A strong marriage is vital to the success of blended families. With unique stressors there is a likelihood of higher levels of conflict in the home and within the marriage, but it is possible to continue growing together and uniting as a team even in the midst of difficult times. There are five key areas of marriage which should be addressed in order to gain and keep a healthy and successful relationship: Communication, Kindness, Humility & Forgiveness, Respect, Quality Time.
Positive communication is the foundation of a healthy relationship. In fact, several studies have shown that poor communication is often listed as the main cause for relationship turmoil and separation. Without a healthy way to discuss your needs and to talk through issues, marital conflict will not have a path for resolution.
Here are three steps to improve your communication:
Identify What Needs to be Fixed
Identifying bad communication methods and habits in your marriage can be tricky. For one, it can be difficult to look deeply into the habits you’ve created and likely reinforced for years because they have become your norm. And secondly, when in the midst of an argument it can be a struggle to stop looking at your partner and to start looking at yourself and the role you are playing in the issue. To help identify the areas you need to work on, it can be beneficial to understand what issues are common for couples and to put a name to habits you’ve become accustomed to.
One of the leading experts on marriage, Dr. John Gottman, has identified six bad communication signs that couples can display:
- Harsh Startups (beginning the conversation in a way that causes negativity, brings criticism or causes the other person to immediately become defensive)
- The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling)
- Flooding (when the conversation is flooded with negativity or nagging)
- Body Language (body language that demonstrates defensiveness or anger)
- Failed Repaid Attempts (continuous attempts to deescalate an issue without resolving it)
- Bad Memories (reminiscing on difficult times and glorifying struggles, continually rehashing old arguments)
Additional bad communication traps that spouses fall into are:
- Not communicating your needs (assuming your spouse knows what you want/need)
- Failure to see the situation from your partner’s perspective (not trying to understand their point of view)
- Ignoring the issues and avoiding conflict (believing that the absence of an argument means everything is okay or hoping that time alone will resolve issues)
- Use of definitive wording: Always / Never (Why do you always…You never…)
- Using attack language (You need to…You should…You are…)
Make a Change
Once you have been able to pinpoint the difficulties of communication within your marriage, the next step is to make a change. Have an open discussion with your spouse about your concerns by acknowledging your own role and your desire to improve your relationship.
Some helpful tips:
- Choose the right time to talk with your spouse. As soon as they walk in the door or when they kids are around is not the right time to discuss an ongoing issue. Find a time when you are both relaxed and have the chance to talk without interruption. This may be after the kids are in bed or during a night out over dinner.
- Use the right language. This relates to your words and also your body language. Avoid setting a defensive tone and show how important this is to you be removing blame, nagging, or attack language. Focus on using ‘I’ sentences (I feel like…I’m concerned about…) and stay away from ‘you’ statements and definitive wording (You always…You never…).
- Say what you mean. Don’t shy away from what you need and want. Avoiding issues will not make them go away and your spouse deserves to know what you need an expect. Remember that they should not be forced to guess how you feel. No matter how obvious your needs seem to you, it may not be as clear to them.
- Listen. And show that you’re listening. Look at your spouse, acknowledge that you hear what they are saying, make eye contact and when possible maintain physical touch or closeness.
- Commit to a resolution. If the conversation gets heated, a break is okay but set aside a time to finishing talking. Instead of just walking away, clearly state your intentions – “I’m feeling very defensive right now and I don’t want this to escalate. This topic is important to me and I want us to resolve this issue but I would like to take a break and finish talking later tonight after we’ve had a chance to calm down?”.
Practice Makes Perfect
There isn’t an overnight fix to bad habits and poor communication techniques. Many times the way you are communicating with your spouse has been occurring for years and you can’t expect a complete change in either of you in a few weeks or months. This will be an ongoing process of improvement. At first changing the way you communicate and work through issues may feel uncomfortable or difficult because it’s not what you are used to. With practice, these conversations will get easier and you will find that they also become more productive. If you are struggling to find ways to communicate with your spouse or issues are of a significant nature, couples counseling can be an excellent way to work through hot topics and to learn additional tools for communicating.
Join me tomorrow to explore how kindness impacts your marriage.