Most every couple who has come in for counseling has brought communication issues as one of their problems. Most of the time it was the #1 issue on the list.
And for good reason. My books, He Said She Said I Said and The Gift of a Lifetime: Building a Marriage That Lasts, both stress this as the first of the 7 Keys to relationship success.
To help you, I’d like to offer you a FREE eBook to target some of the highlights from those books which will hopefully help you achieve better communication.
Some of these things may seem familiar to you as you read on. Maybe you will have heard them or said them before yourself at one time. Your communication will have a chance to improve even if you just take the time to read this eBook.
I have often heard that couples just don’t have anything to talk about other than kids, work, or household honey-do lists. That can certainly get boring and uneventful. It also doesn’t allow new discoveries about your partner. One of the goals of communication is to learn about your partner as they change over the years. To keep your relationship alive, you need to invest time in the exploration of each other’s needs and interests.
Here are 7 ways to avoid disenchantment and create better communication.
- Find out what your partner likes to do. Ask questions about their hobbies, interests, and desires that may not have been shared or put on hold. Find out who they are again and what makes them smile. Be willing to join an activity. Talk about your dreams and goals. See how they measure up and find the similarities to build on. Often we think we know who our spouse is and what they like but as we know time changes things. Maybe a few years ago one was interested in decorating a house and buying new furniture. Now that same person may be more interested in traveling and seeing the world. How do you know if you do not take the time to find out?
- Spend time interacting with each other. The most valuable thing we have is our time. Waiting until tomorrow to say I love you may seem ok but sometimes tomorrow doesn’t come. Giving time is a form of communication that is often misunderstood. Being with one another and sharing quiet moments, walks in the park, and drinking morning coffee without even saying a word are all important parts of communication. Just being close to someone is a special kind of communication. This is how one gets to know their spouse in a quiet way. Call it silent communication.
- Be able to accept differences and look at them as new adventures. You may not always see the value in what your spouse feels strongly about but remember we all come from different backgrounds. See if you can find something of value in their needs or desires. Try to communicate with understanding instead of a closed door. Open your filter to let other ideas come in. Choose questions to encourage further dialogue and most of all make sure you understand what they are trying to convey.
A useful method is called mirroring or reflective listening where the listener tries to clarify, restate, or paraphrase what he or she hears the other saying. It might sound like this “What I hear you saying is…” This approach lets your partner confirm or deny that what you heard is what he or she was trying to say. Your partner then has the opportunity to add or rephrase their words for more clarity. You can also say “tell me more.” This opens the door for both of you to get clear on what is really being discussed.
- Observe body language. Watch when your spouse walks through the door after a long day of work. Notice their gait, posture, and facial expressions to get a clue of what kind of mood they are in. Communication involves many senses. The more we know about it, the more we can do it effectively. What about that secret smile you exchange at a party when you think a person is exaggerating? How about that little hand squeeze under the table at a company dinner that says you are both bored and would rather be eating at McDonald’s? Non-verbal communication is not overrated. It is just as important as the spoken word. Hugs, strokes on the back, and squeezes of the hand are stress relievers we sometimes overlook.
- Defining concepts for better understanding is another key to successful communication. One of the biggest hurdles people face in communicating is how they define their topics. How something is defined in one person’s mind may not be the same as the person they are talking to. Here lies the problem: the action taken could be confusing. Let’s say your spouse is complaining about how much time they get to spend with you: “She says he doesn’t spend much time with me anymore.” He says, what do you mean? “I am sitting with you watching TV every night.” She says: “Well you might be there in body but you are usually looking at your cell phone or playing video games.” Get the drift? She is clearly looking for interaction and he is involved with personal things. It is amazing to hear the feedback. They are indeed surprised to find out they are not on the same page. Making sure you are talking about the same thing can avoid unnecessary conflict for sure.
- Let’s hone in on the effect our communication has on someone. In addition to the above 5 ideas for better communication here is a simple way to enhance your skills. I call it the criticism sandwich but there are other names given for this simple skill. By the way, this can be used with anyone, not just a spouse or partner. Here it is: Make your first sentence a positive statement, then make your second the criticism, complaint, or request and follow it up with the last sentence a positive one. It might sound something like this: “You really do a lot to be helpful around the house. However, the one thing that gets me frustrated is that you leave your shoes everywhere and I have tripped on them several times. But I really am appreciative that you help with so much around the house. This really makes my life so much better. It has been noted that people hear the first and last statements better. That does not mean the middle sentence goes unnoticed. It does mean that the request has a better chance of being fulfilled. Most people like praise more than criticism. Sometimes it is necessary to call someone out for their irritating or negative behaviors. Knowing how to approach someone in a more effective manner can only help the outcome.
- Last to discuss is the importance of being able to talk about your feelings without being afraid of rejection. It is important to be fallible and vulnerable with your spouse. No one can be right all the time and it is OK to let your spouse know when you are hurting or just plain miserable. Allow them to see your weaknesses and offer help. One of the benefits of being in a relationship is that there are two of you. Arrogance, pride, stubbornness, and pettiness can have a disastrous effect on your connection. It has been said by a Chaplain that: “we can only get close to a person who is vulnerable, or who needs something from us.”. Holding back feelings from your partner only serves to create distance.
For example, in my book, He said She Said I Said:
“He Said, I’m not very sure she loves me the way I love her and because of that, I hold back my feelings.”
I Said: Have you ever felt you loved more than you were loved in return? If so, what did that feel like? Did you feel your expression of love was clear to your partner, but theirs wasn’t clear to you? When you felt that way, did
you make your feelings known to your spouse in a caring loving manner? If not, then why not? Instead, did you just decide your spouse wasn’t putting forth equal effort to grow your relationship and then assumed that he or she didn’t love you as much as you loved them?
There is a fallacy in that thinking. Just because you don’t recognize those behaviors as statements of love don’t mean they are not. Instead of assuming your partner doesn’t love you as much as you love them, open communication around the subject instead of closing down. It is always good to communicate how you define love to your partner and then ask how they view a loving relationship. Asking questions is a sure way of finding out more about the other person.
The questions could be as simple as: “What are some of the things I do that let you know I love you?” “What are some of the things you do to express your love to me?” You may be surprised by the answers, because behaviors you exhibit, which you probably consider extremely loving, might not be at the top of your partner’s list. In turn, your partner’s actions or words, which might not hold much significance for you, could be the very things they consider to be important gestures that show how much they love and care about you. It’s all in the way we perceive things.
Sometimes communication is easier between friends than it is with a partner. Continue to work on being a friend to your partner as well as a lover. Communication on many levels will help you understand what your partner
is thinking and feeling, as well as give you an opportunity to express your own needs.
Good communication can be the glue that holds a relationship together and can make the difference between a happy meaningful relationship or one of contention and strife. Don’t give up if things go wrong sometimes. Miscommunications and misunderstandings happen but your reaction and response will determine the outcome. I hope I have equipped you with some useful tips and ideas to strengthen your communications. Don’t forget to download the FREE eBook for more information.
As Nightbirde once said on America’s Got Talent: “You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”
Comment below if you have any comments or questions.