The Spousal Secret
6 ways to keep communication lines open and active
By Jeff Morrow
When your family is growing, the children are young, and you and your wife lead busy lives, finding the time to communicate with your spouse can be difficult. Any guest who has visited can tell you that our household is a hectic one. Mornings are rushed times of preparation not well-suited for conversation, followed by a workday that has me and my wife in separate places for the bulk of our waking hours. Unfortunately, the early evening is not a great time for communication either, as we navigate dinner with the kids and begin the bedtime routine.
Gone are the first 11 months of our marriage, when we had time to sit around, stretching out dinner and enjoying our time together.
The hectic bustle of life generally settles down for us around 8:00 p.m., with the kids in bed, but unfortunately my wife and I both have work to catch up on at that time – grading papers for me, work on a dissertation for her. With such a schedule, how do we try to keep the lines of communication open? Here are a few things that have worked for us:
Separated but not isolated. I text message and call my wife from work at least once each day. Typically the point of at least one of the phone calls in the afternoon is to find out how her day is going — and often to find out any immediate prayer intentions. I call my wife while walking to my car at the end of my school day, to let her know I’m on the way and to fill her in on anything really important that happened during my day.
Quantity, not just quality. When it comes to communication, it is a mistake to prioritize quality time over quantity time. It is better to have brief but frequent bedtime conversations than to avoid these discussions because they aren’t the quality we’d like. Likewise, it is better to have a date night of ordering out subs after the kids are in bed and watching a movie on Netflix than to forego date nights altogether because you can’t make it to Broadway.
Don’t forget the basics. There are many items that you may really need to communicate, like finances, household details and updates on the kids. It’s hard to keep a house and family running smoothly if one spouse is clueless about what’s going on at home. Sometimes it’s necessary to jot down a list for later conversation, send an immediate text, e-mail, or make a phone call. Spouses also need to communicate with each other about disciplinary policies for the kids to keep rules consistent. A family calendar can be a great way to keep all the schedules and special events straight.
Dealing with conflict. It is crucial to find positive ways to deal with conflict, especially since children learn from the way parents work through disagreements. First, we have to do our best not to criticize our wives in front of the kids, or undermine their authority (and wives must display the same courtesy). Second, we have to differentiate between what is an important disagreement, and what is merely a matter of personal preference.
My wife and I have disagreed about silly things, like how best to unload the dishwasher. Conflict over preferences offer opportunities to sacrifice for the other by giving in and accepting another point of view.
When it comes to conflicts over significant matters, however, we might need to quell an argument before it reaches the anger, resentment or yelling stage, particularly if the children are present. One spouse might suggest a plan for further reflection on the topic and schedule a time (without kids) to discuss possible solutions. If our children do catch us in a moment of frustration with each other, it is good to make up in front of them as quickly as possible, so they can witness the power of loving apologies.
Pray Together. In our plans to raise kids who are faithful and prayerful, we can sometimes overlook the most effective model – mommy and daddy praying together. For your own good and relationship, as well, you and your wife should set a time and a place to pray together to ask the Lord and the Blessed Mother for help. Place your needs in their hands, including fears and resentments, and unite your love with their love. You will never regret it.
Bring on the affection! One of the most important things husband and wife communicate is love for each other. Our wives need to know that we love them, and it is especially important for our children to see that their mother and father love each other and communicate in a loving way. We can show affection in so many ways: kind words, encouragement, laughter, spending time together, physical expressions like holding hands, gift giving, and acts of service. A consistent smile, a kind word, a gentle kiss of greeting, a good listening ear can go a long way toward building and cementing an affectionate marriage.
So don’t give up on spousal communication! A little extra effort can go a long way toward preventing a situation where husband and wife live in separate worlds, cut off from each others’ lives. You should strive to “outdo” one another in love, trust and understanding.
Jeffrey Morrow holds a doctorate from the University of Dayton (Ohio) and is Assistant Professor of Theology at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. He and his wife, Maria, have been welcoming their fourth child, due in October, for the past nine months.