Photo by Mike Baird
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?