When I ask a couple why they have sought out a psychologist who works heavily in marriage counseling, a common response is, “We just don’t talk anymore!” Most often it is the wife who is voicing her frustration. When I turn in the husband’s direction I often see question marks written all over his face.
More than once I have seen a husband turn to his wife and say, “What do you mean we don’t talk? You talked all the way over here!” At that point I have heard many wives say something like this… “Yes we exchange words, but we don’t talk about what is really important!”
Research on communication typically highlights five levels of deepening communication. In marriage counseling I have found it helpful to collapse these five into two levels. I refer to them as “Head Talk” and “Heart Talk”. Every marriage needs both types in order to thrive.
What is “Head Talk?”
“Head Talk” is the day-to-day sharing of life…talking about who is going to do an errand after work. Who will pick up the kids after school? Perhaps there is a new restaurant that you would like to try. You just found out your sister is pregnant and you want to share the news. It might include the latest update on your favorite football team. Laughing together about a crazy joke you heard at work. It could be the latest report on your stocks. “Head Talk” is informative but it keeps you at a surface level. “Head Talk” is not earth shattering, but it is necessary in order to know that you both are on the same page about the practical details of everyday life.
What is “Heart Talk?”
In contrast, “Heart Talk” involves going deeper. “Heart Talk” happens when I am vulnerable about my feelings, my thoughts, my spiritual journey, and about the values and beliefs that are very important to me. “Heart Talk” even includes sharing my raw gut level intuitions that I haven’t fully defined. “Heart Talk” facilitates intimacy. It is as if for at least this moment we see into our spouse’s inner world.
Heart talk is to be treasured. It is sacred. You are spending this time pursuing your mate’s heart. What are they feeling? What anxieties are they facing? How can you support their concerns either through practical helps or through prayer?
You are creating a space that makes your spouse feel welcome.
You are intentionally entering your mate’s world. Your job is to linger and wait, to ask questions about the input they are offering to you. Don’t argue with them. These are their thoughts, their feelings, and their concerns. Be patient. This may be very foreign to your mate or to you. Perhaps it is even uncomfortable. Persist with grace and interest.
This is not the time to let your spouse know where they failed you. It is not a time to raise issues that need to be addressed in your day- to -day functioning. Don’t cross-examine your mate. Don’t tell them they are too emotional. Don’t negatively label them in any way. This kind of vulnerability can be scary.
Only curiosity needs to come from you. You genuinely want to know your spouse. They are not you and you are curious about who they are at this moment. Your only task is to understand. Avoid suggesting any solutions to their issues.
Instead do your best to put yourself in their shoes. Respond with empathy. Check with your partner to make certain that you truly get what they are trying to tell you. If a hug is appropriate, embrace each other. Your only purpose is to create a safe place in your marriage for your spouse to share the burdens on their heart.
God has made that kind of a safe place available to us.
Is that not one of the purposes of prayer? We enter His presence when we pray. When we do that, we don’t find an impatient, critical Father. We find a Savior who longs for us to share our concerns, our worries, and our confusions with Him. Love looks like that. Love listens. The greatest Lover of all time waits patiently and longs for us to share the deepest longings of our heart. Love creates space and gives grace. What if the “Heart Talk” in our marriage imitated God’s example?
In next week’s blog we will address how to raise issues that must be addressed. However, that is not the purpose of “Heart Talk” time.
The challenge in communication is to make time for both “Head Talk” and “Heart Talk”.
Back to the woman in the counseling office who said, “We just don’t talk anymore.” She couldn’t define what she was longing for. In reality she and her husband were talking. Yet her dissatisfaction stemmed from the fact that their communication was almost entirely “Head Talk”. Deep down what she really was longing for was “Heart Talk”. She was starved for some times when they could connect on a deeper level. Their relationship was heavy on “Head Talk” and light on “Heart Talk”. It involved no risk and frankly not even a lot of thought. It was devoid of tenderness and vulnerability.
I have also witnessed relationships that were imbalanced in the opposite direction. One spouse had the expectation that every conversation should always be at a deep, intense “Heart Talk” level. This kind of relationship is heavy on the “Heart Talk” and light on the “Head Talk”. It is devoid of lightness, fun, and friendship.
Often couples misunderstand the purpose of “Heart Talk” and negativity seems to permeate their every encounter. Often these deep conversations occur late at night when one of them can hardly keep their eyes open. This isn’t fair or effective.
None of us want our spouse to have an anxiety attack because of the fear of being confronted with another intense conversation when they return home.
In the name of communication, let’s not exhaust our mate.
Again the challenge in communication is to have both “Head Talk” and “Heart Talk” in your marriage. If your communication is mostly “Head Talk” either one or both of you will desire more depth. On the other hand if most of your communication is “Heart Talk” your relationship may be too intense and one of you may find reasons to avoid talking.
If “Heart Talk” has not been a regular part of your communication, here are some creative ideas that couples have used in order to make “Heart Talk” a reality.
- One couple schedules a “Heart Talk” time once a week or twice a month. Often they include snacks and beverages to make it a more enjoyable experience
- Another couple went out and bought a wooden heart. Whenever either of them felt the need for “Heart Talk” time, they would bring the wooden heart to their mate. That was their way of making it clear that they needed “Heart Talk” time.
- Another couple made an agreement that whenever they needed “Heart Talk” time they would put a Band-aid on their forehead and then approach each other. It usually made them laugh. An amazing moment happened when their seven- year old daughter put a bright pink Band-aid on her forehead one day after school as a sign that she needed to talk to her Mom.
WARNING: Any time that you approach your mate to request “Heart Talk” time, please ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” If it is not, schedule another time that will work for both of you. We want you to succeed at connecting effectively with your lover.
Our purpose is to foster “Head Talk”/Heart Talk moments on a weekly basis. We provide questions for the two of you to discuss around the theme for the week. We hope to encourage connection and conversation between the two of you. Let us know if we are succeeding.
Until the next Conscious Lover’s Blog…