Whenever I speak at a shul or event I’m usually asked what I think are the vital aspects of good communication, and by implication, what makes for bad communication. When asked, I include five components of good communication.
Good communication in marriage is respectful.
In a healthy marriage couples avoid what I call “disrespectful judgments.” Sarcasm, ridicule, judgmental statements and accusations, and put downs fit into this category. Good communication avoids all such disrespect. This is another way of saying that good communication is qualitative. Just listen to couples talking to each other. Do you hear condescension or sarcastic responses to honest statements and questions? Do you hear one partner make fun of the other’s mispronunciations or poor grammar? Do you hear a spouse berating or criticizing the other’s choices or decisions? Do you hear one spouse trying to intimidate the other into submission? Do you observe eye-rolling in responses to honest thoughts from the other? Now, analyze the way you talk to your spouse? Is your communication respectful, or does it show grave disrespect?
Good communication in marriage is quantitative.
Most couples engage in meaningful conversation less than 15 minutes per week. Two-income families trying to enable the children to participate in every available recreational activity only makes a viable solution more difficult to discover. The problem is not insurmountable, however, as long as we take advantage of multi-tasking.
Good conversation can occur while participating in other activities. Talk while taking a walk, when working around the house together, when conducting family meetings, and while driving together to shul, the grocery store, or a shiur. Couples intent on quantitative as well as qualitative communication seize every possible moment to talk respectfully with one another.
Good communication in marriage is a two-way street.
While effective, respectful talking is essential to good communication, respectful listening is also vital. Bad communication begins with one spouse dominating the conversation, but the listener can also ensure bad communication. A lack of eye contact, negative facial gestures, or disengaged body language also stymies good communication.
Watch a couple at the airport or in the food court at a shopping mall talk to one another. Does one spouse dominate the conversation? Does he interrupt his spouse when she tries to get in a few words of self-defense or alternate viewpoint? Does the dominant voice refuse to really listen? If so, this conversation is not a two-way street and is doomed to be at best, poor communication.
Good communication in marriage probes for more insight.
No matter how well conceived and how well stated, most listeners fail to grasp the full meaning of the speaker, especially the subtle nuances. The only way to overcome the unnecessary miscues in conversation is to ask questions. To maintain good communication, however, the questions must be asked respectfully and courteously.
Responses like, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard; don’t you mean to say…?” probe but are incredibly disrespectful. On the other hand, an introductory statement to a question like “Please forgive my inability to keep up with you, but I need to ask a question about what you just said” is both probing and respectful.
Good communication in marriage is honest.
Any spouse who learns that his spouse lied about something wonders from then on if the truth is on the table when any issue arises. Tragically, lying brings long-term consequences that most spouses fail to consider before twisting the truth. Honesty, however, is not merely avoiding falsehood. Honesty also means that we refuse to avoid sharing information that our spouse has the right to know and would want to know. Why would we avoid sharing such information? Usually, we either fear judgment from our spouse if we admit our failings, or we fear hurting our spouse’s feelings.
Good communication in marriage does not hide, distort, or evade the truth from the other. But honest communication doesn’t necessitate cruelty just for the sake of honesty. Respectful honesty is the key phrase.
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is an expert in marriage, pre-marriage education, and working with teenagers at risk. He is the executive director of Shalom Task Force and maintains a private practice in Brooklyn. For an appointment or to watch his free video series on marriage and parenting, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com call 646-428-4723 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.