Tips to Becoming a Great Communicator in Your Marriage Communication takes many forms. Here, we show you how it's as easy as…cake. BY ALYSON SMITH, LMFT
Closing the communication gap in your marriage takes just a few simple skills.
“ …Couples should take into account not only what one wants to say, but also when the message will most likely be received accurately.”
Communication tends to be viewed as a single dimensional line—a message that must be delivered from one person, "the speaker," to another, "the listener." While transmitting a clear message is at the crux of communication, the elements that support such an end are many, with the actual language being only a starting point.
Rather than a straight line, communication is better to be thought of as a decadent chocolate cake: there are many ingredients involved and richest when all are blended well. So, if the verbal message itself is the flour, then the timing of conversation is the baking soda, one’s body language the eggs, and the tone of voice is the butter. Here's how to bake your communication cake.
The When and Where
The timing of a conversation, including the environment it is set in, creates a context for what is being said. The context of a message is just as important as the words that are said, and often times, more important. Talking to your spouse about differences in parenting styles when alone, in the comfort of your home, feels very different than having the conversation for the first time in front of little Frankie’s kindergarten teacher. The verbiage of the conversation can be identical, but the feeling behind the words will coat the conversation, at times even drowning out the words that are said.
Many memorable moments in our lives, for better or worse, are recalled not by the exact words of the conversation, but by the feeling of the moment. Where and when one chooses to share information is just as telling, if not more so, than the verbal message itself.
With this in mind, couples should take into account not only what one wants to say, but also when the message will most likely be received accurately. For each person this is different, but most people are more responsive when the message is delivered at a time and place where they are relaxed and can speak as freely and honestly as possible. Ideally, private conversations should be just that, private, meaning only you and your spouse are present in a location you both feel connected in. By having additional people present, or having it in environment where one may feel exposed, one runs the risk of having the context overshadow the dialogue.
What Your Body Language Says
In addition to being attentive to the timing and environment, one should also be conscious of body language and tone when delivering a message. A person’s body language and tone should be congruent with the message being sent. When incongruent, the receiver of the message is left to wonder which part of the message he or she should respond to—the words or the way it was delivered. Mumbling in between sobs is sure to puzzle and frustrate even the most patient of husbands. It is healthier to speak on one’s disappointments than to cloud the mind and confuse the soul.
While it’s important to recognize each layer of communication and the impact it has on the message itself, it is foolish to think of these components as separate from the context of your marriage. Just like the environment and timing add to the context of a message, the context of a marriage trumps all. Genuine care and concern for the other’s well being is a healthy ideal to center your marriage upon. When a couple strives towards this ideal, and it is found at the heart of the relationship, it will impact all aspects of the relationship, including the way you and your spouse talk to one another.
In a way, respect can be considered the bowl in which the chocolate cake ingredients are mixed. When sturdy, even if chipped, it will create something delicious. The lack of one speaks to the transparency of the intention. Just as cake cannot be made without a bowl, healthy communication cannot be had without respect.
Alyson Smith, LMFT, is one of the New York Metropolitan Area’s leading psychotherapists. She can be reached at email@example.com.