By Cindi McMenamin, Crosswalk.com
Admit it. You wish your spouse was a mind reader. And yet what you say, the words you choose, and the tone you use, can all say something different than what you intended.
Rather than walk on eggshells while trying to communicate or saying what you feel and hoping for the best, I encourage you to default to the simplest, easiest way to communicate--especially to a male: Be direct.
When you are direct and say what you mean, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and misunderstanding. But being direct and effective also takes skill. Based on interviews with hundreds of couples over the years in order to write my books, When a Woman Inspires Her Husband and 12 Ways to Experience More with Your Husband, here are eight ways to be direct in your communication.
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1. Eliminate the Guesswork
Women are great at hinting, beating around the bush, or saying something “in so many words.” But to men, that is often akin to playing a game. Men want it straight.
Yet, shooting straight can come out wrong sometimes, so you need to not only be direct, you must do it with tact. You can do that when you learn to reframe your words so they are affirmative rather than accusatory.
Instead of saying “Are you going to wear that tonight?” try “I would love it if you wore that new blue shirt. It looks great on you.”
Instead of asking “Do you even want to be around me anymore?” try “I would love to see us spend quality time together so we can reignite the passion.” Half the time you may think you are being direct when you are still being a mystery.
If you get that “deer in the headlights” look from your spouse, it’s very possible they have no idea how to respond because they have no idea what you are trying to say. Make it easy for them by saying it as simple as possible and leaving the guesswork and creative interpretation out of it.
To say something simply and take out the guesswork, practice saying it to yourself. If you can’t understand it yourself, or it takes you too long to say it, it’s not direct.
2. Be Kind and Encouraging
Being direct in your communication doesn’t have to mean being blunt. In fact, when you are encouraging with your words, what you say will go a lot further.
Start by encouraging someone with what they’re doing right and you may find they are “all ears” for what may be coming next. To the contrary, if you start out with a complaint or accusation, they may become defensive, launch a counteroffensive, or close off toward you altogether.
Ephesians 4:29 provides wise counsel when it comes to direct communication: "Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (NLT). Think in terms of "I'm only going to say it if I can say it in a way that builds this person up.”
If you take this encouraging approach, you may notice how your relationship improves, and also how your spouse may appear to be listening more to you and even anticipating what comes out of your mouth next.
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3. Be Prayerful
There is nothing worse than being direct while speaking from your flesh, pride, or the desire to get something off of your chest. Venting to someone is not loving, nor is it effective. Saying something out of annoyance or irritation is self-serving, not helping another. So be prayed up before you talk directly to someone.
When you pray before you speak, even if it’s in the moment that you feel something needs to be said – you are taking the time to be thoughtful with your words, rather than impulsive. When you’re prayed up, you’re less likely to be sarcastic, offensive, or blunt.
4. Choose Your Words Carefully
How often do you and your spouse end up at odds because you said something (or he said something) that didn’t come out quite right? Words can be powerful or perilous. So choose yours carefully. We often have good intentions when we speak directly. But then we open our mouths and somehow, it all goes south.
That situation can be avoided when you are careful and thoughtful with your words.
If a word is loaded, and can possibly imply something you don’t intend, then skip it and choose a word that is better suited and more kind. We don’t get a second chance with words. When we want to take them back, it’s often too late.
James 1:19 instructs us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (NLT). And Proverbs 12:18 warns, “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (ESV).
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5. Exercise Good Timing
Choosing your timing is just as important as choosing your words. When your spouse walks through the door and is tired, hungry, stressed, or focused on cleaning up, eating, or relaxing, that is probably not the best time to hit them up with what just broke down, an unexpected expense, your child’s failing grade at school, or a relational issue you’re concerned about. Proverbs 15:23 says: “A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word!”
You can exercise good timing by asking your spouse when might be a good time to catch up with one another or address something that concerns the two of you. As a rule, make sure you don’t “dump” your concern on your spouse as a way of venting, whether it’s about your spouse or not. Timing is everything when it comes to communicating effectively and being heard.
6. Watch Your Body Language
After more than three decades of marriage, I’ve learned that even body language, tone, or volume of our voices can make the difference between uplifting or upsetting our spouses.
It used to be that my husband heard nothing I said (or heard it differently than it was intended) if I said it with my hands on my hips. (For me, it’s just a comfortable way to stand. To him, it says I’m assuming command of The USS Enterprise!)
Folding my arms in front of me is also not a good posture for healthy communication, I learned. Psychiatrists say it portrays a defensive stance or one of rebellion. Oops.
That means the best way to be direct, and avoid negative body language with your hands or posture, is to gently take your spouse’s hand in yours, look into their eyes, and say what needs to be said. When you are direct in that way you avoid misunderstanding of motive or mood or inference of an agenda.
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7. Control Your Tone and Volume
Sometimes when we say things directly they come out sarcastically. Sarcasm is never loving. It is never kind. And it always has a deeper cut than you may have intended. Sarcasm is the opposite of being direct; it hides a punch and an insult and sometimes reveals a hidden motive or wound within you.
I also used to think if I raised my voice, my point would be made more clearly. I’ve found the opposite is true. When I make an effort to talk softer, my husband gets quiet in order to hear what I’m saying. (This works especially well if you’re not one to normally keep the volume down.)
Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Be gentle and soft with both your words, tone, and your mannerisms and you may find your spouse’s ear is a little more tuned to your softer frequency.
8. Be Aware of the Minefield
Talking directly with someone can often be like navigating a minefield. You have no idea what words, phrases, body language, or tone of voice might trigger a wound and release a barrage of accusations, defenses, or arguments. We can be direct by acknowledging and preparing for possible inferences based on another’s wounds.
For example, saying “This has nothing to do with you, personally, but I think….” or “We both could use some help with this subject, so let me tell you what I’m going to do about it first.”
Granted, you may be dealing with someone who hears everything through a funnel of their unhealed wounds. If that’s the case, your words won’t help and you may want to pursue counseling so you can talk to one another through an experienced moderator who can teach you both skills for effectively communicating with one another.
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