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Help! It Seems Like We're Speaking Different Languages!

Dear CMR,

How do we manage mutual fulfillment in our marriage when key terms such as love, care, support, and communication are defined very differently between spouses? It often seems like we’re exchanging with different currencies with differing rates.


Speaking Different Languages

Dear Languages,

That is a great question! Communication is, at its essence, shared understanding. So it makes sense that, if you and your spouse have different understandings of key terms related to marriage, your communication will suffer.

Here’s an exercise I often use to help couples in my counseling practice bridge the communication gap. Try it and let me know what you think:

Working as individuals and without collaborating, write a list of aspirational statements about your marriage, as if they already were true. Don’t worry about what you think your spouse will write, or about what he or she may think about the content of your list.

For example, your list might include entries such as:

— As a couple, we pray daily
— We resolve conflict in ways that leave our relationship stronger
— We agree on the fundamentals of childrearing
— We are partners in ministry

After completing your individual lists, come together and share with each other what you wrote. Then, borrowing from both lists, come up with a third “joint list” of aspirational qualities on which you both can agree. As you do, take time to discuss and define what keywords mean to you.

In doing so, you’re creating what many counselors call a Marriage Vision. Read your list aloud together daily, taking turns saying each item on the list. Discuss which items you personally would like to grow in achieving. Also, express appreciation for items your spouse has been working to achieve. Each time you repeat this exercise, you’ll be reinforcing your own uniquely meaningful definition of important concepts, such as the ones you mentioned in your initial question: love, care, support, communication . . . and others, too. You’ll also begin to envision the marriage you both want to have―a key first step to turning what is (today) into what can be (tomorrow).


*The exercise mentioned above is adapted from Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples, by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D.