Strong communication is essential to a happy, healthy marriage, and yet it is no simple pursuit. Everyone has their own ingrained methods of communication, and each season of life brings unique obstacles and opportunities to marriage. We must face these elements head-on and seek to push through the challenges and differences to make connection and communication a priority.
During the second summer of our marriage, my husband and I had very different work schedules which were demanding and created little room for connection and communication. When we finally were in the same room, able to talk, either one of us was too tired to stay awake or too distracted to give the other his/her full attention. That is when we started “wogging.” Wogging is what we called our walk/jog combo. I am a fast walker but a lousy jogger. Dave preferred jogging to speed walking. So, I walked speedily, and he jogged slowly, and thus wogging became our daily activity to start the day. We found that when we were wogging, there were no phones, or screens, or other people or tasks, we were not falling asleep on the sofa, and we were therefore able to be alert and attentive to each other. Sometimes we picked up the speed as our emotions ran high, passionately speaking of stress in our individual lives or regarding our relationship. It was OK because neither of us could walk away! I tend to want to talk and talk about an issue, and my husband would rather talk and then process things on his own. This ritual of a forty-minute loop gave us a finite amount of time to discuss, and though the conversation was over for the moment, we could think about things, assured that we could pick back up at our next meal or the next morning’s wog. This ritual was critical to our marriage during that season of life.
Fast forward several years, and we had young children and couldn’t just walk away from home for a walk/jog/wog. We had to pivot and find a new way to have concentrated time together. We have never been great at prioritizing dates, mainly because of the effort it takes to coordinate care for kids and prepare their dinner before then going out for dinner. The cost has been prohibitive for our budget. So, there were several years when we scheduled a weekly after-dinner dessert, sharing decaf coffee and a slice of cake (that my husband would purchase from a local bakery) at our kitchen table when the kids got to bed. We would keep a running list of things we wanted to talk about once things got quiet in our home and we had a chance to sit down for our dessert at-home-date. Our schedules allowed for more throughout-the-day conversation during that season, but we also needed some set-aside time to regroup and talk without the distraction of our kids.
Then our children grew to be teenagers, and the “after kids got to bed” time was no longer the rhythm of our home. We got out of the habit of our cake-and-coffee kitchen table dates. About this time last year—around our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary—it dawned on us that with our house full of teenaged children who slept later than us on Saturday mornings, we could be going on early morning breakfast dates! So, each Saturday in this season of life, we quietly leave the house of sleeping teens and go to our favorite café to share coffee, a baguette, scrambled eggs, and an almond croissant and enjoy some focused time together away from the distractions and chaos at home.
These set aside times together have been critical in keeping our lives in sync through the years. In addition to the more concentrated conversations, we need daily check-ins and connections to keep our communication strong. Regardless of what season of marriage you are in and irrespective of your weekly rhythms and lifestyle, continuous, open, and intentional communication is key! This requires commitment, tenacity, and oftentimes creativity!
Here are some guidelines as you ponder how to improve communication with your spouse:
- Assess and lean into your season. Consider the season you are in and problem solve with your spouse about what might help you be most effective in communication at this moment in time. This changes as life shifts and your rhythms and needs transition; therefore, you must be deliberate, always assessing and adapting as needed. It is comforting that the challenging seasons won’t last a lifetime, as circumstances will change. However, you can’t wait for things to be simpler externally to make connection a priority.
- Keep an ongoing dialogue: Whether it’s while you are walking the dog, outside with the kids, calling from the car in transit, or texting throughout the day, you must maintain a connection and daily thread of communication in your marriage. You need to know each other more and more, encouraging the other person and caring about the events of his/her days—the work project, kid drop off, the highs and lows of the mundane. Having an ongoing, honest, and open dialogue is critical.
- Pursue intentional 1:1 time: Be realistic about making time together sustainable and productive, as well as taking initiative to make it happen. Seek regular, more concentrated times of communication and being together in person. Choose to discuss topics that might not come up during the day—like dreaming together and supporting each other’s growth, discussing big picture topics or strategizing planning conversations, as well as getting on the same page about your household plans and pursuits: scheduling the week’s activities, goals, tasks, and meals.
- Communicate with grace and honor: We must seek to be quick to listen, slow to take offense, and prompt to seek reconciliation (see Jas. 1:19) and to bear with one other (see Eph. 4:2). Approaching communication with connection as the goal shifts our behavior. Rather than coming into conversations with a posture of self-righteousness, self-protection, and seeking to have the last word, we must come together with love, compassion, and honesty toward each other.
Julie Hunt is an associate professor of social work and director of field education at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee. She is wife to Dave Hunt, a worship director and woodworker, and mother to a college-age son and two teenage daughters. She also enjoys walking, baking, reading, food blogging, thrifting, and enjoying time