How to Serve Your Spouse a Communication Sandwich

A communication sandwich allows you to share what you’d like to see changed in a way that doesn’t put your spouse on the defensive. Here’s how you can use it.

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Sometimes, my husband, Ted dons a royal blue T-shirt that reads: Cool story, Babe … now make me a sandwich.

Many of you just laughed as you read that. I know you did.

Others, however, cringed, wondering why on earth I’d admit my husband owns such a shirt. Let alone, actually wears it … in public, nonetheless. After all, couldn’t it be interpreted as dismissive and disrespectful to me as his wife?

Perhaps. But to all of you cringers, let me say this: When it comes to sandwich shirts at our house, context is king. So let me give you a little background.

We were first introduced to this piece of clothing on a Sunday morning at the church we call “home.” One of our pastors was teaching on how husbands and wives communicate differently. To add some silliness to his message, he decided to randomly give away this shirt to one husband in the congregation.

Right about now you’re probably assuming that “lucky” man was Ted. And considering that I just told you he owns this shirt, that seems like the obvious conclusion, right? Wrong. But you’re close. It was the man seated directly to our right.

Here’s where things get interesting. I’m the kind of wife who laughs at this shirt … which I’ll tell you the why behind soon … this man’s wife wasn’t. Her face said it all.

There was no way her man was leaving the sanctuary shirt in hand. And, in the near-to-nothing chance that he did make it to the car with it, wearing it was out of the question. Uh-uh. Not this guy. No way. No how.

When the service dismissed, I can’t say I was all that surprised to see the shirt left behind. Abandoned. At least momentarily.

Enter Ted from stage left … or, for all you non-theater people, two seats away. He quickly snatched up the shirt. And me, well, I nodded in approval.

You see, when we read the phrase “make me a sandwich,” we immediately thought of one of our favorite communication techniques. Yep, that would be the Communication Sandwich. For us, this royal blue T-shirt instantly became an inside joke.

So what exactly is a communication sandwich and how can you make one of your own?

Why Sandwiching Your Words Helps

The Communication Sandwich is the practice of using praise and affirmation to sandwich criticism. Much like you’d place liverwurst between two slices of freshly-baked rye bread.

I don’t know about you and your spouse, but Ted and I both swallow criticism better when we know that the other also recognizes and appreciates what we’re doing well, too.

A communication sandwich allows you to share what you’d like to see changed in a way that doesn’t put your spouse on the defensive. Here’s a shortened example I’ve used with Ted when it comes to his love for sleeping in, which I talk about in detail in my book, Team Us.

How to Sandwich Your Words

Praise

I appreciate how hard you work. I realize that sleeping in helps you relax. I know that’s important…

Criticism

The thing is, I’ve been feeling like it’s getting in the way of our time together. Do you think we could reexamine your sleep schedule?…

Praise

I’m really looking forward to figuring out a good balance. I can’t wait to spend more time with you.

How to Keep Your Words Constructive

It’s important that the criticism is constructive, not destructive. One way to keep it constructive is to use an “It’s Me” approach. This may bring to mind the clichéd breakup line, “It’s not you, it’s me…” But it’s not. Rather, it focuses on how we phrase our feelings in the midst of conflict.

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s helpful to verbally present an issue as about me and my feelings, not about what Ted may have done or what his motives might be. Placing the emphasis on my feelings, rather than on my accusations, helps keep his defenses from rising. And vice versa.

Need an example? Look back at the communication sandwich. Notice that I didn’t say, “You’d rather sleep in than spend time with me.” Instead, I stated, “I’ve been feeling like…”

Give a New Meaning to “Make Me a Sandwich”

The next time you hear the phrase, “Make me a sandwich,” maybe like Ted and me, you’ll laugh too. Why? Because, like us, your thoughts will turn to the Communication Sandwich and how it’s helpful in marriage.

How to Serve a Communication Sandwich to Your Spouse

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5 Simple Marriage Tools You Should Know

I talk about the Communication Sandwich, as well as other helpful marriage tools, in my free ebook 5 Simple Marriage Tools You Should Know. You can receive the book free when you subscribe to my email newsletter. Sign Up here.