How To Improve Communication In Marriage
The Importance of Communication
Communication is a vital component of a couple’s relationship. Why is it so important? When a couple can communicate well, they are empowered to understand and meet each other’s needs, effectively resolve conflict, and deepen and strengthen their relationship.
In this article, we will first address the common communication killers that are detrimental to communication between spouses. If these communication killers are present in your relationship, they can lead to arguments, hurt feelings, resentment and even the demise of the relationship. At this point, no amount of marriage help can rescue the relationship. So, first, we will explore communication killers that can sabotage your relationship. Then we will look at strategies to improve and build your communication. These are proven ways to eliminate communication killers. These are strategies that you might learn at a marriage seminar or retreat or in marriage counseling. Finally, we will examine some of the key factors that contribute to healthy communication.
· Poor Listening Skills
Perhaps you are familiar with the saying, “You have two ears and one mouth, so use them accordingly.” Lack of listening to each other is one of the most common, yet most destructive, detriments to communication. Listening is shutting your mouth and opening your ears long enough to learn your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. Did you catch that word, “learning”? Listen to learn. Most of us think that we know what our partner is going to say, jump to conclusions, and even interrupt them when they are speaking. Rather than feeling validated, our partner feels unheard, frustrated and resentful.
Do you ever find yourself finding the flaws in your spouse’s ideas, actions, or even their character? This critical spirit can wound your spouse and make them feel under attack. If you continue to belittle your spouse, you will create a hostile environment that will shut down heart-felt communication. Adopt the “love it for five minutes” practice. When your spouse proposes an idea or opinion, be positive and accepting of it for five minutes before
you express any contrary thoughts that you might have. Genuinely try to see all the good in what they have shared. Even if at first you don’t agree with what they have said, love the idea for five minutes. You spouse will feel heard and validated, even if you don’t agree. In addition, be constructive in your feedback and express your concerns respectfully and in a supportive manner.
Defensiveness is another sure-fire communication killer. What usually happens when one of you feels attacked or criticized is that you strike back, make excuses, or fix the blame on your partner. It takes a lot of self-awareness and control to listen to your spouse and their perspective without becoming defensive. Remember that you are on the same them and be open to what your spouse says, even if it is to help you see a character flaw or a correction that you need to make in your behavior. Good teammates speak the truth, but it is to help you and not to harm you.
When you or your partner shuts down emotionally, refuses to participate in conversation, and shows no interest or concern, that is known as stonewalling. When this happens, it is easy for the other person to feel ignored and even dismissed. As you can imagine, no communication is going to take place in that environment. It is critical to the relationship that a couple find ways to address stonewalling. This often requires professional marriage help or a marriage retreat in which the couple can drop the walls and reconnect.
· Lack of Empathy
Empathy is the ability to feel another’s feelings and enter into their emotions and experiences. It is a vital component of caring and communicating. If empathy is not present, distance and resentment will often develop. How can you cultivate empathy? By active listening, seeing your partner’s perspective and validating their emotions. You don’t have to understand their emotions to be present and caring.
The last communication killer in marriage that we will address is contempt. To be contemptuous is to express disdain for your partner. It involves feeling superior to them and expressing it both verbally and non-verbally. Signs of disdain are disgusted expressions, sarcasm, put-downs, insults, and even mockery. Nothing creates a toxic relationship environment like contempt for each other.
Overcoming these communication killers requires real intentionality and effort. As stated above, actively listening may be the most important skill because to do so requires empathy and respect for each other. Avoiding negative criticism, becoming defensive, and stonewalling are mandatory for a couple’s communication to flourish. And above all, contempt must be eliminated from a relationship if it is to be strong and mutually fulfilling.
Strategies for Improving Communication in Marriage
While it is important to recognize and deal with the communication killers mentioned above, couples wanting to maximize communication in their marriage must implement several effective strategies.
· Create a Safe Space
It is important for couples wanting to have honest and intimate communication to create a safe space in which to do so. This means a safe and non-judgmental climate in which both partners feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, feelings and concerns. Respect and trust are essential to creating a safe space and are the foundation for effective communication.
· Practice Active Listening
Yes, we are emphasizing this again! It cannot be emphasized enough. It is the cornerstoane of communication. Give your partner your full attention. Make and maintain eye contact. Provide verbal and non-verbal clues to let your partner know that you are engaged in the conversation. Don’t interrupt or plan your response while your partner is speaking. Listen to learn all that you can about your partner and their thoughts and feelings. Let them know that, while you might not always agree with them, you always value them and your relationship. Their words and feelings are important to you.
· Use “I” Statements
Another pre-requisite for effective communication is to use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. This will ensure that the speaker focuses on their own feelings, perspectives, and issues rather than blaming their partner. Using this proven technique will help to prevent defensiveness. It opens that way for open and constructive discussion. It is helpful for each partner to express how the issues make them feel personally. “My perspective is_____(fill in the blank) and it makes me feel _____(fill in the blank).
· Have Regular Check-Ins
Having a daily dyad is the recommendation of the Love Recon staff of coaches. A dyad is sitting down, facing one another, and maintaining eye contact. This will help you to really listen and hear what your spouse is saying. If you do this, you can address issues early on. This may prevent them from escalating and creating larger and more intense conflicts. Daily dialogue creates an atmosphere of openness and support for one another as well. Current personal challenges and feelings can be discussed as well as issues relating to the relationship and family.
· Practice Empathy
Empathy is “walking a mile in your partner’s moccasins”. It is feeling their emotions and putting yourself into their experiences. It is caring about their feelings and being willing to see things from their point of view. Women tend to be more empathetic, but not always.
· Seek Help
There are several ways that you can receive help from professionals in becoming excellent communicators in your marriage. Marriage seminars or marriage retreats are one source and are often held from two to four days in a location conducive to couples’ enrichment. Therapists, counselors, and relationship coaches are likewise helpful and usually see you for appointments at their office. Check out all the available marriage help and decide which would be best for you and your spouse. The staff of Love Recon would be happy to help.
Key Factors in Healthy Communication
In addition to recognizing communication killers and developing communication strategy, it is critical that you are also aware of the key factors in healthy communication.
“Timing is everything” may be an exaggeration, but not grossly so. Timing is a critical element of communication. Be careful to choose the right time and the right place to discuss topics that are important or sensitive. Don’t have difficult conversations when either or both of you are exhausted or stressed. And don’t attempt to engage in sensitive conversations when you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Do your best to have these conversations when you are clear-minded, alert, receptive and focused.
Nonverbal expressions can tell you as much or more than verbal communication. “Actions speak louder than words” is a true axiom. Pay close attention to your spouse and their non-verbal cues. These can include facial expressions, posture, tone and volume of voice, gestures, etc. You can read their emotions and feelings if you are aware of their non-verbals. And be sure that your own non-verbal communication matches what you are trying to communicate.
· Focus on the Win-Win
Problem solving and resolving conflict are two areas in which you want to center your conversation on the conflict or the issue and not on “winning” over your spouse. Avoid blame or criticism and focus on finding the solution together. Love Recon can provide you with the steps to conflict resolution that will help you to find a resolution that is a “win-win.” Brainstorming, and active listening, and compromise are part of the process. Finding the “win-win” through effective communication can help you move forward and strengthen your bond as a couple.
· Build Intimacy
Sexual Intimacy is not the only type of intimacy that a couple can enjoy. There are at least 5 different kinds of intimacy that, if nurtured and developed, will lead to deeper and deeper conversations and communication. They are:
1. Sexual Intimacy
2. Intellectual Intimacy
3. Spiritual Intimacy
4. Financial Intimacy
5. Experiential Intimacy
If you develop all of these types of intimacy, you will create opportunities for honest and open communication. You will have conversations about your needs and desires, your hopes dreams, and fears.
Patience is an important aspect of communication because communication requires time and effort. Taking time to understand one another is the beginning of patience. Don’t get frustrated too easily and give up! Become an “expert” on your spouse – their likes and dislikes, their personality, their learning style, etc. The more you know, the more effective your communication will become. Communication will improve over time if you will be patient and intentional.
In conclusion, while it is true that communication killers in a relationship are real killers to connection and happiness in a relationship, you can improve your communication by being proactive and intentional. It is possible to create a strong foundation for a fulfilling and successful marriage by employing the strategies described above and seeking professional help as needed. Remember to have patience and that good communication requires a continual effort and commitment, but it is worth it! You “get to” build stronger and deeper communication and love. You “get to.” You don’t “have to!”