I once heard a story about a retired business executive and his wife. One evening, the wife called friends to ask what they were doing.

"Oh," said the other wife, "we’re just talking and drinking tea."

The executive’s wife hung up the phone. "They’re drinking tea and talking," she told her husband. "Why don’t we ever do that?" The executive said, "So, make us some tea." Soon they sat with their freshly brewed tea, stirring the tea and staring at each other. And stirring. And staring.

"Call them back," the executive barked, "and find out what they’re talking about!"

Many husbands and wives may find that this older couple’s dilemma sounds far too familiar.

Good communication is the lifeblood of a successful marriage, so when spouses stop talking at a deep level, their marriages slowly begin to die. After all, a marriage will only be as good as a couple’s communication.

One of the more sinister reasons husbands and wives quit communicating is that they "administrate" marriage almost to death. They’re often caught in a destructive pattern where they spend their limited time together talking about work, the budget, children, chores and so on. The conversations become "transactional." Certainly there’s a need to discuss household management, but couples cannot allow "business meetings" to dominate their conversations.

Administration meetings often lead to arguments, and couples become trained to think that "talking" will lead to conflict and disconnection. The problem is that husbands and wives unintentionally condition each other to feel that it’s neither fun nor safe to engage in conversation. So they stop talking.

The key to positive communication is found in knowing and being known. This means that you’re interested in and curious about this person you married. Listen when your spouse talks. Ask open-ended questions. Your spouse desperately wants to be known.

The other side of that coin is to let your spouse know what’s going on in your life. Volunteer information about your deepest thoughts, beliefs, feelings, hopes and desires.

Good communication requires an active effort, but you can build a strong marriage if you offer to both know and be known.

© 2014 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. From focusonthefamily.com.

Dr Greg Smalley

Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Family Ministries at Focus on the Family.

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