Conversations in marriage is what oxygen is to life. It is the lifeblood of a healthy and fulfilling marriage.

Conversations in marriage does not just help couples solve problems or share information to get things done. Meaningful and enriching couple conversations meet our emotional need for connection. It can also lead to new discoveries about how you and your spouse think and feel, fostering a sense of closeness and intimacy.

In the book Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am?, John Powell asserted there are 5 levels of communication that people interact with others. Each level represents the degree of willingness that people communicate about themselves to others. The higher the level, the deeper the connection and the greater the risk of vulnerability.

Level 1: Cliché Level
At this level, couples engage in casual interactions that reveal very little about each person. A marriage dialogue goes something like this:

  • “How was your day?”
  • “Great.”
  • “What happened at the office today?”
  • “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Level 2: Reporting the Facts
In marriage this is often about the tasks that need to get done. Examples are:

  • “We are running out of nappies.”
  • “I will be working from home for the coming week.”

Level 3: Sharing Opinions and Ideas
At this level, couples express opinions and ideas. Real intimacy begins at this level as couples take the risk of revealing more of themselves to their spouse.

Examples are:

  • “I prefer staying home this weekend instead of visiting your parents.”
  • “I think this venture is too risky for us to get involved.”

Level 4: Sharing Feelings and Emotions
At this level, couples share their true feelings about their partner, the relationship or a situation.

Conversations at this level may sound like this:

  • “I feel unloved when you ignored me.”
  • “I trust you, but I do not trust your friends. I am worried they will lead you into temptation if you hang out with them too often.”

Level 5: Complete Truthfulness
Sharing at this level happens when couples are emotionally attuned to each other and often reveal something that is deeply personal.

Whether you have been married for 2 years or 20 years, the conversations you and your spouse once shared were interesting and enjoyable for both of you. But things may have changed. Your daily conversations have become mundane or boring, often stuck at the levels of cliché and reporting facts, and everything you say to each other begin to sound the same.

Criticism in marriage often undermines a spouse’s self-esteem and confidence.

Obstacles to true intimacy

What could be the possible reasons hindering you and your spouse from moving to a deeper level of conversation?

1. Not making the effort to discover each other’s favourite topics
During the dating years, you put in effort to find out and talk about topics that your partner found interesting. Both of you could also talk for hours about mutual interests. Interests will change. If you have not kept up with each other’s changing interests, you will struggle to engage in meaningful conversations.

2. Using conversation to criticise and judge
There may have been instances where your spouse took the risk to share openly about his stance on an issue but was harshly criticised. Criticism in marriage often undermines a spouse’s self-esteem and confidence. It certainly ruins intimate conversation and often leaves you and your spouse talking about little more than the weather.

3. Insisting on your way of thinking
You and your spouse are likely to have different perspectives, goals or views about issues or solving a problem. When you spend too much energy and time trying to impose your point of view and are not receptive to listening to your spouse’s perspective, you put a roadblock to your quest for intimate conversation.

While there is nothing alarming or wrong when your communication with each other is mundane or routine from time to time, relating with each other at a transactional level for the long-term leaves your marriage vulnerable to unhealthy influences, for example, a third party.

Remember: If you are unable or unwilling to connect with your spouse through meaningful conversations, someone else will.

Conversation and intimacy builders

Want to enrich your conversations and build a strong marriage? Here are some ideas you can apply:

1. Plan ahead
Find out your spouse’s topics of interest and plan a date night to have a meaningful conversation. Plan it ahead of time because you or your spouse may not be in the best emotional state to engage in a deep topic that you’ve been thinking about all day. Preparing ahead of time also gives both of you sufficient time to get into the mindset to relate at a deeper level.

2. Make it safe to connect
Sharing one’s innermost thoughts or feelings, dreams or hopes for the future means opening oneself up to being ridiculed or judged. Thus, emotional safety is important if you want to engage in purposeful conversations with each other. Avoid judging, criticising or dismissing your spouse’s feelings even if you disagree with his or her viewpoints. If your spouse knows that you will guard his personal thoughts and protect them from your harsh judgements or criticisms, he will be more likely to reveal them in greater depth.

3. Balancing the conversation
Conversation is a two-way street and is meant to be interactive. Make sure that you and your spouse take turns to talk. Do not try talking over each other. When both of you ensure equal participation, it will make the conversation much more enjoyable and interesting.

4. Be a good listener
Make it your goal to listen to understand, instead of listening to respond. Ask your spouse clarifying or follow-up questions that allow you to truly understand how your spouse thinks and feels. However, do not bombard your spouse with questions that might come across as interrogating.

Good conversation starters to build intimacy

  • What do you think our lives will look like five years from now?

  • What is one activity that you have always wanted to do together?

  • What is the most important life lesson that you’ve learned so far?

  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?

  • What is one marriage advice that you would give to newly-weds?

Meaningful conversations with your spouse connect both of you are a deeper level and meet your emotional needs. Do not settle for a transactional level of communication; make the effort to relate at a deeper, more vulnerable level on a regular basis and you’ll be on your way to a thriving marriage.

© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Chan Swee Fen

Chan Swee Fen is an ordinary woman who desires to inspire others to make an extra-ordinary impact through her family life and life skills workshops, counselling training sessions and writing.

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