Have you ever had a conversation with your spouse and it just didn't go well? Whatever issue or subject you started with was not even part of the discussion and you ended up having an intense and unproductive conversation instead?
Or how about this? You are rehearsing in your head how you imagine the conversation will go but when the conversation actually happens, the outcome is a total disaster.
Or, your spouse asks, “What's wrong?” and you say, “Nothing” because they should automatically know what they did wrong.
Here's my personal favorite: when my husband was talking to me—in conversation or conflict—I’m too busy trying to read his body language and assume I already know what he’s really thinking, not even listening to what he’s saying. I would often interrupt him because I thought my opinion was more important than his. Many times, I thought he didn't get what I was saying so I just kept talking.
I must say, in the first half of our marriage, most of the situations that negatively influenced our relationship stemmed from poor communication.
Today, as we have chosen to walk the road of recovery, here’s what we’ve learned: we had to unlearn negative communication behaviors and learn how to have a healthy conversation.
Looking back, I recognize how demeaning I was toward my husband, Ernie, sometimes talking to him as if he was a child. I often used sarcasm as a “nice way” to get back at him. If he had one complaint against me, I had two to throw back at him, and at the same time, I wondered why he wouldn't talk to me and share his feelings with me.
At times, I was so desperate for conversation—to know more about Ernie and his feelings—I would start an argument to make him mad and then he would explode, but at least I would know how he felt.
We have come a long way.
Learning to have healthy communication has not been easy for me. I had to become completely aware of my own thoughts and feelings. This was something I learned during counseling. Much of my communication was dictated by my low self-worth—how I saw myself and the painful or traumatic events that happened in my life. As a result, when it came to having a conversation with Ernie, they started off negatively because I had already assumed the outcome would not be good. My thoughts and feelings were speaking so loudly in the background of my mind and they were contributing to how I behaved and talked with him.
Most of the time, I needed to be right. I also felt like I couldn’t share my true feelings: I felt like I was being taken advantage of and that my feelings would be used against me—not that Ernie would do this or was even doing this at the time. My distorted thinking was coming from many of my childhood experiences, not what was actually happening in my marriage.
Honestly, I didn't think the way I was talking to Ernie was bad. I didn't cuss him out or yell or scream all the time, so in my mind, I wasn’t doing anything wrong. But this wasn’t true. I was looking at my outward behaviors but God was looking at my heart (1 Samuel 16:7b).
My new reality: in order to have a healthy intimate relationship with God and my husband, I needed to do some serious work on myself.
Proverbs 4:23 says,
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
This was the painful truth. At the time, I realized that I was expecting Ernie to fix what was broken in my heart. This was not his responsibility; it was mine.
Because it is my heart, and the Spirit of God lives in me, I invited God into my heart to do a miraculous surgery: mending my wounded heart and low self-worth, bringing to life the beauty of finding my identity in Christ. No longer seeing myself through the lens of my brokenness, but seeing the unique qualities God has created in me for His glory. Through God’s transformative work, I now see myself as an encourager, joyful, and hopeful. I am patient and understanding in healthy conversations. Today, this is what I bring to the table.
I’ve learned that if my identity is in Christ, I'm able to share and have conversations with my identity intact. I have no expectations for my husband to fix me or my situation. He is not responsible for my happiness. It is not his job to make me feel better about myself or my circumstance.
Early in our marriage, when we were focused on our expectations for each other, we were allowing our wounds to drive our feelings and reactions toward one another, not the truth of the situation. I call this the “No Good Cycle” because nothing good ever came from it.
Let me tell you how this “No Good Cycle” works. Picture this:
Ernie comes home with a major purchase and says, "Look what I bought for us!" I immediately feel invalidated and deceived. I react by explaining to him how he purposely didn’t tell me because I would have said no! And, if he would have shared with me before he made this purchase, I would have found a better deal.
My reaction causes my husband to feel misunderstood. He thought this was a good opportunity—one he couldn’t pass up—but now feels humiliated, disrespected, and shamed. He reacts by shutting down, being stubborn, and not budging from his choice.
As a result, when Ernie shuts down, I feel disconnected and rejected. I retreat to a negative mindset, which reinforces my negative beliefs about our relationship—thinking it is far worse than what it really is, causing me to withdraw from him.
Do you see where this is going? Right? Nowhere.
These feelings and reactions are what we brought into the marriage and they escalated because we didn’t know how to work on our own healing.
We had to learn how to break this “No Good Cycle” and how to create healthy communication. We needed to do some serious heart care.
We learned to individually address our own wounds and feelings and allow God to bring healing and care before we communicate with one another. This has been a hard assignment for me but so rewarding. Why was it so hard? Because I had to work on me and completely remove Ernie from the equation. Even if he's the causes of the conflict, it is still my responsibility, with God, to bring healing to my heart. This is what I learned about heart care—it first creates a safe place for me and God.
What does this look like? For me, I have a cozy sitting room with a water fountain where I listen to instrumental music, read my Bible, and journal. This is how I regularly care for my heart. This strengthens my ability develop healthy communication and stay in relationship with God and others.
As I’ve invested in my healing, here are a few things I’ve learned for creating healthy communication.
Healthy communication starts with developing a mindset for emotional awareness. Before having a conversation with my husband, I’m preparing myself. I ask myself, and answer, questions like:
What do I want to feel in this situation?
I want to feel validated. I want to know that my feelings and opinions matter before any decisions are made.
What can I do or what can Jesus and I do together?
What I could do right now is ask Jesus to help heal the hurt, apply His medicine (the Word of God).
I also recognize that my feelings of invalidation come from a pass wound; therefore, I don’t have to carry it and let it dictate the outcome.
I know that I am God's daughter: He loves me and is pleased with me.
I can forgive my husband and pray for him.
What is the truth about this situation?
I know the Word of God is the ultimate truth in this situation.
Let this hope burst forth within you, releasing a
continual joy. Don't give up in a time of trouble, but
commune with God at all times.
This scripture reminds me that God has given me a joyful spirit, reinforcing that even during times of trouble, I can stay hopeful and in prayer. Now I am ready to talk with my husband.
When anticipating a conversation, I write the message I want to communicate with Ernie. I want to share from my heart with the purpose of providing information. This is the heart care I’m talking about. I have no hidden agenda or motives. My intent is not to shame or blame. I want him to hear my heart, to get a true understanding of how I feel. My goal is to foster connection and intimacy. Not to fix, but to stay in relationship
When it comes to communication, we’ve both learned that heart care is a must before we can have heart talk. Then, when we invest in heart talk, it gives us an opportunity to partner in the marriage. This creates a win-win situation. After we have spent time in prayer and checked our heart, we can completely engage in heart talk.
Heart talk is a skill that takes time and intention. But it’s definitely a skill worth learning. Heart talk requires that only one person talks and the other person only listens. The talker will talk about their heart, how they have invested in heart care, and provide information only.
With the previous example in mind, here’s how healthy communication plays out:
When starting the conversation, I am the talker. I would tell Ernie that my heart felt invalidated when he purchased the expensive item without consulting me. I would also tell him that I took some time and God showed me how my feelings of invalidation come from my fear of being disregarded and abandoned. God has assured me that I will never be forsaken.
While I’m talking, Ernie is listening. Listening without taking it personally. Listening without interrupting, giving his opinion, or trying to fix the situation. He is listening to my heart.
After I’m done talking, Ernie summarizes what he heard me say. I will confirm that he’s heard me correctly by simply saying “yes” or clarifying if needed.
Then, we switch roles.
This is such a great way to validate each person in the relationship, reminding us that this is a partnership with a common goal: we are here to create a win-win situation, to build greater depth and intimacy in our relationship, reinforcing how the deeper we dive in, the closer we get to one another.
Now we are able to address the issue as a partnership, working together to solve the issue at hand.
How did it work out in our situation?
Because of our heart talk we decided that no matter how good of a deal this item was, we would not buy it until the other spouse was in agreement.
Remember, the issue is not more important than the relationship.
Healthy communication is creating a safe environment where both spouses feel vulnerable to share. It’s recognize that marriage is a partnership. It’s not about who's right or wrong but about a healthy intimate relationship.
We’ve learned that we are two different people, with two different personalities, different life experiences, different genders, different cultures, and different dreams. With all these differences, how can one person be right and the other person wrong? There is no right or wrong. It's just two different people coming together to create the oneness of God’s design. Together, we use our God-given uniqueness to create a winning plan for our relationship.
While this was a painful process for my pride, when I chose to surrender myself and my feelings to God, I was able to see the fullness of God’s purpose and plan for me and Ernie: for us to bring out the best in one another and glorify God through our marriage.
If you want to grow in your relationship as a couple—learn what it looks like to experience vulnerability and intimacy in communication—check out Connected. Together, learn how to cultivate a healthy relationship.
Jackie is a Regional Group Leader (RGL) for Pure Desire. She is also on the Pure Desire speaking team. She and her husband are group leaders at their church in Texas. Jackie is a Certified Pastoral Sex Addiction Specialist.