Lino and I met when we were still in high school. We started out as friends who met, by chance, in an internet chatroom. At first, we just enjoyed each other’s company and never dreamed we would someday wind up happily married. Yet, here we are, married over 10 years now. I won’t lie and say that everyday has been glitter, rainbows, and unicorns. There are days I’d love to just knock his block off his shoulders. I imagine I have my moments where he wishes the same. Yet, in any case, we wouldn’t have made it this far without a heavy focus on communication.
Communication is the absolute key to a successful marriage. Without it, your marriage will fail miserably. However, if you do it right, it can be a valuable tool to help your marriage flourish in the years to come.
Now, when I say communication, I don’t mean just flapping your trap. I mean using specific techniques and skills to improve your communication with one another. I’d like to share these communication strategies with you as they have been instrumental in keeping our relationship strong through the year.
So, actually, one of the best tips for communicating effectively has absolutely nothing to do with talking and everything to do with shutting the hell up. This means, letting the other person actually finish their sentence and you taking the time to hear the message before formulating your response. Not only will the other person feel validated and respected (SO important), but they will be more likely to respond in kind. Furthermore, it means you will have to stop formulating your answer before they are even done talking. Listen means listen.
2. Take Responsibility For Your Own Emotions
Taking responsibility for your own emotions means owning your thoughts and feelings. It also means sometimes having to re-phrase how you might say something. For example, a dialogue is going to go nowhere when you’re blaming them for *insert problem here.* The most common example is, “You make me so angry. If you wouldn’t do ‘x,’ then I wouldn’t have to nag you all the time (i.e. it’s your fault I am behaving irrationally).
Well guys, I hate to break it to you, but this is utter bologna. It’s so much more effective to own your emotions and sometimes that means using ‘I’ statements rather than ‘You’ statements: “I am so pissed off right now. Whenever ‘x’ happens, it makes me feel blah blah blah” you get the idea. (We can talk about how to appropriately respond to anger instead of nagging on another day).
The point is, when you stop pointing fingers, people stop getting defensive. When people are not on the defensive, people are more likely to actually listen to what you are trying to say.
3. Break The Script
So often when we are
arguing talking to one another we stop listening and start playing out the movie script of what the other person is going to say next. For example, the tired old fight about the dishes being loaded incorrectly starts out as:
“Oh look, another bowl is SITTING UPRIGHT IN THE TOP RACK!! WHY DO I ALWAYS HAVE TO FIX EVERYTHING FOR EVERYONE AROUND HERE??!!” (cue dirty looks, twitching eye, and shrieking)
Your spouse immediately thinks, Here we go again, following with some other (probably sarcastic, if it’s at my house) response and a complete shut down to any further dialogue. This is the same old argument with the same old lines and we all know what response is coming next. So, we stop listening and we let the script play out. Think about that one argument you always seem to have that never actually gets solved. Usually, you know exactly what words will start the fight and who is going to say ‘what’ next. It’s a movie script, and everyone involved is just waiting for the other one to stop talking so they can insert their ‘line.’
Well, what happens if we stop assuming what’s going to come next and actually listen to what the real message is (because let’s face it, it is never REALLY about the dishes in the end, amiright)? We may actually be able to hear what’s really bothering the other person and break out of the same old trope. Maybe, just maybe, we can end the movie on a positive note.
4. Check Yourself
If you are too angry to regulate your voice or behaviors, you are not in a space to have rational thought, much less solve any sort of issue appropriately. It’s absolutely okay to take a break and cool down before re-visiting the issue with your spouse. In our family, this has even extended to multiple days before someone is cooled off enough to discuss the matter without popping a blood vessel (mainly me).
The trick here is that you both must agree to let the other one have that time. Even if one person is ready to discuss it now, you must respect the other’s choice to say ‘not yet.’ Then, once both parties have cooled their jets, re-convene for the conversation. Rinse and repeat as needed.
5. Be Nice
Do not yell, curse, name call, criticize, or belittle one another. Be nice to one another. Nobody is going to treat you with respect if you cannot/will not show them the same courtesy. Also, it is unbelievable how much someone is willing to do for someone who treats them nicely. Think about it, if your spouse took two seconds to stop and tell you how much they appreciated the lunch you made for them, how would that make you feel? Sometimes it’s the small things like this that make the day so much better and your relationship so much stronger.
6. Be Clear
It is always better to be straightforward and clear when attempting to get your message across to another party. Nobody is able to read minds and nobody looks at every situation with the same perspective that you do. We tend to assume that everyone thinks the same way we do and this means we often rely on someone “getting the message” when we say something. We assume they will “get the hint.”
Make your life so much easier and just skip the hints. Be blunt and be clear as often as possible. “I feel like I’ve worked really hard to keep the house picked up this week and when you leave your shoes in the floor, I feel like it erases all my hard work” is so much better than, “You are so inconsiderate. I do everything around here and it’s like you don’t even care.”
If you aren’t clear, you are asking for your relationship to fail, simply because you will come to resent your partner when they “let you down” over and over again because they miss the hints your giving out. How can you ever resolve an issue when one party is completely in the dark?
7. Say ‘I Love You’
We often forget to mention these three little words, especially when life becomes overwhelming. In our family, we all know we love each other, but it feels so good to hear it out loud once in a while.
Communication is, hands down, one of the best skills I have ever learned to keep my marriage strong. Without it, Lino and I never would have made it for 4 years long distance, nor would we have both survived more than 10 years of marriage. While he and I are far from perfect, we work really hard to use these tips. On most days, I’d say we do a pretty good job of it, but there is always room for improvement. Even if you can only manage one of them, you will see a difference.
Do you and your spouse struggle to use good communication skills? What tip was most helpful for you? Did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments below!