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Help! We just can’t seem to communicate

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by Corey

Corey writes regularly about marriage and relationships on his site, Simple Marriage, which is full of laid back information sure to improve your relationships.You can also catch his radio show - Sexy Marriage Radio, a weekly show filled with straightforward and practical information that will help your marriage.

If you’ve been in a serious relationship for any length of time, you know full well that communication problems and misunderstandings occur. It’s inevitable.

Every couple has had times where they simply could not communicate. Right?

So what happened to transform your relationship – where one day you understood each other perfectly, and the next, you’re at odds because you’re having trouble communicating?  Are you thinking that you and your spouse would benefit from some assertiveness training and learning more about the use of “I” statements?

Let me offer an alternate view of what is more likely happening.  You’re not having trouble communicating – you’re having trouble handling the message. “We just can’t communicate” is the number one complaint couples bring into marriage counseling.

Communication in marriage is about handling what another person thinks and feels.

And when this person is important in your life – as I hope your spouse is to you – then the messages they deliver can be more difficult to hear. Quite frankly, your spouse may disagree with you on some things. Their take may be different than yours.  But that’s good. Who wants to be married to themselves?
In order to address the common myths about communication problems, try this:

1. Recognize that when you are having trouble communicating, you’ve got a great opportunity to grow.

Spend some time exploring what’s in the message that you don’t like or may be misinterpreting. Be honest with yourself first. Confront yourself before you go after your spouse.

2. Check to see if the message your partner intended to send is the same message you’re about to react to.

If you’re uncertain about the message being delivered, or if the impact of the message on you is negative, ask for clarity before you emotionally react.

Imagine it’s early in the relationship with your significant other – you’re still dating but it’s getting pretty serious. You’re together at a nice restaurant one evening waiting for a table in the crowded bar area. You’re sitting next to each other, your spouse turns to you and say “I need some space.” How would you respond?

There are a couple of different messages being delivered with this statement.

  • One could be that your partner has just informed you that they are feeling the relationship is progressing too quickly and they are feeling confined so in order to soothe their commitment fears they are asking for some room in the relationship.
  • The other possibility is your partner is feeling crowded in the booth you’re sitting on and would like you to scoot over a bit.

The way you react to this message relies completely on your interpretation of what your partner meant. Good communication is when the intent of the speaker matches the impact on the listener. This means that both speaker and listener have equal responsibility for creating effective communication. If you’re unsure about something, ask.

3. Make the obvious, obvious.

If at the end of a stressful day, when one thing after another went wrong, connect with your spouse in the evening and speak up about the obvious stress before you get into it with your spouse. Something like “Hey honey, it’s been a really rough day today, I’d like five to ten minutes to relax and breathe before I hear about your day, all right?”

When there is tension in your life, other people will sense it. You’ve likely experienced this before. Your spouse enters the house after a horrific day, and before you even see them, the mood has shifted. The best way to disarm the elephant in the room is to openly point it out.

4. Speak up.

I don’t advocate removing the filter between your brain and your mouth, but I do think married couples need to speak up more. How often do you avoid talking out of fear or your spouse’s reaction? There are times when you need to speak up in order to help your marriage AND yourself grow.

Many couples fall victim to thinking, “if my spouse really cared about me, they’d be able to figure out what I’m feeling or thinking.” What part of your vows stated you’d read each other’s minds for as long as you both shall live? I’m guessing that wasn’t part of the ceremony.

Stop sitting back waiting for your spouse to pick up on the fact that you’re frustrated, pissed, hurt, or lonely – and speak up.

Two things will happen. One, you will grow up more because you’ve taken charge of your thoughts and emotions, and two, your partner will grow up because you’re treating him or her like an adult who’s capable of handling more of you.

Let’s discuss – how does this view of communication compare with what happens in your marriage?

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Comments

  1. These are great thoughts on communication. I especially like point 3–in this busy time of our lives, we are practicing telling one another when we just need a little ‘down time.’ And some days, we’ve communicated it enough, that we know to just back away for a bit even without having to say something.

    Another thing we are working toward is being a person who can bear the weight of criticism. Too often when I hear a challenging word, I seem to feel crushed. We’re trying to remember to focus first on the love and commitment that exists between the two of us, and then hear the challenging word in that context.

    I’m not blogging about talking today, but about writing letters-hope you’ll join me at http://www.burningbushes.org

    Nicole´s last blog post…Bad Handwriting…Redeemed

  2. These are great tips. #4 really hits home for women, in particular, I believe. At least this woman. I think that we wives want our husbands to automatically know what we’re thinking or feeling. We don’t want to have to tell him what’s wrong, we want him to already know. It is unrealistic and unfair to him.

    Shannon´s last blog post…Salmon Cakes with Lemon-Caper Butter

  3. Such an important topic Corey! When my husband and I talk about how it feels when we argue, we often say one of us felt like we tossed a stone and the other felt like they received a boulder…Working through your #2 we were really helped by the Love Languages book. Thanks for the post!

    Lisa @ WellGrounded Life´s last blog post…The Body Check-In

  4. “When there is tension in your life, other people will be sense it.” – This is definitely the truth. And goes for our children as well, which is why I wrote about dealing with tension in the home today, too.

    What helps our marriage of 10+ years is to think positively. Believe that the other person isn’t trying to hurt you with their words. Put a positive spin on things, and calm down before having intense discussions.

    Jamie

    steadymom.com´s last blog post…Five Strategies to Help a Moody Mama

  5. I like to think that my husband and I communicate well together but as I’m reading through this list, I realize we could probably use some work on #2 – making sure the message received and intended is the same. It’s easy to kind-of skip past this part and go off assumptions but it makes a huge difference when we do take the time to make sure we’re talking about the same thing.

    Great post!

    Tabitha (From Single to Married)´s last blog post…Marriage – Friends with Exes

  6. Great article and so true. I think #4 is a biggie. This is one area both my husband and I have had to work on. Sometimes we tend to hold things inside for fear that it might hurt the other person’s feelings.

    However, we’re learning the only way to get through issues is to just speak up about them and talk through them together. After all that’s what marriage is all about – living, loving and doing things TOGETHER.

    Amanda @ Mommy’s Idea Book´s last blog post…Get Up, Get Moving, and Get Sexy, Part 2

    • @Amanda- I’ve yet to come across a great marriage where the risk of getting your feelings hurt was non-existent. It’s part of the growing process and living with another individual. I would think that living with a person who never differed from me would be extremely boring.

      Corey – Simple Marriage´s last blog post…How To Have Your Feelings

  7. This is a really great post. I know that I personally can stand to work on #3 and #4. A lot of times my husband will do things (and not even bad things…they just annoy me) and instead of telling him, I either clam up or just do the whole “nothing’s wrong” routine–which I know is ridiculous. Old habits die hard. I think a lot of my communication style reflects what I witnessed/experienced growing up. There was no real “talking about feelings” and when I occasionally did speak up, it was not well received. I know I don’t want to communicate in that manner in my own marriage (or going forward when we start a family), but sometimes I think those experiences prevent me from saying what I really feel. Fortunately, I recognize this and try to make a concerted effort to do better.

    Jill´s last blog post…april 14–are you kidding me?

  8. This is a great post. #4 really speaks to me, because it’s been something I’ve been actively working on for the last couple of years. I couldn’t tell you how many times, I’ve been in the kitchen having a full-blown imaginary argument in my head over needing help with the children and etc. As I’m busily putting away dishes and scrubbing pots, the imaginary voices go back and forth….all IN MY HEAD. Meanwhile, my dear husband is sitting less than 10 feet away, watching a rerun on T.V., 100% oblivious that his wife has officially lost it. ; )

    Now, I speak up. I say that I’m either tired or frustrated or in need of a little recognition…

    Kirwin´s last blog post…5 vegan recipes an omnivore will love

  9. I love this part “What part of your vows stated you’d read each other’s minds for as long as you both shall live? I’m guessing that wasn’t part of the ceremony.” That’s so perfect!

    Before Gwynn and I discovered the art of communicating there was a lot of mind reading going on, each of us not wanting to come right out and say things as we didn’t want to hurt each others feelings. It’s so much better now that we’re open and candid about everything in our marriage, even when it comes to things we may not want to hear. :)

    Sherri (Serene Journey)´s last blog post…When Life Gives You Lemons…Use Them!

  10. Really sound post. All couples should be given a copy! I particularly enjoyed your advice about not expecting others to mind-read or automatically understand our way of seeing the world. My husband and I have had a transformed marriage since I asked him to start reading some of my coaching and personal development books. Originally, it was to help him understand my paradigm, the way I was growing and changing, but after he read Venus and Mars and started practising the suggestions in it, it was like a miracle; just that simple acceptance that not only do we communicate differently, but that we need different places to retreat to, in order to refresh ourselves, made a big difference. He’s since become amazing at not being judgemental and genuinely believing that people are doing the best they can with what they have.

    janice´s last blog post…How to Write like Adam Lambert

  11. Wow…I particularly like Lisa’s comment about “one of us felt like we tossed a stone and the other felt like they received a boulder”. I think this is especially true for my husband and I. He is more sensitive than I am and I often say things, not meaning to hurt, but they do. I have to say though…it’s tiring always having to watch my words. Sometimes it results in me just not saying anything at all and then after internalizing frustrations for weeks, I blow up. It’s something we are always working on. It’s getting better though I think. We did have quite a breakthrough about a month ago. I think couples make the mistake of thinking that if they don’t argue much, they are fine. Not always the case.

    MB´s last blog post…10 Must Haves On A Flight With Kids

  12. My wife and I have an iron clad rule: Never let the sun set on an argument. Though of course this isn’t true as plenty of our disagreements have danced in the dark, the truth is we don’t fall to sleep without settling what needs to be said. The key really is in simple, clear communication. If you take the mystery away from your hurt, the solution is often right there in plain sight.

    Writer Dad´s last blog post…Welcome to the Inkwell

  13. “What part of your vows stated you’d read each other’s minds for as long as you both shall live? ”
    I am a big believer in this one. I may not always practice what I preach but I always tell my husband that this is a huge part of communicating. He thinks I sometimes talk “too” much about things…but to me, I try to remember he’s not a mind reader and I like to share what i’m thinking. My husband tends to be an awful communicator, but we can work on it.
    Great post!

    Jen
    http://www.afterthealter.com

    Jen´s last blog post…Store Brand Vs. Name Brand

  14. avatar
    V. Higgins says:

    Awesome post! #2 reminds me of a point in Love & Respect (Dr. Eggerich), you have to assume that your spouse has good intentions. So many times I jump to conclusions that he’s trying to hurt me and after that conference I realized that it’s a really stupid way of thinking! :-P He married me because he loves me and I know he wants to take care of me, this helps me slow down the emotional rollercoaster and ask him “Is this what you meant? Because this is how it came across.” This defuses a lot of otherwise ‘explosive’ situations.

  15. Great post on communication! In the beginning of our marriage (13 years ago) I would have been the one saying, “we just don’t communicate” — but the truth was we did communicate; I just didn’t like what he had to say! I wanted control. I grew up feeling like I needed to fight for my right to have an opinion and it resulted in me bringing that “fight” into marriage. When I realized we were on the same team, decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and trust him, and lose the grip for control—I figured out quickly I LOVED the man I married and communicating was quite a joy!!!

    jmbmommy´s last blog post…My Easter Treats!

  16. I found this post very helpful, thanks. I think my husband and I do a pretty good job communicating but you need a refresher every now and again. It still amazes me how often we misread each other…so I’m paying close attention to #2.

    Moltomom´s last blog post…A Birth Story…Or…A Flashback to High School Biology Class

  17. Poor communication was a major reason for our separation and decision to divorce. Luckily because of a program called Retrouvaille, we gained some much-needed help and we’ve come back together. A lot of what that program focuses on is this same kind of thing. Some things we learned to focus on:

    I statements only. No ‘I think’ or ‘I feel that YOU’ statements. Be honest but gentle. If you can replace ‘I feel’ with ‘I think’, you’re probably not expressing a feeling, but a thought. Feelings are uncontrollable, but it’s what you do with them that matters. You have to hear and receive what the other person is saying. Valuing someone’s feelings is valuing that person.

    Before we went to this, I was really good at saying things like “you make me feel _________.” Blame. We got much better at sharing our feelings without blame and much better at listening without feeling threatened. It’s always going to be a work in progress though. :)

    Heather @ alis grave nil´s last blog post…Nine years ago today

  18. It is always a good idea to make sure things are completely talked out before they are dropped.

    Communication is key and I have learned that the hard way.

  19. Trust.

    What do you do when the most fundamental block for the foundation of any marriage is shattered? Where do you go from there? How do you move forward? Communication is now played on a whole new level.

    Shanna´s last blog post…What’s in our Garden

  20. Now, twenty five years later. I just cant let or handle his behavior. I speak out willingly to tell him what i feel about his behavior; knowing he will threaten to leave me or tell me that i am planning to put him out. Its rut one day and funny the next day. Disfunctional and disturbing when i am already in physical disabling pain under medications. Thanks for being here. I done better with Jesus Christ, Family and taking care of myself. My nursing assistant treat me better than him. We made room in the closet for the grandbaby and he takes it. I tell him not to take it but he does. Weeks later when my nurse and i have time we use the shelf as plan and he comes in yelling at me while i am sleeping under medications. I wake up and tell him that i am tolerating him taking anything else from me. And, thats it! It finished i am done talking about it. Oh! well he gives me now and 30 days…. over a shelf. I tell him he needs another job or some help. Now, he sleeping after he woke me up. Well, Hell. Tommorow is another day.

  21. My husband and I have been married for 7 months now and even before we got married we had lots of arguments. Now it’s getting worst. We argue every week. it is so frustrating and challenging. I wish we could respect each other more and communicate better. I will try some of the options on this article.

  22. I think that communication is indeed a factor in its success with the media, as well. In our communication to understand all of it smooth.

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