Marriage is hard. Movies and television have romanticized the ideas of love and marriage and elevated expectations. The standards are set far above reality – not everyone has a fairytale love free of worry, doubt, and conflict. However, while your marriage may not be perfect, it is important for a relationship to continue to undergo change and growth over time. The following five strategies, if practiced regularly, can be effective in transforming the way you communicate with your spouse.
Listen with intention
“I heard you.” This sentence is no stranger to communication between spouses, but does hearing actually mean the same as listening? Hearing is the process in which sound waves strike the eardrum and cause vibrations that are transmitted to the brain. It is the physical, biological part of communication. However, listening means taking in and processing the information being communicated. Being a good listener means paying attention to more than just words. You must identify the meaning behind the tone, pitch, and volume of the words; you see the facial expression, sounds, and other nonverbal cues being emitted to have better communication with your spouse.
Being a good listener means investing time and energy into receiving what your spouse is trying to communicate to you. Listening is a challenge; try talking less, getting rid of distractions, looking for key ideas, and avoiding premature judgement.
Take responsibility for your emotions
Being assertive when communicating is often confused with being aggressive. Aggressiveness violates the rights of someone else while assertiveness is a respectful and concise communication of your rights. The language of assertiveness is geared toward taking responsibility for your emotions and increasing the ability to clearly discuss the reasons behind those emotions.
Use “I” statements like “I think…” or “I feel…” Phrases such as these can help indicate to your spouse that you are not transferring your opinion or thought, but instead you are trying to clearly express your own. Make requests using a similar format; saying “I need…” can be much more effective than “You should…” Offer compromise or request your spouse’s input. Ask for clarification instead of assuming how the other person feels, and avoid making statements that are demanding or seem to blame the other person for your emotions. Remember, your spouse did not make you angry – you became angry when your spouse chose to do something alone rather than with you. While the action was not yours, the emotions are, and it is vital to take responsibility for them.
Learn your spouse’s language
How do you prefer to receive affection? You may prefer to spend quality time with your spouse or to be physically close. Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, identified five distinct ways in which each person gives and receives love. These categories include physical touch, receiving gifts, quality time, acts of service, and words of affirmation. The author notes each individual has one or two ideal methods of receiving affection. The most common mistake, however, is most will try to show their spouse affection in the way they prefer to receive affection, rather than taking into consideration the language of the spouse. Take the time to not only identify how you prefer to be shown love but to also identify the ways in which your spouse would like to be loved.
It’s okay to say no
Being unable to fulfill unrealistic expectations is frustrating and can cause avoidable friction in a marriage. Sometimes, it is okay to say no! Part of clearly communicating to your spouse is the ability to know when enough is enough or when there is too much on your plate. Saying no may be disappointing for you or your partner, but it may be necessary to maintain your wellbeing and the health of your relationship. Acknowledge to your spouse that it may be upsetting or frustrating, but avoid feeling guilty.
Be kind and gracious
In the middle of a heated argument, it is often extremely difficult to remain kind and practice patience. Your words have the power to uplift or bring down your spouse – use them wisely! Words said in the moment do not disappear once the argument has ended. Be conscious of what you say and know the kind of power they carry. Be gracious and patient; give your spouse time to correct a mistake or to apologize for an error. It is okay to have expectations, but anticipating immediate gratification is dangerous.
These five strategies, if put into practice by you and your spouse, can improve communication overall. Love is the foundation of marriage, but without a concrete way of connecting on a deeper level, marriage cannot reach its true potential. Learn to be active, be present, and be kind. Be willing to step up to the plate and create an environment of true connectedness in your relationship.