Communication problems can arise in even the strongest of marriages. After all, we’re all humans and none of us are mind readers. Misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and missed points are a part and parcel of any human relationship, and marriage is no different.
Heading off communication problems as soon as they arise is a valuable skill for your marriage and your future together. It’s all too easy for communication problems to fester and turn into resentments and long-nursed hurts.
You know when you’ve hit a communication problem. There’s a feeling of tension and of something being unsatisfactory. You might be fighting far more than usual, or just not talking much at all. You keep missing each other’s meaning. Requests get missed, misunderstandings are rife, and before long you both feel frustrated. You might even be wondering if it’s time to break up.
Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to take a whole new approach. Maybe you’ve tried the usual advice of “just talk to each other” or “try to see the other person’s point of view.” Nothing wrong with that – talking and listening are the bedrock of good communication after all – but sometimes, a situation needs something different.
If you’re struggling with communication in your marriage, try out one or more of these five unexpected ways to solve marital communication problems.
1. Use a talking stick
This sounds a little out of line and may conjure up images of dancing round a campfire with feathers in your hair while wearing a boho skirt, but bear with us for a moment.
A talking stick means that only the person holding the stick can talk. Of course it doesn’t have to be a literal stick, and you don’t have to hit up your nearest hippie emporium (unless that’s your thing, in which case, go for it). Simply pick an object and agree that whoever is holding it, is the one who talks, and the other person listens.
It’s important not to get carried away and turn the talking stick into the ranting stick. Say your piece, then gracefully hand it over and let your partner have a turn.
2. Ask each other questions
Asking each other questions is a wonderful way to improve your communication. It’s so easy to assume what our partner is thinking and base our feelings and decisions on that.
But what if they were thinking of something else altogether? What if you assumed they weren’t taking out the trash because they were lazy, when actually the fact is that they were exhausted? The only way to find out is to ask them.
Sit down with your partner and take turns to ask each other questions, and really listening to the answers. You can ask about specific issues you’re having, or just ask some general questions to get into the habit of listening.
3. Practice mirroring each other’s words
Be honest, have you ever just switched off when your partner is talking? Or found yourself waiting impatiently for your turn to speak? We’ve all made a quick to-do list while our partner is talking sometimes. It’s not a terrible thing to do – it just shows that our minds are busy and we have a lot to do – but it isn’t conducive to good communication.
Instead of letting your mind wander, try this exercise. Each of you takes turns to listen to the other, and then when the current speaker is done, the listener mirrors back their words. So for example if your partner needs to talk about childcare, you might listen carefully and then mirror back “From what I’m hearing, I get that you feel as if you take most of the responsibility for childcare, and that is stressing you out?”
Do this without judgment. Simply listen, and mirror. Both of you will feel more validated, and have a deeper understanding of each other, too.
4. Turn off your phone
Our phones are so ubiquitous these days that scrolling through them or answering every “ding” you hear becomes a second nature. However, our addiction to phones can play havoc in our marriage.
If you’re always on your phone, or you interrupt a conversation in progress to “just check that” when you hear a notification, it’s hard to be fully present with your partner. Being distracted becomes a way of life, and that isn’t conducive to good communication.
Try switching your phones off for an agreed time, such as an hour each night, or every Sunday afternoon.
5. Write each other a letter
Sometimes it’s hard to say what you want to say, or focus on what your partner needs to say to you. Writing a letter is a wonderful way to focus on your thoughts and feelings, and you can think about how to express yourself, so you are clear and honest without being cruel or angry.
Reading a letter requires focus and concentration and encourages you to listen to your partner’s words. Just remember to keep your letters respectful and gentle – they’re not a vehicle for venting out frustration.
Communication problems don’t spell doom for a marriage. Try out some different techniques and not before long you’ll learn to communicate more clearly and tackle your issues together.