How do you communicate a need without hurting your spouse?
Well, this is a tough question! After 11+ years of marriage I don’t think I have fully learned how to do this correctly, but we are getting better.
I can for sure tell you how not to do it….
1.) Do not tell your spouse about your need when your own emotions are not in check.
2.) Do not attack your spouse’s character.
3.) Do not lay full responsibility on your spouse.
4.) Do not blindside them with an attack.
A person’s personality plays a huge role in how constructive criticism is given and how it is heard. For a strong, stubborn personality like myself, I have no problems telling Nate how he hurt me and what HE needs to do about it. My area of weakness is using the wrong tone of voice and facial expressions. I forget that there are typically two sides of the story and I could (possibly) be wrong in a situation. Nate is more of an easy-going, people-pleasing type of personality. He wants to avoid confrontation at all costs and would much rather forget about what he needs and just do what the other person is demanding in order to keep peace in the home. This seems good at first, but in doing this we fail to fix the root of the issue and just put a band-aid on the situation. He loses out, and our marriage does not grow and mature in the way that it should and could.
It is so important to understand your own personality strengths and weakness and how they work with your spouse’s strengths and weakness. This is one of the first steps to understand how to communicate effectively. Nate is a huge promoter of personality tests. Here is our essay about free online tests you can take to learn more about yourself.
We don’t have this all figured out yet, but here are some of the principles we’ve uncovered through trial and error:
1. Prayer is essential
We have learned that the most important step in resolving an unmet need is to go to God first. He should be our source, and He alone can fill any need. Bring your request to Him, then allow Him to show you how to get that need met. He may take care of it right then and there. He may show you errors in your own thinking that need to be corrected to fill the void. God may just tell you to continue to pray about it, lifting up the need, lifting up your spouse and waiting for Him to work and change the situation. The last option would be showing you how to approach your spouse about a situation. Let Him give you insight into the situation before you bring it up. It is also a good idea to pray before, during and after your conversation. Let God be a part of the conversation!
2. Timing is everything
This one word, timing, can single-handedly make or break a conversation. You have to be willing to wait for the right timing to broach a topic. For example, on New Year’s Eve after the kids went to bed, Nate and I were going to talk about our marriage and parenting goals. It was going to be a fun time of dreaming and figuring out things together. Well I was in a funk, maybe from working too hard all day to make everything just perfect, maybe just tired, maybe focusing too hard (in a negative way) on a statement that was made, who knows? Regardless of why I was in the funk, I needed a time-out. My husband made a wise decision and didn’t try to dive right in on what we needed to accomplish the next year, but instead we just talked. Some of it related to goals, some did not. This time we chose to wait and discuss things later. Other times we just plunged right ahead into dangerous waters. I can’t think of a time when we choose the wrong time and it ended well. We end up having to apologize and work through more things than what was originally on the table. I get historical and repeat myself, ALOT. Nate starts playing the devil’s advocate and picks apart every argument or point I throw at him. Regardless, the wrong timing makes even the right discussion go poorly.
3. Words do hurt
How you say it, and what words you choose, do matter! You can’t have the mentality of “Well, I can say whatever – they love me and will love me no matter what.” I love a quote from the book Love and Respect it says, “You can be right, but wrong at the top of your lungs.” This is so true. The delivery of the words can be just as important as the words themselves. I have to be careful to not put my stern “mom face” on when I am discussing things with Nate. I can not come across like a mom scolding her son, but I need to instead be a partner trying to work together in solving the situation. You have to give the other person the benefit of doubt that they did not mean to hurt your feelings or mistreat you. Now, they may have meant it, but if you treat them as thought they didn’t, then you give them an opportunity to repent or God to move in the situation. If you come across as accusatory, the natural tendency for anyone is to defend and justify. You want to set the situation up for a successful, healthy conversation so choose your words wisely.
I can’t come across like I am accusing him of a terrible crime. I have to remember that Nate loves me and wants what is best for me and our marriage. I need to use “I” statements instead of “you”. “When this happens it makes me feel like what I did doesn’t matter.” or “I know you didn’t mean it this way when you said this…., but it came across as disrespectful.” “I am sorry my tone was incorrect when you asked me when the laundry would be done. I was busy getting supper ready and that question stressed me out. After supper we can discuss our game plan for the night and week.” It takes practice because it doesn’t come naturally. (Hardly anything worthwhile does!)
4. Admit your part
Hardly ever is it just one person’s fault. It is important when assessing the situation to evaluate the part you played and readily contribute it to the conversation. Ask for help and give suggestions on how they can help you do better next time. It is only when both of you are seeking to do better, to love and serve better and hear from God that true change can occur.
5. Let God work
This is the hardest one for me. Once you have had the conversation with your spouse it is important to let it go!!! Give God the opportunity to move and change the situation. As the saying goes, “Do not beat a dead horse.” I am not saying that your husband is a dead horse, but do not continue to remind your spouse about the conversation, what you decided to do, what needed to be changed. Trust them. Focus on the part that you need to change and contribute to the situation instead of stewing and keeping track of your spouse’s to-do list.
As you start the New Year, commit to learning how to communicate better with your spouse. Learn how you are coming across to them. Even if they are taking you the wrong way, it is your responsibility to learn to communicate in ways that they can understand. Be quick to ask for forgiveness. Forgive fully. Always invite God into the conversation and you will be amazed at how you can grow as a couple!