Improving Marriage Communication
The number one reason couples seek counseling with me is to communicate better. I often hear partners say things like:
“We don’t communicate!”
“I am not much of a talker.”
“He doesn’t listen to my feelings. He only wants to fix them.”
“It’s really hard listening to her complain, bitch, bitch, bitch, all the time!”
“Every time we try to talk, I do all the talking, he just clams up.”
“Our communication breaks down easily and we end up yelling and screaming at each other.”
“We took a three hour trip together and hardly spoke the entire time, the silence is killing me.”
During conflict filled times, the usual communication patterns in a relationship can become even more strained, making the prospects of getting back on track, assuming you have been on a productive track, even more hopeless.
Communication between you and your partner form the foundation of your relationship.
The process of communication is how you communicate and the content or subject is what you are communicating about.
How you communicate is about how well you listen, your tone of voice, your non-verbal behavior like the look on your face and overall attitude. Just think about how you are when you are with a person you like versus someone you don’t like. I call this the “climate” between people. It is chilly and cold, hot and fiery, accepting and warm?
Examples of subjects are: dinner tonight, the children, your sex life, what to watch on TV. Some subjects are more highly charged than others: your in-laws or change in love-making, finances and money, parenting styles, while other subjects flow easily.
However if the process between two people is strained, as discussed above, easy subjects will even be hard to discuss or to reach agreement.
Learning to manage the communication process between you and your partner is vital to improving how to listen and learn to really talk to each other. Listening and validating each other is one of the one of the most important aspects of a relationship and one of the first to break down. We talk about the importance of listening to your kids. Your partner is just as important!
What happens when you are heard?
I believe that no matter how much or little you talk, being heard and understood just feels good. When someone is able to jump into your shoes and try to understand life from your perspective, this is called empathy. I believe that empathy forms the basis of love in a relationship.
Wow! Someone actually cares enough to share your excitement, sadness, disappointment, fears, hurts, frustrations, anger etc… You feel like you are not in this life alone. This helps to heal our wounded feelings and move on. You actually have a partner who does this as well. When sharing your life is important to you and you do not have a partner with which to share, you either live resentfully alone or turn to others; a friend, your kids, your family of origin or perhaps another adult in an affair. Many times the reasons for an affair is that someone feels like they are not heard, validated and appreciated in their current relationship. They are at high risk of bonding to another who does listen. This act of listening actually brings you closer to the other person even if they are telling you how angry they are with you.
Where do you start?
After my first session with couples I often give them the homework of starting to talk with each other. In the “ground rules for talking” (pg. 17 in Taking Space) instructs couples to take turns talking and listening to each other. Using “time out” shows you how to stop breakdowns in communication. Many couples have to learn how to communicate better and especially how to listen and talk from a more intimate place. I use these methods and skills to help coach couples on how to get unstuck, and improve their communication pattern.
In my Couples Home Study Course Step 2 CD, I present specific situations on how the couples communication process becomes stuck. I also show you how to break through these stuck points and restart your communication.
Some examples include:
- Defensive partners
Blame goes back and forth with little listening and no validation
- “I can fix it for you!”
Many women complain that men don’t listen but want to go straight to fixing them and their problem
- “I know what’s wrong with you” and “Me too”
When you just want someone to listen, you get analyzed as to what is wrong with you. Instead of being heard you hear how your partner or someone else managed to get through a similar situation while you feel like a failure.
The importance of making up and how to do it
How you can use humor in your relationship to lighten it up.
Learning to make up after a breakdown in communication or fight is essential to a good relationship. Some partners and couples carry on the fight or the cold war well after the initial fight started. They may struggle to end the fight and then have no way of getting back on track, assuming they were on track to start. Having ways to stop and interrupt non-constructive and destructive communication and repair and restart positive communication should be in every couple’s survival kit. Being able to laugh at yourself and bring humor into the “make up” process can be very helpful.
Communication and managing conflict form a foundation for intimate relationships. Love, empathy, emotional caretaking and support are built on your communication process.
- If you and your partner are at higher levels of investment and commitment in your relationship, these skills can be learned, improved upon and incorporated into the fabric of your relationship. They must be practiced continuously while you learn to repair breakdowns and build more intimacy.
- If you and your partner are struggling over whether one of you wants to remain in the relationship, the first two steps are necessary to rebuilding a better foundation while improving the way you manage conflict and learning to communicate. With improved communication and less conflict, you can then evaluate whether your relationship can work in a better way for both of you.
- Even if one of you believes you want out, this can be a time to learn what didn’t work. This is necessary if you have any lingering thoughts about reconciliation or what new learning you may want to bring to your next relationship. We tend to repeat patterns unless we learn new ones.
Learn to take charge of your relationship conflict and communication now! Only you can start the process!