Communication struggles is a common stressor in all relationships and more specifically marriages. The majority of the couples I see, struggle to communicate in some ways. Some relationships are at the point where there is very little communication, because conversations turn sour and then each person is left frustrated, angry and sad.
When communication is difficult in a marriage, each spouse usually feels lonely in the relationship and many times they are unsure of what to do, unsure of the way to change their communication pattern. When communication is lacking, it becomes a big relationship dilemma and many questions come to mind like… “Do we belong together?” ‘If we do, how do we change the way we communicate with each other?” “How can we communicate in a way that would be a connector for us and help make our marriage stronger?”
Communication Problem #1
Can you relate…? Your partner is complaining about something you did or didn’t do. They are talking about how they felt. You are listening, but only to the point that you can interrupt, defend yourself, talk about your side. As you start talking, your partner interrupts you as they weren’t finished and feel that you aren’t listening. Then you both get frustrated, angry and start to argue. You are each listening to reply, not to understand.
Don’t Just Listen to Reply, Listen to Understand
Couples struggle with communication because we listen to reply. If we listened to understand, conversations would look different because your partner would feel heard.
New York Times bestselling author Cheryl Richardson said, “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” I love this quote and I see it happen all the time when I am working with couples. When I help couples learn to take the time to postpone their own agenda and listen, to truly listen to their partner, the conversation looks different.
It is important to show your partner that you are listening with understanding and empathy. Your partner will feel heard when you validate their feelings. Validation does not mean that you agree with everything you heard. It just means that from your partner’s perspective, you can see why they felt that way and you can understand their views.
Every time I see a couple do this for the first time, I know I am watching an amazing communication transformation. When I notice that it has become the new pattern of communication, I know that the couple is on their way to getting back the feelings that they desire.
Communication Problem #2
Can you relate?… Your spouse comes home from work and starts telling you a story. You listen, but the solution is clear to you. So, you interrupt and start solving the problem. Your spouse gets frustrated and possibly angry. You are confused. Why frustration, why anger? You feel like you are helping your spouse and they are unfairly getting annoyed. Now your frustrated as well and not sure what just happened. You are left confused, wondering and replaying the conversation in your head. You saw a problem and you wanted to fix it, you are thinking I’m a fixer, so what should I do?
Don’t Just Try to Fix it, Listen with Empathy
Some people have a natural instinct to help. That is ok, in some situations it is probably quite wonderful. But in some situations, it is not what your partner needs. In the situation above, the speaker wants to vent, to be heard, understood, to have a safe space to express their feelings. The speaker was not looking for a solution.
What I have noticed when working with couples is that most of the time, an effective and helpful thing one partner can do for the other is to listen completely to their experience without trying to fix anything.
So, what do you do if you are a fixer? You ask a clarifying question. Do you want to talk and for me to just listen and be supportive or are you looking for solutions? This way you know if your partner is looking for comfort or solutions? You are finding out what is needed right now. Asking this helps avoid a fight and feelings of frustration. It is a great way to give your partner what they need. Sometimes, after your partner feels heard, they might want you to go into fixer mode. But sometimes, they just want to vent and be heard. One of my favorite videos that explains this dynamic in a clear and humorous way is “It’s Not About the Nail”. You can find the video at the end of the blog.
Proactive Questions Will Help with Communication
If you want to connect with your spouse daily, try starting the day or ending the day, with some proactive questions. The time of day will depend on your schedules and when you have time to share. Mornings might be hectic or maybe you want to wake up 15 minutes earlier to have a cup of coffee and talk with your spouse. Or maybe evening is a better time, as you are relaxing on the couch after dinner, or if you have kids after their routines for closing out the day. Figure out the time of day that works best for the both of you and connect with questions so you can each feel like you are a part of your partner’s world.
Some question ideas…
- What were/are you excited about today (tomorrow)?
- What were/are you worried about today (tomorrow)?
- What is one thing you want to accomplish today (tomorrow)?
- Is there anything I can do to help you today (tomorrow)?
Proactive questions will help communication in the relationship because it will put you each in a position of being in tune to your partner’s world. Keep in mind to give each other that safe space to express feelings without judgment.
Try my tips and if you need more tips, read my blog, “Tips for Couples on How to Improve Communication in Marriage”. If you decide it is time to work with a Relationship Expert, contact me, I can help. I have over 15 years’ experience working with couples on how to effectively communicate. I Transform Relationships, one relationship at a time and yours can be next.
Your Relationship Expert,