Communication in Marriage
Communication: The Backbone of Relationships
Much has been written about marriage relationships and communication and I would like to add some practical suggestions to help you and your spouse communicate more frequently, fluidly and more deeply.
First I would like to mention some of communication's greatest enemies, so that you can watch for these sneaky, almost undetectable hindrances and eliminate them from your marriage:
One of the enemies of communication is being too busy with anything and everything. Yes, children do need to be cared for and household chores to have to be completed to keep your home running smoothly. Are there some things that could wait? Is sitting down with your spouse for a half hour to talk less important that folding the clothes? Is sweeping the back porch more important than giving your loved one your undivided attention? Some unfortunate people who focus more on furnishing and decorating their home than on their spouse's needs wake up one day in a spacious, beautifully decorated home-alone.
Technology gets in the way of communication almost daily. When the television is blaring, how well can you listen? How often has your spouse talked to you while you try to type your next blog or hub, or catch up with friends on Facebook? Those "uh-huhs" and "yeahs" just don't count as communication. Sometimes I'm in the middle of reading something or texting when my husband comes in to share something with me. It's tempting to "uh-huh" him until he walks away...but I try to put the laptop down, look him in the eyes, and listen. Sometimes I'm not exactly interested in the topic, but I'm interested in giving him the attention he deserves.
Our internal noise pollution is sometimes our greatest hindrance to communication. We may be preoccupied with a situation at work or excited about a new hobby, and our mind isn't engaged. Our thoughts flit and float, and before we know it, we're in never-never land mentally. It takes practice to bring our thoughts back to the NOW, and focus on what's being said. It's a little like getting a room full of 3 year olds to come sit down at the table. About the time you get one to sit down, two more pop up. Our thoughts will constantly try to take off and get away from us, but we do have the ability to catch ourselves and bring ourselves back to the table mentally.
Now for some practical suggestions:
-Set a time aside each evening to spend with your spouse. It might be before dinner for a drink, after dinner for a cup of tea, or before bedtime pillow talk. Make this a daily routine.
-Take advantage of road trips and long commutes in the car! It's a perfect time to talk and you are captive audiences for each other.
-If talking at home is challenging because of children or others in the house, plan a weekly date night, preferably not at the movies because there isn't much opportunity for talking. Take turns with another couple for babysitting services.
-When touchy subjects come up (and they will), seek first to understand, and then to be understood. When we are able to put aside our need to make a point and we open our mind to hear the other person's point of view, we may find out we're actually on the same page, at least in some ways. Stephen Covey, in his "7 habits of Highly Effective People", states in Habit #5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood-use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, respect, and positive problem solving".
-Practice the "I feel, I need" communication exercise and incorporate it into your everyday talking. Ask your spouse what he/she feels about whatever topic or situation you're facing together. It might be a misunderstanding you had the previous day, feeling neglected, or some challenge you're facing with the children or aging parents. Your spouse should respond with sentences that begin with "I feel..." or "I'm feeling....". You simply listen and you are not to speak while your spouse shares his feelings. When he is done, repeat back to him what you heard him say. He can clarify if necessary. Now it's your turn to tell your spouse what you feel, as he listens carefully, and then he repeats what you said you feel.
The next step involves the same process, but changing it to "I need...". He shares what he needs from you, you listen and repeat, then you share as he listens and repeats.
The benefits of this exercise are multiple: sometimes for the first time in years, couples actually hear each other instead of interrupting and trying to make their point. Criticism is avoided and bypassed. It's not about who-did-what, but about how we each feel about the situation. Through this exercise we cut right to the heart of the matter: what we feel and what we need. Understanding is gained and intimacy is increased as we talk about our feelings and what we need from each other.
I have used this exercise with numerous couples in counseling and it's amazing to see the results, as couples listen for the first time without accusations and blaming. It cuts to the chase and goes right to the heart of the matter.
With practice and patience, all couples can learn to communicate effectively. You will gain a greater understanding of your mate, and you'll feel the closeness that you have both been longing for.