| Family Reflections |

The Sound of Love

Even discussing technical issues can build your relationship


IN family life, there’s lots to do. There’s a loving way and there’s a business-like way.  “Okay, it’s time to put away the toys.” “Get your homework sheets out now.” “Close the books now; it’s time to go to sleep.” “Everyone up, please; it’s already late.” A parent can bark orders — or even just utter them — all day long. And while this may be efficient, helping to get things done, it does nothing to build the relationship. The difference between conveying love and simply directing behavior is like the difference between eating food and living on intravenous nutrition. Yes, an IV can sustain a person’s life, but there’s no joy, satisfaction, or pleasure. Without the language of emotion in family life, there’s efficiency, but the connection is missing.

Wife: “Honey, dinner’s on the table. Are you coming?”

Husband: “I’m busy. I’m doing the taxes.”

No hostility and no bad intentions. No love either. This wife feels as if a cold bucket of water has just been dropped on her head. The facts were delivered, but the love was not.

Wife: “Honey, dinner’s on the table. Are you coming?”

Husband: “Oh, I’d love to, sweetheart, but I’m still in the middle of the taxes. I’m so sorry. Do you want to start without me? I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

The wife may be disappointed that her spouse isn’t going to enjoy the fresh, hot meal she prepared, but she can feel the regret and concern for her in his communication, and this softens the blow.

How did he convey all this?

He sacrificed brevity (getting right to the point) for a more nuanced communication that explained the situation more fully.

He used emotion-laden words within the communication itself such as “love,” “sweetheart,” and “sorry.”

He expressed concern for the impact of his behavior on his wife, thereby forging connection.

When negotiating everyday family issues, spouses can communicate just the facts or they can communicate affection, care, and concern. Their choice creates their marriage.

Serve Warm

Wife: “I hope you took care of the telephone bill.”

Husband: “It’s on my schedule for today.”

By adding affection, respect, humor, and other warmer elements, the couple can get their bills paid (tending to the business of marriage) while creating a warm and loving relationship.

Wife: “Hey, hon, I know you’ve been really busy lately, but did you manage to take care of that phone bill?”

Husband: “Thanks for the reminder, sweetie — I have it on the top of my schedule. I’ll let you know when it’s done so you don’t have to worry about it.”

Same Bill. Different Marriage.

There are also conversational strategies that create a friendly feeling without relying on emotional expression. Asking questions (instead of issuing declarative statements) is one such strategy. A husband can say, “I don’t want a cleaning lady here when I get home.”

Or he can ask, “Honey, I know you need Matilda here, but is there any way you could have her leave before I get home?” The statement builds distance while the question builds connection.

Using introductive, tentative phrases like, “Would it be okay if...” or “I was wondering” can go a long way as well. A gentle tone and a kind smile can shift the nature of daily conversation. Finally, peppering business matters with affectionate names such as “honey” or “sweetheart” turns the “business relationship” into a marital relationship.

Modeling Love

If your own partner is brusque more often than you’d prefer, it doesn’t mean love isn’t there. In fact, your spouse may be devoted, invested, and loving. The business-like tone may just stem from a lack of awareness of the impact of communication style. If you’d like your spouse to become aware of that impact, apply all the rules of relationship-building communication yourself.

“Sweetie, I know you love me, but when you answer like that — just giving me the cold hard facts — it hurts my feelings, even though I wish it wouldn’t. Do you think it might be possible for you to just add a few kind words? Like, instead of saying, ‘I’m going out,’ maybe try, ‘Hey, sweetheart, I have to run to the hardware store. I’ll be back soon!’”

And, of course, your own loving communication style might eventually spread to your spouse!


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 797)

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