Saturday, November 5, 2022

The Gift of Dialogue (and how my marriage benefits from it)

I remember sitting in the darkened basement with my family and my fiancĂ© as we prepared for a movie night. Soon, My Favorite Wife began. For years, my family and I had regularly watched and enjoyed this classic movie. However, this was the first time I was watching the movie as an engaged woman. Seeing the humorous antics of Cary Grant's character (who discovers that he is accidentally married to two women at once) as I was preparing for marriage was not what I expected. 

In the beginning of the movie, Nick (played by Cary Grant) gets married for the second time. His first wife had been reported dead when, seven years ago, she was on a foreign expedition. Yet, all these years later, just after marrying another woman, Nick discovers that his first wife is alive and has returned to be with him. Thus ensues a series of misadventures as Nick awkwardly tries to figure out how he'll break the news to his second wife. Cary Grant really builds up the humor of the situation. Yet, as my soon-to-be-husband and I sat there, I thought about how poor communication is billed as funny only when it is fiction. 

It's the basis for countless comedies out there, but in reality, a lack of communication is no joke. 

What husband or wife actually thinks it is funny if his or her spouse does not communicate effectively--or even lies? I'm sure we've all seen relationships suffer when there is poor communication. While a communication breakdown (in addition to other factors) can lead to divorce, estrangement, and visibly broken families, it can also impact those families who--from all outward appearances--are stable and have "good" relationships with each other. 

Hidden from the public's view there live biting words, snippy comments, and simmering tension from unaddressed concerns. Poor communication can slowly hammer away at a couple's unity, pushing them further apart from each other. This, in turn, trickles down to their children. Not only are children affected by their parents' problems and tension, but they do not see and learn what good communication consists of. 

Couples need to cultivate healthy communication together, both for themselves and for their kids. 

Back in 2016, I wrote about communication when my husband and I were a few years into marriage. We are now nine years into marriage and have four delightful children (ranging in age from newborn to six years old). Healthy communication is a never-ending journey for us. We have grown a lot in cultivating clear, unitive communication as a couple, but we continue to learn and grow. 

For example, in November 2020, my husband and I drove eleven hours to have a one-hour conversation.

We drove those eleven hours to attend a beautiful, weeklong retreat as a family. But God knew (as he always does) what we really needed: that we needed to be covered in extra graces from being on retreat to have a very specific dialogue together. While I've noticed many good fruits from that retreat in 2020, our conversation on that one day—when we ignored the day's schedule and kept pouring out our hearts to each other—is a true highlight for me. Even though my husband and I are very open with each other, somehow there was one particular issue that we hadn’t discussed…and we needed to.

There will always be another way that we can grow closer together in our communication, love, and intimacy. That's okay. Marriage is a beautiful sacrament, and it's a tremendous journey: an adventure of a lifetime. I cannot claim to be an expert on marriage or communication (as I noted, my husband and I are still growing and learning ourselves), but there's one particular practice that has been incredibly beneficial to our relationship: a monthly couple dialogue. 

When we attended our first Domestic Church retreat in 2018, we learned about the practice of Couple Dialogue. 

Put simply, a couple dialogue is a three-way conversation between the husband, wife, and God. It takes place during a time that has been set apart and marked on the calendar for this purpose. Some couple dialogues only last an hour, and sometimes they hover around the two-hour mark (and some couples go even longer!). This conversation, rooted in prayer, is a time when we regularly discuss different topics and concerns that have come up in our marriage and family life. 

We bring up whatever has been on our hearts and minds, as well as some specific areas: how we are doing individually and as a couple (physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally), how our Rule of Life is going (and if we need to modify or change it), and any concerns or needs we need to consider regarding our children. There are many other things that we can (and do) talk about, but these are some of the basic, general categories that our discussion often falls into.  

Having a monthly couple dialogue is not a complicated concept. It's a very simple idea, but we never really did it until the retreat we attended in 2018. While couples may have serious, prayerful conversations when they are going through a particular challenge or discerning a big life change (moving to a new area or switching jobs), having this conversation each month may not be something they think about. Yet, that regularity is a huge gift.

Since the couple dialogue is put on the calendar, we know when it is coming, and we can prepare for it. We pray in the days leading up to the dialogue and think about the topics that we need to discuss. When the time comes for our dialogue, we make sure that we are alone (often, we do this as soon as we put the kids to bed; other couples find childcare for their kids). We open in prayer and then begin our discussion, bringing up topics one at a time. We share openly, honestly, and allow time for prayerful silence. We’ve had couple dialogues that are very straightforward, simple, and easy, and we’ve had dialogues that probe some difficult areas. Multiple times, I have noticed that the prayerful atmosphere in the dialogues has held us in deep unity and peace.

We've been having monthly couple dialogues for over four years now, and it's beautiful for me to observe how we have grown--and continue to grow--as a couple. While we make a point to communicate with each other each day, setting aside an hour or two each month for an in-depth dialogue has been incredibly beneficial as we grow in unity and love. 

There's a lot I could say about having monthly couple dialogues (in fact, the Domestic Church movement has a twenty-six-page document that dives into specific areas and concerns of couple dialogues). However, especially if a couple is not used to this practice, I think it's important to keep things simple:  

--Put a dialogue on the calendar when you can be alone as a couple (aside from tiny babies). 

--Pray before, during, and after your conversation together. 

--Calmly, honestly, and vulnerably discuss your marriage and life as a couple. 

(While it's good to discuss how we help our kids, it's very easy for married couples to only talk about issues surrounding their kids and never discuss their marriage. If you want to help your kids thrive, you need to focus on your marriage.)

The next month, repeat this practice. Again and again, even when it's uncomfortable, hard, or awkward, make a point to show up for God and for each other...even when life gets busy (especially when life gets busy). Our culture is breaking apart in countless areas (the family being one of them), and we can't magically solve the world's problems. But, we can actively work on growing in unity as married couples, and cultivating healthy, open communication with each other and God. So, let's get to work. 

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