Communication and Problem Solving

In 1 Corinthians 7:28, Paul tells us, “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life” (NIV). Tackling those “troubles” is the work of marriage. Work that can be overwhelming! We’ve all heard the divorce statistics for our country:

  • Almost 50 percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce or separation
  • An estimated 40 percent of first marriages end in divorce  
  • Approximately 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce
  • An unfortunate 70 percent of third marriages end in divorce

40 years of counseling couples has shown me that it’s NOT that couples are unwilling to do the hard work. It’s that they haven’t been given the tools.

Greg Smalley et al, authors of “Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage: 12 Secrets for a Lifelong Romance,” tell us that there are four types of communication that are critical to a high-functioning relationship:

1. Informal Conversations – these are naturally occurring conversations that happen as we are getting ready in the morning, greeting one another at the end of our day, preparing meals, getting ready for bed, etc. These simple communications allow us to connect with one another, without requiring extensive energy or effort.

2. Administrative ‘Meetings’these communications often contain important information related to day-to-day routines and responsibilities. These Administrative Meeting conversations ensure that we are able to work smoothly together to accomplish our daily tasks and goals.

3. Challengesthe challenges that are addressed with these conversations may be fairly simple and concrete, having to do with the day-to-day management of home and family, or they may be more complicated and abstract, having to do with serious events, misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and/or other strong emotions and opinions.  Dr. Smalley tells us that it is during these critical conversations that “We need to use our best active-listening skills…” in order to recognize and acknowledge our partner’s experience.

According to Dr Smalley, “.. if all our conversations revolved around small talk, administration and conflict resolution, we’d get disinterested in talking to each other.” Hence, the fourth critical type of communication:

4. Life-Giving Conversations – these are the conversations that we had with our partner when we first met and were getting to know one another. They’re about our likes and dislikes, our goals and values, our past experiences and our future dreams. We are wholly present and interested in what our partner is sharing with us. According to Dr. Smalley, these conversations “… show your spouse that he or she is the most important person in your life and that you want to know everything there is to know.”

The first three types of conversations will serve to keep your home and family running smoothly, but the fourth type of conversation is critical to maintaining the intimate connection between you and your spouse.

Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author or co-author of several books, including “Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage.”

by Christine Muehlenweg, PhD