While we were dating and early in our marriage, Steve and I talked for hours, sometimes late into the night. As the years passed, however, he backed off. When we did talk, we ended up arguing, or it seemed he kept conversations superficial. I often wondered, Why doesn't he talk to me anymore?
Then I discovered, through trial and error, that I was engaging in conversation-stoppers such as being a bad listener, a conversation hog, and at times, a nag. So I began a quest to encourage meaningful communication with my husband once again. Here's what I learned.
1. Listening requires zipping my lips.
"Honey, you never tell me how you feel," I repeatedly complained to Steve.
Finally, one day he started to. But as soon as he mentioned his first feeling about a family conflict, I blew it by blurting, "You shouldn't feel that way."
"That's why I don't tell you how I feel," he said.
I once saw a t-shirt that read: "I'm talking, and I can't shut up." I couldn't help but think, That's me.
The apostle James says we need to be "quick to listen, slow to speak" (James 1:19). When I put this advice into practice and don't make quick judgments or think about what I want to say next instead of listening to what he's saying now, Steve opens up more freely.
2. Letting him lead brings us closer.
My dissatisfaction with our communication came not so much from the fact that Steve didn't want to talk, but that he didn't talk about what I wanted to discuss. Often I'd muse mournfully, My girlfriends think what I say is interesting; why doesn't my husband?
He doesn't because he's not one of my girlfriends. Steve just can't get excited over hearing about people he doesn't know or about what happened at my women's Bible study like my girlfriends can.
But I still wanted to talk with him! In Ephesians 5:21, Paul says we're to "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." For me, part of that submission means I adopt a "What do you want to talk about?" attitude. For instance, Steve loves sports. While I usually find sports boring, I love people, so I read about athletes and tell Steve about what I've read.
He also enjoys reading the newspaper, so I try to read it as often as I can. We discuss the stories, which often leads to conversations about how they relate to our lives.
I've also learned to let Steve decide when and where he wants to talk. While I crave face-to-face, intimate conversations, often he talks while he's doing tasks around the house or while we're on errands together. I've learned to say "yes" when he asks, "How would you like to help me with the yard work?" or "Will you go with me to the store?" because I know the task will also include conversation.