follow Him by speaking the truth in love.
This is a balancing act. Truth without grace is mean. It is truth-telling without any compassion—like looking at someone, saying, “You’re ugly,” and walking away. But grace without truth is meaningless. It’s a cheerleader in the 4th quarter of a football game cheering on her quarterback when the team is down by 60 points.
Marriages need truth and love. The truth can be unpleasant, but truth spoken without grace and love destroys trust. Many couples never talk about the things that matter because the truth makes them uncomfortable.
But research shows conflict can be important to the strength of a marriage. Relationships that avoid conflict are not as satisfying as those that experience conflict…then know how to resolve it.
Your tone, giving your spouse the freedom to complain, and a commitment to truth spoken in love: These are the things that must be present in a marriage marked by good communication.
Thanks to Jimmy Evans for a great review of some great insight into marriage communication.