Communication is no doubt one of the hardest parts of sustaining a healthy marriage. As time passes, couples get used to each other and assume that their counterpart understands how they feel at all times. Couples also tend to avoid certain subjects to sidestep a fight or a tough conversation. It’s natural to want to avoid conflict, but sometimes avoiding conflict in the here and now leads to a larger conflict down the road.
There’s many holes in marital conversation that can be shored up. But with every hole that exists in a married couples communication, there are multiple ways to deliver that information. It can be a tricky field to navigate, with landmines waiting for your next misstep in the form of an argument or a comment taken the wrong way.
Let’s examine some dos and don’ts of how you should speak to your spouse. It never hurts to improve your communication habits, so be conscious of the errors in your ways as your read them.
Do: Converse more about the positive than the negative
I know, this seems like a no brainer, but it’s so subtle that many people make the mistake of only speaking up when they have something negative to share. Use your words in a loving and complimentary way as much as possible. Tell your wife that she looks good in those jeans. Tell your husband that he’s looking handsome today. Tell your spouse how much you appreciate them.
If you are speaking to your spouse about the positive things more often, they’ll probably tune in and respect what you have to say if you want to state your displeasure with something. If you only badger them about how they’re screwing up, they’ll begin to tune you out.
Don’t: Have subjects that are “off limits”
If there’s something from you or spouse’s past that is off limits, it can be a dark cloud over your current relationship. One of the perks of being married to someone you love is that you can share open and honestly without fear of being judged.
Giving a topic or conversation the label of “off limits” make it seem like there is an ugly truth or a secret that someone doesn’t want to talk about. Avoid having these gaps in conversation so that the secrecy doesn’t overwhelm the relationship and cause a rift later on.
Do: Share your critiques with love
If you aren’t happy about how your spouse is behaving or how they’re talking to you, approach the conversation from a warm and loving place. In order for the conversation to be a productive one, you can’t come in yelling, screaming, and insulting the character of your partner.
Present your critique as one of their actions, not one of their character. They need to know that you still love the person that they are, you just don’t appreciate the thing that they did or the words that they said. It’s such a subtle difference, but attacking their identity is going to derail the conversation.
Critique of character: “You’re a jerk.”
Critique of action: “You were acting like a jerk.”
That small change is a more loving and respectful way to speak to your discontent. Always attack the action, not the person that performed it.
Don’t: Bring on combative conversation at the wrong time
There will be times within your marriage that you will need to have a heart to heart with your spouse. If they do something wrong, make a mental note of that transgression, and then bring it up at a time when emotions aren’t running high and you will both have time to talk. The most human thing to do is to react to their mistake immediately, but that often doesn’t solve the problem. Wait until you both have a level head and can discuss the issue like adults.
Also, don’t bring up a conversation that will need time to develop as you’re both running out the door to work or some other engagement. This only leaves a cliffhanger to a conversation that could get worse as the day goes on. Make sure you pick a point in time when you can both sit down and be honest and open without fear of running out of time.
Do: Be forgiving
Marriage is a lifelong commitment, and this will be paired with many disagreements. Once the issue is presented from either you or your spouse, work towards forgiveness. Holding a grudge may seem like a sound strategy, but how long are you willing to hold onto the fact that he said something mean about your mom? How long are you willing to sit with the fact that she told you that you could lose some weight?
It’s not worth it.
Get mad, get angry, and be honest about how your spouse made you feel, and then be intentional about forgiving that person. Forgiveness not only frees them of the guilt, but it frees you of the stress and anxiety that comes with those grudges.
Don’t: Assume that your spouse is a mind reader
Sure, you’ve been married for 25 years, but that doesn’t mean that either party can use telepathy to see inside the others’ mind. If you have something that’s on your mind, and your partner isn’t picking up on it, be direct.
Again, present the conversation in a caring way so that they don’t get defensive in response. But don’t sit, stew, and begrudge your partner because they’re not picking up on your mood.
Speak up. Often. Don’t wait for them to open you up and peek inside your brain. You need to get the ball rolling when it comes to the conversations that you feel need to happen. You may think that if they love you enough, they should be able to know what’s going on between your ears. But in reality, if you loved them enough, you would help them out and tell them what’s going on. It’s the best way to avoid resentment from both parties. Use that mouth of yours!