Fixing Communication Issues in Your Marriage Three ways to get your marriage back on track after communication derailments. BY LISA BROOKES KIFT, MFT
It's every couple's hope that their marriage will glide smoothly, but sometimes it need to be put back on the tracks with good communication skills.
Keeping a marriage happy and strong is a work in progress for most. It's perfectly normal for couples to hit speed bumps of various sizes, often times in the communication department. Ideally, couples work on a repair then move on, but sometimes not knowing where to begin to pull things together can feel overwhelming. If there has been damage occurring in the marriage for a long period of time, the mountain of resentment may be steep and tall. The first step is to get back to the basics of good communication, whether it’s a blip on your marriage radar or a more serious issue.
Here are three communication tips to help you and your spouse communicate effectively during moments of relationship derailments:
1. Stop, listen and breathe. When you feel slighted it can be counter-intuitive to take these three steps when your knee-jerk reaction probably looks more like attack and defend. Because it can be so difficult for some people to "stop" and "listen," I've added "breathe" to bring a bit of mindful awareness of the present moment by listening to your own breath rather than planning your next attack launch.
2. When in doubt, clarify. Faulty assumptions made about what the other means by what they said are one of biggest problems for couples. The automatic thinking process happens so quickly, it's understandable how this occurs. You hear a statement, you make up a negative story of what it means (assume), you have an emotional reaction that is likely unpleasant followed by an unhelpful behavior. The lesson here is before you react to the assumption you've made, clarify what your spouse meant by the statement.
You might say something like, "When you said the pot in the dish drainer was still dirty, I made up a story that I do a terrible job cleaning the house. Is that what you meant?" Give your spouse a chance to clear the air if need be and respond with something like, "Not at all, I was just letting you know you'd missed a spot on the pot." People's assumptions can be connected to some of their own fears of inadequacy.
3. Step into the others shoes for a moment. Your experience is valid and so is the experience of your spouse. This is something that is easy to forget, especially when conflict arises. Practice validation and empathy for the other by imagining what they might be feeling. Let them know you are trying to understand where they’re coming from, regardless of whether you necessarily agree. The act of attempting to do so will be greatly appreciated.
Part of what drives people during conflict is their emotional reactivity. If a sensitive spot is touched for either of you, there is the possibility you will get physiologically overloaded (fight or flight). Unfortunately, if you allow yourself to go out of your window of emotional tolerance with all of the associated stress hormones released, it can be very difficult to think rationally. It's this state that you're trying to avoid by slowing down the communication process from the very beginning and getting back to the basics.
Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of Love and Life Toolbox, one of the original therapist-created resources for marriage, relationship and emotional health available on the web.