Communication plays a vital role in all our relationships, whether they are professional or personal. But it is a particularly key aspect of a good marriage. Many of us don’t know how to communicate effectively. We may not be comfortable voicing our needs, or we may just not know how. Thankfully, with some practice, open and honest communication skills can be learned.
What does open communication in a marriage look like?
In a healthy and loving marriage, couples talk freely, openly, and feel that they are safe when they share their most private thoughts. They comfortably voice their worries and feelings when difficulties arise and express gratitude when things are good. Both partners talk respectfully and not in an accusatory manner or with hurtful or critical insults. They listen attentively, trying to understand what their partner says with empathy rather than interrupting their spouse and pointing out what’s wrong in what they are saying. At the end of the talk, the couple feels positive about the conversation, and feels like their concerns have been understood and acknowledged.
Here are some tips that will start you on the road to being a better, more open communicator with your partner:
1. Listen and model the way good communicators speak
Spend some time listening to how people you admire use their words. Television news, radio and podcasts are filled with well-spoken people who know how to deliver a message in a respectful and pleasant way. Identify what you like about their communication style. Do they speak in soothing tones? Do they ask their listeners good, thought-provoking questions? Do they show that they are listening when other people speak to them? Try and incorporate the things you like about their communication styles into your own way of speaking.
2. Speak softly to be heard
Good public speakers know that the trick to getting your audience to truly listen is to speak softly. This obligates the audience to open up their ears and remain attentive. You can do the same with your spouse. Be gentle in the way you speak to them. Not only will it convey warmth and kindness, but it will allow them to open up their ears to hear what you are saying. Nothing shuts down a conversation faster than raising your voice, yelling or shouting.
3. Make your spouse feel safe
Doing this will surely help them to open up to you. Use a communication style that expresses a feeling of safety. Along with a gentle voice, words of encouragement can help your spouse communicate effectively with you. “Whatever is bothering you, you can tell me. I promise to hear you out without interrupting.” This sets the stage for the other person to open up without fear of criticism or negativity, and contributes to intimacy.
4. Show that you are listening
When there is a natural break in conversation, re-stating some things in a different way that your partner has just shared with you will show them that you are engaged, present and really hearing them. “It sounds like you are frustrated with your work right now. What you said about your boss would make me annoyed, too. What can I do to make you feel better right now?”
Using language like this shows:
- That you have understood your partner’s issue, and
- You are ready to support them
5. Allow for silences
Sometimes we need to reflect on what we want to say before saying it. (And that’s a good way to prevent blurting out things we don’t mean.) Open communication does not mean a rat-a-tat-tat relaying of words. Give your exchanges some breathing space. Even if you just need to insert a “Hmmmm….let me think about that one” while you ponder, it shows your spouse you are present and just need time to reflect on what was just said.
6. Timing is important
You don’t want to start an important conversation as you are heading out the door to take the kids to school. And you’d want to put off a heavy talk if you sense your spouse is exhausted after a long day at the office, or angry over something his mother said. We can’t always have great, open communication at all times, but we can select the best, most-opportune moment so that our communication takes place under optimal conditions.
Be sensitive to schedule, mood, and other forces if you want to set up conditions for a perfect back and forth between you and your spouse. That said, if something has happened that needs to be addressed, do not wait too long. Dwelling on a problem in silence is unproductive. Just make sure you pick a suitable moment to open up the discussion so you get the result you want!
7. Honor your spouse’s opinions, even if you don’t share them
One of the most important communication tools you can use when you and your partner are not agreeing on something is expressing something like this: “I understand your opinion, but I feel differently. Can we agree to disagree?”
These two sentences tell your spouse that you have heard them and understood them. It also allows you to honor your own opinion, which validates your feelings. Lastly, it brings your partner into the decision of agreeing to see each other’s views, even if these views are not aligned. This is an incredibly respectful way to de-escalate what could turn into a conflict.
Couples need to work towards the best, most- productive ways to communicate with each other. The ability to hold a good conversation is one of the best ways to remain emotionally connected with your spouse. Make sure you put aside time each day to put into practice some or all of the tips above. Your marriage and sense of happiness will be all the better for it.