Best Communication Advice I've Received

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Every couple of months Jill and I have the chance to speak to about 100 couples who are preparing for marriage in the Catholic Church.  Different speakers come in to talk about pertinent issues for engaged couples - handling finances, sex, kids, etc..  We get to talk about “communication.”  

I’m not sure how we landed that topic, but I’m glad that we did.  It’s a golden opportunity to pass along the best bit of relationship advice that we’ve ever received: seek to understand before you seek to be understood.

Across fifteen years of marriage this one piece of advice has prevented hundreds of relational meltdowns and along the way given us thousands of tangible opportunities to love (the verb, not the feeling) each other. 

I would say a marriage is only as strong as it’s communication and I think strong communication between any two people, (especially married couples), is simply one person sharing and the other person listening.  And by listening I mean a concerted effort to understand what the other person is saying. Not just “not talking”, not just “not preparing a thoughtful response”, but focusing on the person’s words (and body language) in order to understand what they are trying to communicate.  

So, as a result more of your sentences (especially when talking with your husband or wife) should begin with: 

  • "If I’m understanding you right you are saying…"  or "if I am hearing you correctly you are saying…".  
  • And then once you repeat back to the person what you understand them to be saying, your second move shouldn’t necessarily be your response, but more questions to aid your understanding.  

Again this serves the goal: to seek understanding before seeking to be understood. Most of the time we take the opposite approach (seeking to be understood) and if two people are doing that at the same time, neither one gets their wish and both, if in an argument, are left more frustrated afterward than before.

While not fool-proof this approach will diffuse many arguments before they begin and if regularly applied could save a relationship years of frustration or resentment or even better, rescue it from it’s ultimate demise. 

Question: What’s the best piece of “communication” advice you have received?