I’ve worked with numerous couples and led several marriage workshops over the years. One of the most common issues that I hear within relationships is a lack of, or poor communication. Typically this is expressed by the wives, often with an accusatory look at their husbands. When heard, the husbands typically shrug their shoulders and give me a look of “I don’t know what else to do”.
So why does communication suffer so much in a long-term, married relationship? I’ve heard many theories on this. Some reference studies of how many more words women speak in a given day than men. Others, talk of the different ways that male and female brains are wired. Since women mentally connect so many things together, it can be hard for a male (who typically thinks of one topic at a time) to keep up with their wives. As a result, they mentally check out, adding frustration to the relationship.
I have a personal theory on this. I think poor communication in a marriage is a symptom, not a root cause. I believe that if a husband dedicated time and attention to actively listening to everything his wife said, but changed nothing else, there would still be dissatisfaction. If a woman just wants to be heard, she can satisfy this need with a girlfriend that is more naturally inclined to listen. But I think there’s more than that.
When I hear a couple complain of communication breakdown, I probe beneath the surface to investigate the level of intimacy that the couple shares. If you are a male and reading this, you probably assume I’m speaking strictly about sex. And that is a part of it, but not the only part.
I believe that intimacy in a marriage crosses multiple dimensions. These would include Spiritual, Emotional and Physical. I won’t go into depth on each of these here, but rather summarize briefly.
God designed us to be in relationship with Him. If you married as a believer, you entered into a covenant relationship with God as well as your spouse. If you find yourself in a season where you feel far from God, the covenant relationship becomes strained. That stress will carry into your marriage as well.
Emotional intimacy occurs when a spouse feels completely safe with their partner. They don’t fear judgement, they are transparent with their feelings and they have absolute trust in their marriage. They recognize the importance of non-sexual touch, cuddling and experiencing life together. Unlike any other relationship, their spouse is viewed as the one person in the world that they can be completely open and genuine with.
Physical intimacy does involve sex. Science has shown that there is a chemical bond that takes place with a sexually active couple. God designed sex and intends for it to be a vital and sustaining element within marriage. When sex is lacking, couples take on the personas of roommates, and the relationship deteriorates.
Effective and satisfying communication exists within a marriage when all three types of intimacy are solid. If you are struggling to communicate, ask yourself in which of these areas you might be falling short. Focus on what you can do yourself to improve here, don’t look to your spouse for change. As your intimacy grows, you’ll find your communication and overall satisfaction will follow.
If you want to learn more about these types of intimacy or discover how to focus on or improve them, watch for my upcoming book “The Essential Guide to Marriage Planning” due out in late 2019.