Communication is vitally important because we’re so dang bad at reading our partner’s mind (until we’ve been married for many years, that is). The best marriages have a great deal of communication; the worst have little or none. But every aspect of a marriage requires communication in some form. When our emotions get fired up, we are quick to make assumptions based almost entirely on our own unrealistic thoughts about the situation. Most of the time, these assumptions are partially, if not completely, wrong.
Because thoughts shape behavior, communication skills shape how you interact with your partner. Authentic communication takes practice and more practice. But simply talking is not the same as communicating. True communication in a great marriage is a tw0-way conversation. Therefore, it takes practice from both people. However, you can only do your practicing and encourage your partner to do the same. It can be tricky when a partner doesn’t want to communicate, but that doesn’t mean the partner doesn’t want to solve the issue. It takes time, patience, and even great care to develop solid communication skills; it’s always a work in progress. But you can’t master something you’re not practicing, so how do you practice communication? The following five skills are essential for a happier marriage.
1) Feeling Love – The first step is to check in with your feelings. When I am…”communicating” with my wife and I’m feeling maybe a little frustrated, I keep one core thought in mind that guides everything I say: “I love her so deeply, that I would never want to say or do anything that would hurt her feelings.” If I’m aware of this, then why would I be so careless as to say things that would make her cry or get angry? Seriously, this is so incredibly important that everything else hinges on it. If you truly love your partner, then let love guide your words.
2) Listen…Really Listen! – If you want to get good at communicating your feelings and frustrations, then you better practice listening…I mean, really listening. This kind of listening is called active listening. Don’t pretend to listen to your partner while thinking about what you’re going to say next. If you aren’t listening, you aren’t going to know what your partner’s frustrations or concerns are. Seriously, if you love your partner and you want to have a long and happy marriage, you need to be practicing this constantly, even when you’re not discussing a difficult issue. This is a skill that pays dividends, not only during heated discussions, but during everyday life. It shows that you care enough to give your full attention to what your partner is saying. It shows that you truly value his or her input or concerns. It builds a stronger connection and reflects the respect you have for your partner. When your partner expresses a concern, carefully repeat it back to make sure you’ve heard it, then respond….slowly and thoughtfully…guided by love.
3) Never, Never, Never, (Never!!) Raise Your Voice – You may have been raised in an environment where this was how adults communicated, but it’s not going to fly if you want a long and happy marriage. If you feel yourself getting worked up and your voice begins to get louder, instantly start taking take deep breaths while actively listening to your partner. Before you speak, take a deep breath. Pause. Reflect on your deep love for your partner. Then reply, slowly and calmly. By speaking slowly, you’ll have more time to measure your reply and it will prevent you from saying the wrong thing and escalating the frustration you’re both feeling. Even if your partner can’t control his or her emotions and begins shouting, keep breathing deeply and slowly, and only answer calmly with love and respect. Do not respond to your partner’s emotion. Tell yourself that your partner is worked up and may not even realize that he or she is yelling, and let it go. Take it easy, take it slow, stay calm…and don’t raise your voice.
4) Send An Email – Some issues can be really tough to talk about face to face. You might not be sure how to bring it up or you worry that it will make your partner feel uncomfortable and maybe unloved. Or maybe bringing it up will make you feel uncomfortable hearing yourself say the words. My wife and I got around this by sending each other emails, even though we were one room away from each other. Sometimes she would be in her office on her computer while I was in my office sitting at my computer. But we would still use email for some issues because it was better than talking directly. Sending an email would open up the channels of communication which would then lead to a face-to-face discussion later on when we were both feeling up to it.
I cannot recommend this method highly enough. In an email, you have more time to think through what you want to say. It’s far easier to mitigate your language and voice your concerns while offering your partner a safe way to be made aware of how you are feeling. Also, the fact that you won’t necessarily know when your partner reads the sensitive email so you won’t have to feel nervous about it. Be kind and loving in the way you address sensitive issues or concerns and put it all into a well thought-out email with the utmost care.
Never send an email when you’re frustrated, angry or emotional. When the issue is of the highest sensitivity or your mood isn’t stable, wait at least a few hours or even 24 hours before you send the email. That will give you one last chance to read it through and make adjustments. When you delay sending the email, you will be in a different frame of mind when you get back to it and the tweaks you make to the email are likely going to save you from hurting your partner’s feelings. Email is one of the best ways to break the ice, or get past a stalemate on a topic, or just to get the conversation started.
5) Observe And Learn – When you try to communicate and it works, pay close attention to what you did and how you did it so you can use the technique again. Likewise, when you try something that doesn’t work, make a mental note of that too, so you can make an adjustment before trying it again. Communication is a skill. You can learn from what you try and from what your partner tries. Notice when you really connect, no matter who initiates the communication. The whole point of practicing how to communicate is to connect on a deeper level; to bring you and your partner closer together, not further apart. And when your communication skills get better, you’ll notice your conversations getting less bumpy and lead to happier endings. And don’t we all want to live “happily ever after”?