What's the climate of your marriage?
Have you ever tried to ignore the weather?
My friend and I—both tennis junkies—once got a case of cabin fever in the middle of January in Michigan. On the first semi-sunny day, with the temperature just above freezing, we grabbed our rackets, snow shovels, and headed off to some outdoor courts. Except for looking extremely odd, our plan seemed to work—for a while. During one rally, a partially frozen ball slammed through the frigid strings of my racket. Game over. That day we learned a painful lesson: Mother Nature will not be ignored. The climate outside your door determines when and what activities you can do, from tennis to picnics to a trip to the beach. The same is true of the communication climate that surrounds our marriages. It’s possible to ignore for a while, but it will eventually compromise our ability to communicate with each other. A key step to improving communication with your spouse is to understand the overall climate of the relationship in which the communication takes place.
A key step to improving communication with your spouse is to understand the overall climate of the relationship in which the communication takes place.
A communication climate is the overarching sense of value and satisfaction individuals feel as they interact with each other and go about daily activities. While all marriages roughly engage in the same activities—dividing up household responsibilities, making ends meet, instructing and disciplining children, helping with endless homework, balancing work and home schedules, preparing for holidays, interacting with in-laws—the communication climate for each particular couple can greatly vary.
Some couples live in a climate that is perpetually chilly. They don’t argue with each other, yet there isn’t a sense of warmth or intimacy between them. They go about their daily routines and never really connect. Other couples exist in a climate that is stormy and filled with arguments. These couples can’t seem to agree on anything and talking about issues only seems to make matters worse. Others live in a climate that is partly cloudy where communication is fine so long as certain topics—finances, sex, schedules—are avoided. Like rain clouds, these topics hang over a marriage and threaten to disrupt intimacy if discussed. Then there are some couples we meet that seem to live in a state of never-ending sunshine. They seem to always be happy, affirming of one another, and never utter a harsh word toward each other. The key for each of these couples is to understand how their climates formed and what it takes to maintain or alter them.
The key for each of these couples is to understand how their climates formed and what it takes to maintain or alter them.
How you interact with your spouse on a daily basis is the single greatest factor that establishes the type of communication climate that surrounds your marriage. It isn’t “what we communicate about that shapes a relational climate,” note communication experts, “as much as how we speak and act toward one another.”
How can I assess the climate of my marriage?
Answering four simple questions will help you gauge your climate:
- “Do I feel acknowledged in my marriage?”
- “Generally, are my expectations being met?”
- Do I trust my spouse?”
- “Are we committed to each other?”
In following posts we’ll consider each of these questions in depth and learn how to create a positive climate for our marriages.
Tim Muehlhoff is a professor of communication at Biola University and author of several books, including I Beg to Differ and Marriage Forecasting. His most recent publication, Defending Your Marriage, speaks to spiritual warfare in marriage and how to equip yourself to defend your relationship. For the past 18 years, he and his wife, Noreen, have been frequent speakers at FamilyLife marriage conferences. Muehlhoff regularly writes and speaks for the Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships. Follow Dr. Muehlhoff on Twitter.