Strong communication is key in a dream marriage. Yet many relationships have a failure to communicate.
My husband and I didn’t always communicate perfectly in our marriage; but we learned from our mistakes early. We spent most of our 10-year-marriage communicating openly, avoiding angry outbursts, and listening to understand the other person’s perspective.
We just had to eliminate bad communication habits and introduce positive communication habits early in our relationship before things festered. If your relationship has already festered to a bad place, strengthening communication skills with your partner will turn things around.
To help you, here are valuable communication habits to keep in mind.
Bad Communication Habits to Avoid
Giving the silent treatment
When I was upset about something my husband did, I would give him the silent treatment. I would purposely not talk to him.
I thought it would make him feel bad about whatever he did and never do it again. It was passive aggressive and it didn’t work.
It would have been better if I just told him what bothered me. Being passive aggressive actually caused a bigger division in the relationship.
Thankfully, I only did it a few times before I realized it was an ineffective way of communicating.
Expecting mind reading
Along the same lines of giving the silent treatment, I thought my husband knew how I was feeling without telling him. I didn’t verbally communicate to him. I basically thought he should know what I was feeling or read my mind.
I had to realize that we were two different people. We grew up in two parts of the country. We had different upbringings. He’s a male and I am a female. We think differently about most things.
In order for him to know how I was feeling, I had to tell him. Otherwise, I was contributing to a failure to communicate. It didn’t matter how many hints I dropped. He wasn’t going to know what was on my mind unless I told him.
Jumping to conclusions
I had a bad habit of assuming I knew what my husband’s actions meant. It’s something you may do all the time without realizing it. Jumping to conclusions also contributes to a failure to communicate.
For example, if your spouse doesn’t like an outfit you are wearing, you could jump to the conclusion that your spouse isn’t attracted to you.
Another example, is if your spouse is talking to a co-worker, you might jump to the conclusion that the spouse is cheating on you.
Most of the time your assumptions are not true. However, you react angrily to your spouse based on an assumption.
I found it best to ask my spouse about my assumptions. He usually has a logical explanation that has nothing to do with the conclusion I jumped to in my mind.
You may think that yelling is a normal part of a relationship. It’s not. It’s actually very toxic to a relationship.
I grew up in a family of strong women who usually yelled when they got angry. It took a lot of self-control not to resort to those natural tendencies and not to mirror what I saw while growing up.
You have to learn not to let your emotions get to you. Yelling causes a failure to communicate.
When my husband and I have a disagreement, we talk peacefully to each other until the situation is resolved. Yelling doesn’t accomplish anything productive. It only makes things worse.
Name-calling is something else you may do when you’re angry. This can cause a rift in the relationship long after you’re no longer angry. It also causes a failure to communicate.
Examples of name-calling is saying things like your spouse is lazy, selfish, mean or stupid.
When you label your spouse, it can affect how you see your spouse and how the spouse sees themselves.
The spouse might sometimes exhibit behaviors by the name you called them. However, the spouse may not behave that way all the time. It’s not helpful to your relationship to call your spouse a negative name.
Instead of the using bad communication habits, try adopting these positive communication methods.
Positive Communication Habits to Adopt
Communicating feelings regularly
Some marriages have no communication. That makes it hard to build a strong relationship.
Either there were communication problems in the past or something happened to diminish the trust in the relationship. I found that it is better to communicate with your spouse. Otherwise, your spouse won’t know how you are feeling.
More communication is better than holding everything in and not talking to your partner. In leadership classes, we learned that the best way to communicate negative feelings is using “I-statements.”
For example, say something like:
“I feel lonely when you stay out all night” or “I worry when you don’t tell me you’re coming home late.”
When you’re using “I-statements” it’s best to describe the behavior you don’t like. You should not use it as an opportunity for name-calling.
Instead of saying something like, “I feel like you’re lazy,” describe the behavior.
“I feel overwhelmed when I am cleaning up the house and you’re watching television.”
Using “I-statements” is better because it doesn’t sound like you are attacking or blaming your spouse for your feelings. You are taking ownership of your feelings.
Your relationship will grow stronger when you can regularly communicate your feelings in a non-confrontational way.
In the same way you take ownership of your feelings, you need to take ownership of your actions. If you get upset about something your spouse does, you control how you react.
When you remain calm, instead of reacting out of anger, it de-escalates the situation. You can be the one that reacts calmly when your spouse is angry or upset. It will diffuse the situation.
When you both react angrily, you can both say or do something you don’t mean. If it continues to happen, it will slowly start to destroy your marriage.
If you can’t remain calm, it’s ok to tell your spouse you need to walk away until you can calm down. That is better than reacting out of anger and doing or saying something you regret.
Then you both can come back together and have a discussion to resolve the issue. Be careful not to force communication before you are both ready to talk.
Learn how to remain calm when your spouse upsets you.
Listening to understand
One way to remain calm when you’re having a disagreement is to listen to understand your spouse’s perspective.
Normally in a disagreement, your goal might be to argue your side. When your goal is to understand your spouse’s perspective, you’re not so defensive. It helps you to remain calm. It also helps you to come to a consensus on the issue and move forward together.
One of my mentors at work had similar advice. He said to be curious for as long as possible. I followed his advice with one of my co-workers. I continued to ask questions until I understood her side. Then I told her how I was feeling. She was more willing to listen to me because I listened first.
The next time you and your spouse have a disagreement, try to listen to understand the spouse’s side. It will do wonders for your relationship.
Not only should you listen to understand your spouse, you should also acknowledge your spouse’s feelings.
I recently read this advice in the classic parenting book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. It had a lot of excellent communication advice in it that is not only for children.
Although you may not agree with the feelings, you can acknowledge how your spouse is feeling.
Using an earlier example, you can say, “So, you’re overwhelmed and you want me to help out more around the house?”
Don’t repeat verbatim what your spouse said. Paraphrase your spouse’s words to acknowledge their feelings.
I used this advice with my daughter who is often scared at night. Normally, I deny her feelings or dismiss them without realizing it. I’d say:
“There’s no reason to be scared” or “It’s going to be ok.”
It seemed to calm her down more when I validated her feelings and said things like:
“I used to be scared at night too” or “It’s ok to be scared.”
You should do this with your spouse too. Instead of denying your spouse’s feelings, accept their feelings. It’s their feelings. You can’t disagree with how they are feeling.
Once you start to acknowledge or accept your spouse’s feelings, you will see how powerful it is at opening the lines of communication between you and your spouse.
Checking on your spouse
Another way to open the lines of communication with your spouse, is to check on how your spouse is feeling.
When I get home from work, I like that my husband asks me about my day and then listens and asks questions about my response.
My husband had a recent tragedy in his family. I can tell when he is thinking about it and I ask him how he is feeling so he can talk about it.
In the same way, if you notice your spouse is sad or you can tell something is wrong, ask your spouse how they are feeling.
Don’t let your relationship crumble because of a failure to communicate.
In order to fix a failure to communicate, you need to focus on what you can control.
You can control how you react to a situation. You can remain calm during a disagreement instead of expressing anger, name-calling, and giving the silent treatment.
Practice positive communication habits with your spouse. Instead of being defensive, listen to your spouse’s perspective and acknowledge your spouse’s feelings.
If there is little to no communication with your spouse, initiate conversation and find out how your spouse is feeling. Keep the communication lines open.
It may be awkward to have some of these conversations. It will become natural the more you do it and you will be in a strong communication relationship in no time.