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Good Communication Comes Down to These Two Things

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March 27, 2022 | by Rabbi Dr. Yosef Lynn

Timing and delivery are the two fundamentals of communication.

When it comes to marriage, communication is everything, and the most important part of that everything is the skill to communicate about differences.

Two different people coming together to collaborate on all areas of life means that there will be differences! The main question is: do I have the “tools” to navigate those differences? Couples who can navigate these differences in a healthy manner reach a state of closeness that is truly epic. It is often through the healthy navigating of these difficult conversations that the greatest closeness can be achieved. The opposite is true as well. (And these tools are applicable in all areas of life.)

All communication comes down to two things: timing and delivery.1 Let’s explore these two areas.

1. TIMING

Urgency

One of the biggest mistakes we make in marriage is we think that the conversation needs to happen now! Although we have a loving and positive relationship, now I need to talk about something I feel should change. This is the enemy called urgency. It’s the feeling that overcomes us when we think that everything has to be discussed right now.

Urgency can be an enemy. It’s the feeling that overcomes us when we think that everything has to be discussed right now.

The irony is that when it comes to changing ourselves, we usually need time. We ask for the patience of our spouse. Don’t rush me. I’ll get to it. It’s complicated. But when it comes to something I want my spouse to change or I feel needs to be discussed, it must happen now!

From my experience coaching couples I have found that rarely does a problem demand urgent attention. Urgency is driven by our own heat and emotion and level of upset. It usually has little correlation to the actual timing of when something needs to be said. Of course, there are exceptions where outcomes may vary greatly if we don’t correct something in the moment (“Honey, I think you should move out of the way of the oncoming bus”), but, more often than not, the anger and upset and volume that accompany the urgency will offset any positive impact of the conversation.

Is now the right time?

So ask yourself: Does this need to be spoken about now? 99% of the time, the answer will be no.

What is the right time? Make sure that it’s when you both have the headspace for the conversation. That means not during work hours, when the kids are around, or when one of you is tired or not feeling well. Find the right moment, whether it is a day or even a week later.

So many things that drive us mad in the moment later appear as small inconveniences amidst an overall happy marriage.

Moreover, the longer you wait and allow your emotions to cool, the clearer and more precise you’ll be in discussing the point you want to raise. Even better, the longer you wait, the more likely you’ll realize that you can actually live with that thing that was driving you up the wall just a few days earlier. So many things that drive us mad in the moment later appear as small inconveniences amidst an overall happy marriage. Time tends to relieve us of the need for the tough conversation altogether.

Does it even need to be said?

Great, now several days have elapsed. I passed the initial tests and didn’t explode immediately, and I’ve waited for a moment of peace and positivity to bring up my issue. Here are the key questions to ask myself in preparation:

  • Am I speaking with an enemy, or with my partner in creating a happy marriage and loving family?
  • Am I sensitive to the fact that this criticism might make him feel broken, all in the name of my desire to see change?
  • Will I be implying in a subtle way that I’m basically fine, and only she has a failing?
  • Do I appear oblivious to the fact that he may be confronting and working on other issues in his life, and that this particular gripe, though justifiable, may be too much to add to the mix right now?
  • Could it be that what he did was just a normal human mistake, rather than an indication of some profoundly negative trend or trait which needs to be addressed before it spins out of control?
  • Is this thing really her issue alone, or is it possible that I’m also partly to blame?

2. DELIVERY

How should I say it?

I might get the timing right, but delivery is everything!

Once all of the preceding boxes have been checked (it really is something that has to be said, I’ve waited a week, we’ve got positive energy), how do I make sure that I say it in the right way?

When communicating, it is important to assess:

  • Body language: non-aggressive, soft. Hold his hand and look into his eyes.
  • Tone of voice: as warm and understanding as possible (the opposite of harsh or condescending).

Based on a study performed in the 1960s, people began to espouse the statistic that less than 8% of our communication are the words we say. While this statistic is not quite accurate, the study did serve to highlight the great role played by the non-verbal elements of our communication. All of us have experienced the scenario of someone “saying” one thing – while every other part of them is “saying” something else.

Let’s move now from how I say to what I say. Here are the key components that will help my words be heard:

  • Treat him like an equal partner in a great endeavor, not an employee or child.
  • Show understanding, care, and empathy. “I also find it so hard to...”, “I know how much you are putting into this, and it’s amazing.”
  • Make it “we.” “I think we both agree that we have to figure a way to discipline the kid without crushing him, so maybe we can both work harder to never yell at him.”
  • Show you’re there for her: “What can I do to help?” “I’m totally here for you.” “We’re in this together.”

Conclusion

If you are not yet able to approach your spouse in this way, then drop it for now.2 Your words won’t help, and they are much more likely to backfire. Make a rule for yourself: if I can’t check the box on both of these conditions of communication – timing and delivery – then it is not the right time to have the conversation.

The husband and wife who rise to the challenge will find that the most incredible thing happens: you become closer to your spouse in the process. Working as a team through a problem, even though it was originally identified by one of you as a lack or fault in the other that you felt needed attention, can create a powerful feeling of unity and love.

  1. Rav Wolbe zt'l, in זריעה ובנין בחינוך, shows how these two primary elements of communication are essential in the chinuch of our children. They are equally important in all major areas of our life, including marriage and work.
  2. I am aware that a person who doesn't yet have these skills of communication is also likely not going to have the ability to simply "drop it for now." His strong emotions will brew inside of him and fester, and cause more friction in the relationship. Learning how to "drop it for now" without remaining upset and frustrated is the topic of another discussion.


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