Do you find it challenging to express your needs, wants, expectations, disappointments, etc., directly to your mate?
Do you sometimes deny your true feelings about something bothersome that your spouse is doing or not doing, pretending to be “fine” because you anticipate receiving a defensive reaction?
Do you wonder how to communicate effectively with your spouse?, or if you are not using the right communication style?
If either scenario fits–don’t fool yourself into believing you aren’t communicating or your communication style is wrong. In actuality, you are being highly expressive, but rather than in a direct manner, you’re likely being passive-aggressive.
Hence, you’ll never truly enjoy the benefits of an honest dialogue.
Don’t fret, however, you are not alone!
Take Sally, a fourth-grade teacher, and Pete, a software developer, for example, both in their early 30s who desired to start a family. At the end of the day though, they were both pretty exhausted, leaving little energy for sexual intimacy.
However, fatigue and time-constraints turned out not to be their biggest problem. Rather, they both harbored unspoken resentments.
Unfortunately, neither Sally nor Pete trusted that it would be safe to speak up about what was bothering each of them and they fell into the trap of not wanting to “make a big deal out of nothing.”
Beneath the surface, Sally was annoyed because Pete had been failing to fulfill his agreed-upon responsibilities around the house, such as taking out the garbage and doing dishes, causing her to worry whether she’d be able to rely on him once they had a baby.
Pete, on the other hand, found Sally to be a fault-finder and he often felt criticized over petty things.
However, rather than pointing out his hurt feelings, he would roll his eyes and ignore her. Later, he’d get back at her by conveniently “forgetting” to do his chores.
Unbeknownst to both Sally and Pete, they had created a negative feedback loop or a negative communication style, using passive-aggressive means of expression.
For Sally, instead of sharing her fear about having a child with Pete, she would bang cabinets and makes sarcastic comments when Pete was in earshot, hoping she would draw his attention to the overstuffed trash can.
For Pete, rather than telling Sally that her communication style or barrage of criticisms left him hurt and angry, he ignored her, hoping she would stop complaining. (By the way, Sally believed she was offering constructive feedback, but that’s not how Pete interpreted it.)
While they loved one another, these indirect manifestations of their frustrations provided highly flammable fuel for a potential marital gas-tank explosion and their intimacy continued to wane.
Fortunately, Sally and Pete sought help and finally realized they needed to become mindful of their true feelings and express them constructively which allowed them to break their negative cycle and rebuild their intimate bond.
Many of us resort to passive-aggressive behavior when we don’t feel safe to share our thoughts and emotions openly.
But when used within our intimate relationships, these various indirect expressions can be as destructive as aggressive behavior, if not even worse at times.
But, you can break free from passive-aggressive behavior and become an honest and clear communicator instead!
Below are five tips for improving the quality of communication in your relationship:
- Make a list of your resentments and grievances. This is one of the most essential keys to effective communication in marriage
- Prioritize the items from “those likely to become deal-breakers if left unchanged” to “those that don’t really matter in the long run.”
- Take the one with the highest priority and practice the following style of communication (in your own voice, of course).
“Honey, when I observe (fill in with a behavioral description), I interpret that to mean (for example, that you don’t care about my needs, or you are preoccupied, etc.) and then I feel (keep it simple with sad, mad, glad, or afraid).
I love you and I would like very much if we could find a way to clear this up or make a new agreement. I’m also very curious as to what I can do to create a safe space for you to share your grievances with me.”
Make sure you come from a place of positive intention. Remember, your goal is for your partner to receive your message both directly and lovingly so as to not inspire defensiveness.
Knowing how to communicate with your spouse starts with knowing the right communication style.
- Set up a time with your sweetie to have a conversation where you ask if he or she would please be willing to be the “listener” for several minutes so that you can express what you need to say, reassuring your partner that you will also give him or her time to respond once you feel you’ve been heard. Then express something you’ve practiced in #3.
- Invite your partner to also make a list and to create time to share his or her concerns with you. This demonstrates you understand that good partners take turns being speaker and listener.
Then repeat #3-5 moving through your lists. You might even discover that by getting through the first few items, behaviors will self-correct without having to go through every item on the list.
By putting these items into action, you will hopefully begin to reap the benefits of leaving passive-aggressive expression behind you and entering the scenic drive down honesty lane!
Exercise these communication tips for couples in your marriage to enhance your communication style and build a stronger bond.
And, no worries, if you occasionally make a wrong-turn, just pause and reflect, and then reroute yourself back onto the positive highway!
(Note: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek professional help as these tips may be counter-productive. Also, since each relationship is unique, there is no guarantee that what works for one person/couple will work for another.)
Want to have a happier, healthier marriage?
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
More by Debra Mandel