Communication Skills to Increase Intimacy in Your Marriage
Avoiding the Blame Game
It seems that many of the couples I see in marriage counseling have a similar problem—they feel distant from their spouse and long for renewed intimacy and passion in their relationship. Despite heartfelt attempts to bond again, they seem to find themselves frustrated, confused, and hurting, unable to trust their spouse as they used to. In the first counseling session, I often hear, “please fix my spouse because they are the problem.” Ironically, the other spouse often has the same complaint. Once the blame game has begun, it can become a vicious cycle. More blame leads to increased feelings of resentment and distrust. Unfortunately, these couples tend to minimize their own contribution to the problem and do not take ownership for their own feelings.
To begin the healing and growth process, each partner must first own his or her feelings and recognize how they are contributing to the problem. Instead of pointing their finger at their spouse or trying to fix them, they must first make an honest evaluation of themselves. A good place to start would be asking questions such as, “In what ways have I contributed to the problem?” and “what changes can I make to move towards reconciliation?” or “how can I become the person God has called me to be?”
The well-known marriage expert and author Dr. John Gottman notes that turning toward your spouse instead of away from your spouse is key to long-term marriage success (Brittle, 2017). Turning toward vs. away simply means to respond positively to a bid for affection, attention, a request for help, an invitation to talk, or to spend time together. A bid can be a wink or smile, basically anything that is an invitation to draw closer. Overall, healthy couples stop playing the blame game, take responsibility for their emotions and are willing to introspect and take ownership over their part of the problem.
Empathy is Your Best Friend
Good communication is also vital if a couple wants to grow in intimacy with each other. Many couples believe that they are listening and communicating, when in reality they are just talking at each other instead of with each other. Often, the underlying emotional aspect of the communication is lost. In order for couples to bond, they must not only understand the content but the underlying emotions being communicated. They must not simply strive to understand what their spouse is thinking but also seek to understand their emotions. In my experience, understanding the emotion behind the words being spoken will be far more valuable to a marriage relationship.
One practical way to begin empathizing and to start connecting to one another is to use a communication skill called active listening (Prepare—Enrich, 2017). Active listening is an attempt to try to understand what is heard on a surface level as well as learning to grasp the deeper emotional meaning. To begin active listening, one spouse repeats the message of what they heard in their own words. In other words, active listening is reflecting back to their spouse the message that they just heard to make sure that they understood correctly. Active listening statements often begin with, “so what I hear you saying is….” and “what you are feeling right now is….” When couples feel like they are being listened to and understood, intimacy is increased.
In my opinion, most married couples want to feel close, connected, and bonded to each other. When this intimacy is lost, it is often difficult to understand how to repair the brokenness. However, growth and healing can begin by a willingness to avoid the blame game and accept personal responsibility. By turning toward your spouse instead of away, and learning to communicate in an empathetic way, your marriage will continue to improve.