It’s Wednesday, the day when we always talk marriage! And today I want to talk about how to really get to know each other and stay close–even once you’re married. And it all starts with intentionally getting to deeper levels of communication.
Recently a reader from New Zealand sent me this question:
We have only been married just over a year and really loving it. I’ve noticed in some of your recent posts you’ve been covering when she doesn’t wanna and when he doesn’t wanna. This isn’t really applicable to us thanks to a great start to marriage (through God’s grace). But it’s making me wonder if all couples go through a season/period of distance with one another? If it is inevitable I’d really like some pointers from how to approach it from our end, from the beginning. How to spot it, when to have those conversations, when to get help, any prevention strategies etc. Because I’d like to continue having an awesome marriage and although I know we will (and have) face ups and downs, I’d like to have the best go at it that we possibly can.
First, Yes, every couple will go through seasons of distance–seasons when you don’t feel as close because of work schedules, the pressure of illness, busy-ness that can’t be avoided, etc.
It is NOT inevitable, though, that you will fall out of love or lose your libido. And much of it rests on being proactive, looking for key tips, like this reader is.
But it also comes from recognizing how to feel close. And that stems from understanding the different levels of communication.
Gary Smalley, in his book The Secrets of Lasting Love, says that there are five levels of communication:
Intimacy increases with each level.
When you hold the door open for someone, you tend to talk in CLICHES: “nice day, isn’t it?”
Many couples spend most of their time communicating at the level of FACTS: “Johnny has band practice tomorrow at 3 and someone has to pick him up at 4:30. Can you do that on the way home from work?”
OPINIONS isn’t that scary, either: “I just think that my new supervisor is out to get me. She never smiles and nothing I do is right!”
But it’s really in the FEELINGS and NEEDS that we become vulnerable.
“I’m scared that my boss is going to think that the supervisor is right. What if no one recognizes what I’m doing? I just feel so drained when I go to work now, and I’m not sure how much longer I can take this.”
“I want to feel like what I’m doing makes a difference. Lately it’s been so hard to get out of bed because I don’t know if anyone even notices my contributions. What if God is disappointed in me, too? I need to know that someone smiles over me.”
Now, think about how a marriage will be if all of the communication is at the FACTS level. The couple may talk a lot–but they don’t really know each other any better.
And sometimes we think that by sharing opinions we’re really opening up. But we’re not. Opinions are safe–it’s feelings that are vulnerable. It’s feelings that reveal what’s really going on inside of you.
The problem is that many couples never really learned how to live comfortably at levels 4 and 5. In fact, in the book Kiss Me Again, Barbara Wilson talks about how the level of emotional intimacy we’ve reached when we start to become sexually involved tends to be the level we’re stuck at–unless we take specific steps to overcome that. So couples who have sex early in their relationship end up substituting physical intimacy for emotional intimacy, and have a hard time progressing now into emotional vulnerability because they’ve done things backwards.
That’s one of the reasons that God wants us to wait for marriage to make love!
So some couples may never reach levels 4 and 5 to begin with, and others may have been there, but then seasons of busy-ness come and they start staying at facts and opinions. They don’t have time to become vulnerable.
It’s that sharing of vulnerability, though, that will help you feel close, and here’s why: there are very few people that we actually get down to communication levels 4 and 5 with.
And we tend to bond with those individuals. So you want to make sure that one of those people is your husband! If you’re not sharing at these levels with your husband, then it’s all too easy to get caught up in an emotional affair with someone else. Being vulnerable makes us feel close and increases intimacy–whether within marriage or outside of it. So make sure it’s within marriage!
I know, though, that many of you struggle with this.
You’d like to get to deeper levels of communication, but how do you just begin the conversation?
Hermann Kuschke developed an app called Dare2Share which can help guide you through the different levels of communication. He sent me some codes so that my assistant Tammy could try it with her husband and I could try it with mine, and I was really impressed. In the app there are over 200 conversation prompts that help you learn more about your spouse. (It’s also available for Android, but I’m a Mac person and don’t know where to find that link. But if you search for Dare2Share you’ll find it!)
He suggests beginning each conversation by getting a cup of coffee and sitting together–but you can go for a walk, too. Here are pics from the iPad version:
Then the conversation starts. Each “conversation” has 5 screens, or 5 parts to the question, that you talk to your spouse about. Everyday you share your day–so you do “card 1” everyday–and then you add more cards each time.
Card 1 starts with telling you to share, and then explains how:
Now at this point we’re only sharing our day, and chances are you’re still at the “facts” level. But as you get better, when you share your high point and your low point hopefully you’ll start to share feelings as well.
Then you move on to the next conversation prompts. These usually start with a personal experience from the app couple who wrote it, to set the stage, and then progress to the questions.
At the beginning of the app the questions are pretty basic–they’re focused on sharing facts and opinions, and they’re not that vulnerable.
But as you progress through the pages, you’ll be sharing more and more personal things, and you’ll find that you progress through the levels of communication so that you know each other even better. They even explain the levels of communication, too:
My assistant Tammy has been married to her husband Steeve for 23 years. He works in a counseling role, so he’s quite used to things like emotional intimacy. But they both found this challenging and enhancing anyway!
I think this is an excellent model. If you aren’t in the habit of really opening up, going straight to deeply personal questions about fears and dreams can feel fake–because it is. You can’t just jump to level 5. You have to do the work on earlier levels first, so that you have that foundation.
Sometimes we just don’t ask the right questions, and we just don’t know our spouses as well as we could.
I really believe that if we were more intentional about communicating at some of these deeper levels that even when the inevitable seasons of distance come, our marriages could withstand them. We’d still feel intimate and vulnerable with each other. But if all we’re doing is communicating facts and opinions–well, you can do that with anyone. And then what is going to make you want to be with your husband especially? What makes him stand out? Nothing.
So talk to your husband about trying the Dare2Share app, or something like it. Learn more about him–like what he wanted to be when he was 8; what was his worst nightmare; what happened after his first crush. Find out what his dreams and passions are; what things God has put on his heart. And share with him what God has put on yours. Feel close again–and then that’s sure to ignite the sexual side of your marriage, too!
In fact, that’s what Hermann suggests. Some of the exercises AFTER the conversations, as you get more vulnerable, are more sexual! But isn’t that what marriage and intimacy are all about?
Find out more about Dare2Share, or