We’ve all been there. You’re having a conversation with your spouse and he or she says you said X, Y, and Z. You’re dumbfounded because you didn’t say that, wouldn’t say that, and can’t believe your spouse just said you said that.
Effective communication in marriage is like blood to the body. Essential. If you’re struggling with communication issues, don’t fret. You are in good company. Poor communication skills is one of the top reasons why couples seek marital coaching or counseling. The good news is there are proven strategies that can enhance and facilitate effective communication in your marriage. While every relationship is unique, implementing the following seven tips should put you on a path to effective communication in your marriage.
- Listen to your spouse. Listening is the ability to restate the content and feeling of the communication accurately. Sounds easy, right? Well, not really. To listen effectively, you have to give your spouse your undivided attention and remove all those pesky barriers that prevent you from doing so. How many times have you formulated a response while your spouse is speaking? Or maybe you continue to multitask during the conversation? We’ve all done it and end up missing part of the message. Stop! To improve communication with your spouse, your only objective when your spouse is speaking is to accurately hear and understand your spouse’s message.
- Listen to yourself. It’s important to understand how you communicate. Sometimes we think we say things in a certain way, when in fact we don’t. Communication is not just words alone. Your tone of voice can significantly impact the way your message is received by your spouse. So take the time to discover how you communicate. Tape and video yourself so that you can hear firsthand what your spouse hears.
- Figure out your barriers to listening. What prevents you from listening? We all have them and we all have to work on overcoming them. Common barriers include: bad timing, personal biases, defensiveness, physical exhaustion, selective attention, internal struggles, different listening styles, and a habit of interrupting. If you’re struggling to identify your barriers, ask your spouse and work together to identify them.
- Understand that you and your spouse are different. It is highly unlikely that you and your spouse have identical communication and learning styles. It’s perfectly okay to be different in this area. You for example may be a rambler, whereas your spouse may be a “get to the point” communicator. Recognize your differences and accept the differences. Don’t try to force your spouse to communicate and learn the same way as you. You can find common ground.
- Learn to speak your spouse’s language. Once you’ve identified your spouse’s communication and learning style, learn it. While I’m not suggesting that you change who you are, communicating in a manner that is receptive to your spouse will help. So for example, if your spouse is a visual learner, try incorporating visual communication into your messaging. If your spouse can only handle one or two concepts at a time, don’t share your laundry list of items at one time. Break them up over a period of time. Understand that it’s human nature to build a connection with people who speak the same language. If you learn your spouse’s language and combine it with your own, you should see significant improvement in your communication.
- Work on intimacy. I can’t emphasize this enough. The more you both share intimate things with each other, the better you’ll be at communicating with each other. Why? Because, when we share intimate things with our spouse, there’s greater vulnerability, which leads to a greater connection. Our natural instinct is to preserve our most intimate connections, which means we’ll be more willing to put in the effort to understand our spouse and work through issues.
- Practice. Practice. Practice. Effective communication takes practice. Set aside time every day to talk about non-work and non-family issues. Yes, those things are important, but if communication is your issue, you want to enhance and hone your skills talking about things that won’t potentially affect your marriage. Converse about current events, sports, or a new hobby you want to pursue. Endeavor to have a back-and-forth dialog so you and you spouse can really practice listening and understanding each other.
Any other effective communication tips out there? We'd love to hear from you. Let's help each other have marriages that thrive!