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Communication: How to Feel Understood by Your Spouse


After living separate lives, a retired business executive and his wife discovered a painful reality. Sitting at home one evening, the couple called some friends to see what they were doing. "Oh," said the other wife, "we're just talking and drinking tea."

The executive's wife hung up the phone. "Why don't we ever do that?" she demanded. "They're just drinking tea and talking."

"So," said the executive, "make us some tea." Soon they sat with their freshly brewed tea, staring at each other. "Call them back," he directed, "and find out what they're talking about!" As the couple discovered, a relationship will be only as good as its communication.

One way to enhance your marriage is by becoming an effective communicator. This involves many skills, but most importantly, it means learning how to listen. However, listening takes time and work, that's why so few practice it, much less master it. As a rule, to the degree your mate feels heard and understood, it's to that degree he will desire communication. Who wants to talk with someone who doesn't listen? Therefore, if your hope is to become a proficient communicator, by using a special communication technique, your mate can instantly feel heard and understood.

"Drive-Through Talking"

Although you don't need to use this technique during normal conversations, it can be helpful with hot or sensitive issues, or when you want to enhance the clarity and safety of your communication. This method also works great with children, adolescents, co-workers and friends.

Picture yourself ordering at a McDonald's driving-through window. As you look over the menu, a voice from the speaker box says "May I take your order?"

"I'll have a cheeseburger, fries and a large coke," you say confidently.

After a short moment of silence, the voice repeats, "You want a burger, fries and a large diet coke?"

"NO," you shout in the direction of the speaker box, "a CHEESEburger, fries and a large COKE!"

"Sorry," the box explains, "You want a cheeseburger, fries and a large coke. Will that be all?"

"Yes," you insist.

"That will be $2.99. Have a nice day."

This is a good example of effective communication that should take place in marriage. When you want your mate to clearly and accurately understand your "order," you should use the "drive-through talking" method. One of you becomes the customer and the other becomes the employee. As the customer, you first explain your feelings or needs by using "I feel" statements—as opposed to "You make me feel...." remarks. It's also necessary to use short sentences so your mate can repeat back precisely what you are communicating.

Next, your mate simply repeats what he heard. Then you get to "edit" his interpretation. After correcting any misunderstandings, your husband continues to repeat your statements back until you feel your feelings or needs are understood.

Once you are finished sharing, then you trade places. Your husband becomes the customer and you get to be the employee. He then places his order by explaining his feelings or needs. Your job is to repeat back what you hear him communicating until he is satisfied. This sequence continues until everyone feels heard and understood. During this technique, it's important to remember the focus is not on creating solutions. Instead, the purpose to understand each other's feelings and needs. You can work on solutions after all "ordering" is completed or at a later time.

In James 1:19 it says, "...But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger." This verse explains the power of drive through talking. When your communication is slowed down, it's much easier to keep the conversation from escalating out of control.

Used with permission from Greg Smalley Psy.D.  Greg Smalley, Psy.D. is director of Marriage Ministries for the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Greg is the author or co-author of eight books concerning marriages and families. Visit Greg at www.liferelationships.com.

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