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Good Times to Talk in Marriage – Readiness + Willingness = Great Conversation

Jan 25th, 2011 | By | Category: Family Coaching Center, [None]

“What happened? How did things go? What were the highlights? How do you feel about __________.”

For years in our marriage I was peppered with questions when I walked in the door from a long day of work or business trips.  Jill was anxious to “hear all about it”, but I was anything but ready to talk. I’m an introvert who needs time to recover from being with people. After hours of “being on” at work, listening, talking on the phone, writing in charts about conversations with clients, etc. I would collapse through the door of our home like an exhausted marathon runner collapses across the finish line.  And like the runner, I needed water, food and time to rest before being ready to do or say much else.

Thankfully, we’ve come to an understanding about how to meet each other’s needs. She needs to “hear all about it”, and I need time to recover before “talking about it”.  I’m willing, but sometimes I’m just not ready.  Sound familiar?

“Honey, I promise. When I’m ready to talk, you’ll be the first one I talk to.” After enough times keeping this promise, she trusts me.  But still, its give and take; sometimes I push myself to share before I’m completely ready in order to honor her desire to hear my heart. And sometimes she restrains herself from asking because she knows that it will all eventually come out as long as she gives me time and space to share.

A conversation at 3am last night was the impetus for this article. “So, you’re finally ready to talk”, she said after I’d rattled on for a half-hour with new information about conversations and happenings in our ministry while she’d been away visiting our daughter and granddaughter for three days. “I was ready when you came home, but you needed to share about your trip”, I said. “I’ve hijacked enough conversations to make them about what I wanted to talk about” I continued, “I was trying to love you by listening.”  “I get that” Jill said.  “And I felt your care. Thank you. I was surprised that I shared so much in so much detail, but it was good, and I appreciate your effort.”

As one of our friends says, “Marriage works best when you don’t try to occupy the same territory at the same time.”  Two people fighting for the chance to be heard won’t hear each other very well. It’s like a group of Christians praying out loud at the same time.  You hear a few words here and there, but you don’t really get the context and you don’t understand many details. For understanding, it’s better when one person talks at a time. That takes more time, but it’s worth it.

There simply aren’t shortcuts for clear communication that results in deep understanding and emotional connection and attachment. Nurturing a relationship takes time, and requires that we take turns. The practice of conversational generosity (sharing the opportunity to speak and to listen) increases the probability that a conversation will nurture the relationship.  It’s a way coaches build relational equity with clients and a way that couples can build equity with each other.

Recently a client confided a breakthrough in conversation with his wife. “You would have been really proud of me”, he said. “I listened pretty well. A few times I was tempted to talk, but I stayed quiet and she kept sharing. I heard things that I didn’t know, and that I wouldn’t have heard otherwise. In fact, I asked her if sometimes she hesitated to share with me because she was afraid of how I would respond, and she said yes. I guess this listening thing is something I really do need to keep working on.” Cool. I think his commitment to love his wife in this way is going to help them grow closer and to experience the feeling of love (pleasure) a bit more and more often.

Some of you like to see the communication process in a list of steps. Here you go:

  1. Recognize that closeness in relationships is partially a function of emotional openness (i.e., disclosure of our honest thoughts, feelings and desires).
  2. Have a conversation with yourself about what you would like (or need) to share. Begin with God (prayer, journaling, etc.). A close satisfying relationships is cultivated and sustained by intentionality in sharing and listening.
  3. Ask your spouse for time to talk. “When would be a good time? Can we meet for lunch/coffee? There are some things I’ve been thinking about that I would like to share with you. I’d like your opinion/feedback/understanding.  I want to nurture our relationship, and so I want to make time to share and to listen.”
  4. Have the conversation. Be clear about how much time you have so that you can both pace yourselves and both have opportunity to share. True, sometimes a conversation is lopsided, but over time in a relationship it’s important to balance listening and sharing.  Otherwise it becomes all about one person and that just isn’t healthy, mature or mutually satisfying.
  5. Use basic coaching skills – Be intentional about reflective listening and asking powerful (mostly open) questions.
  6. Debrief – After the conversation, take a step back to ask your marriage some questions. “What was good about the way we had that conversation? What did we learn about the process of communicating openly and honestly? Would we like to set a goal regarding these types of conversations?  What would our marriage say about that conversation, and what would it recommend we do for it in the future?”[1]

The fact that humans can think seven times faster (on average) than we can speak means that we have a boatload more of thoughts that go through our minds than we’ll probably ever get a chance to share. I don’t know about you, but I get kind of tired talking to myself, but at the same time, I’m not always willing to share. Sometimes I need to recover from a conversationally intense day. Sometimes I’m distracted by a need for food, exercise, rest, etc. And sometimes I’m wary about sharing because the person asking doesn’t have a good track record of listening very well. There really are a myriad of factors that affect whether or not we have a mutually satisfying conversation. But whether you’re my spouse, child, friend, etc., I want you to know that for the most part I’m willing to talk…but I just may not be ready.

Jeff and Jill Williams write and speak about Marriage Coaching.  Together they privately coach couples and train groups of couples that want to coach marriages through a series of tele-classes that are accessible for any couple (globally) with a phone and internet connection.  Write to or call 937-717-5591 for more information.

Copyright 2011 Jeffrey J. Williams | Grace & Truth Relationship Education | Springfield| OH | 45503

[1] The foundational concept important for couple’s to grasp if they are to effectively coach their own marriage is that the marriage is an entity that is above and beyond the two individuals that comprise it. The marriage is the unique combination of two individuals that co-exists with the individuals and is served and nurtured by them through self-denial, submission, sacrifice and service; in a word, love.  When a couple coaches their own marriage, they take a step back to consider the unique entity of their marriage to ask themselves and each other, “If our marriage could speak (about ___), what would it say?”



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