Any marriage passes through different seasons and cycles. Whether these are from pressures such as work, illness, financial stress, or other factors, things are rarely ever static in a marriage. The interests and passions of the people in a relationship change over time, and part of keeping a marriage healthy is to understand these changes and adapt to them.Monumental changes such as those imposed by the recent global pandemic put many relationships under extraordinary and complicated pressures. With lockdowns and isolation, the social interactions people relied on for support were limited, and many couples were in the same space for far longer than usual with the change to work from home.
While a recent study from Bowling Green State University’s Center for Family and Demographic Research showed a decline in both marriages and divorces, the sharp decline in divorce doesn’t mean couples were necessarily happier together in lockdown. Instead, the pandemic may have compelled dissatisfied spouses to stay together for practical reasons.
Whether during a pandemic or under more normal circumstances, maintaining effective communication is the lifeblood of any relationship. With effective communication in marriage, the couple can make their needs, concerns, and feelings known to their spouse in a healthy and constructive manner.
5 Tips for Good Communication in Marriage
Good communication in marriage is vital, and so brushing up on your communication skills will benefit your relationship in innumerable ways. Learning how to communicate well takes time, patience, and work, as all worthwhile things do. Below are a few tips to help you develop and maintain good communication in marriage with your spouse.
1. Stay curious
You may think you know everything about your spouse, but you don’t, even if you’ve been married for a long while. If you assume that you know what your spouse is about to say and why, you’ll likely jump to conclusions and short-circuit the process of allowing them to express themselves. When your spouse is speaking to you, take the attitude of being curious.Curiosity allows you to learn, and when you desire to learn it makes you attentive to details. Remain excited to learn more about your spouse and what interests them. If you feel you have a diploma in understanding your wife, work on a bachelor’s degree, and if you feel you understand your husband at a graduate level, work for more.
Curiosity leaves you open to learning and asking questions. Asking questions is a good part of using your active listening skills but staying curious goes a little beyond that as a general posture you take toward your spouse. So, ask about their day. Ask about what books they’re reading, or the movies they watched recently.
Find out about one another’s challenges, distresses, victories, moments of embarrassment, and the times when things went well. Ask them how their life is going right now. Exchange stories from your past. Instead of leaving curiosity to your early dating days, maintain it as a way of being in your marriage.
2. Be mindful of the gap
As mentioned above, one of the enemies of good communication in marriage is jumping to conclusions. In any relationship, you develop patterns and accumulate experiences that affect how you interact with one another. One of the most difficult things to do in an established relationship is to resist making assumptions about what the other person is saying or intending by a certain action.
If they didn’t do their chores, we might assume it’s because they’re being lazy again. That may very well be the case, but don’t assume the worst without justification, clarification, and a conversation, first. Give them the benefit of the doubt, so that when you speak with them it won’t come across as accusatory.
Instead of saying, “You didn’t take out the trash again. Why are you so lazy and why is it up to me to do things around the house?” you should assume good intentions by saying, “I noticed the trash wasn’t taken out. Did something come up?” You’re assuming the best, and that allows your spouse to rise to the occasion without acrimony. The wisdom of Proverbs 15:1 can help us here: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Jumping into a situation having made assumptions about your spouse’s motives is a recipe for entering the conversation angry and closed off to communication. Stay open, extend them grace, and ask questions. Rather than making assumptions about their intentions, be mindful of the gap between your perception and what may be the reality and fill that gap with grace.
3. Make time to talkIt’s a truism to say that life can get busy, and it’s easy for you and your spouse to pass one another like ships in the night. When you do talk, it can end up being mostly about running the various moving parts of your relationship and life together. Go beyond the functional talk about picking up groceries, shoveling the driveway, getting the kids to school, or taking the dog for a walk.
With busy schedules, one thing that can get squeezed out is making time to talk meaningfully beyond these practicalities. Having a regular date night to allow your curiosity about one another room to roam is a great idea, as is creating space to time to talk through any concerns you may have.
Having created space to talk, when you talk with your spouse, be willing to express the whole gamut of your experiences and feelings. If you’re feeling frustrated about something that your partner did, instead of holding onto it, staying angry, or seeking revenge, tell them how you feel.
Communication isn’t just about saying what feels good but expressing yourself and where you’re at. Some people struggle to express what they’re feeling, especially if it might lead to confrontation. By learning to express a variety of emotions and experiences, intimacy is enhanced, and issues are prevented before resentment sets in.
4. Build your effective listening toolkit
It’s been hinted at here and there, but effective listening is key for good communication. While we may think of ourselves as good listeners, the truth is that we could all use a refresher, because we don’t listen as well as we think we do. Effective listening is about listening with empathy or listening in such a way that we truly hear the other person, and the other person leaves the conversation feeling that they were heard.
We can listen effectively by getting rid of distractions when we’re talking with someone, helping us focus on them. Instead of interrupting them, we can allow them to finish their thoughts and sentences.
We can ask them clarifying questions about what they’re saying to ensure that we understand, and we can reflect and summarize what they said, helping us to process the conversation by saying in our own words what we think we heard, and it helps them set us straight where we’ve gone wrong or feel like we’ve heard them.
Part of effective listening is avoiding jumping to conclusions or judging the other person as they speak, and that affects the running commentary in our minds as well as our body language. Effective listening is thus a comprehensive skill that helps us focus our bodies, minds, and emotions on the person before us. Most of us don’t do this easily, but with practice, we can get better at it.
5. Make use of the tools out there
Lastly, to maintain good communication with your partner, you can make use of the many tools that are available online or through therapy. For example, you can implement some counseling exercises for building better communication, like doing a book or music exchange to generate conversation, ice breakers, and so on.
These and many other tools will help you keep talking with your spouse and get to know them better. Try something new to keep things fresh and interesting in your relationship. The key is to stay open to your spouse. That vulnerability can be difficult, but it’s essential to maintain effective communication in your marriage.
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