The ABCs of Good Communication with Your Spouse 7 surefire ways that will help you and your spouse to a better understanding of one another. BY SHARON RIVKIN, M.A., M.F.T.
Being a good listener means you're not thinking about what you want to say next, but processing what your spouse is communicating.
“ A sign that you’re being a good listener is when you’re not interrupting your partner or thinking about something else while they’re speaking.”
Breakdown of communication is the number one cause of the start of relationship problems that I see in my therapy practice. The term, "communication," is used so loosely that most people don’t even know what it means. They know they don’t have it, they want to get it, but they don’t know how to do it.
What is my definition of "good communication?" It is a message that you send verbally to your partner who then receives it, acknowledges what you’ve said, and understands it. If that doesn’t happen, the verbal exchange is open to miscommunication, misinterpretations, and assumptions, which equal frustration, resentment, and distancing.
Below Are the ABCs of Good Communication:
1. Speak clearly, succinctly, and nicely. The clearer you speak and say what you feel, the more likely your spouse will hear what you’re saying and respond clearly in return. In normal, everyday conversations, instead of saying, "I can’t believe you still haven’t taken out the garbage," say, "I’d appreciate it if you’d take out the garbage tonight." For communications regarding more major issues, instead of saying, "Oh my gosh, work was so horrible. We need to talk now," say, "I had a hard day at work and I’d really like to talk about it. When do you have time?"
2. Be a good listener. Clear your mind of your own stuff while your spouse is talking to you so you can put yourself in their shoes and respond to what they’re talking about, not what you want to say next. A sign that you’re being a good listener is when you’re not interrupting your partner or thinking about something else while they’re speaking. And you know you’re being listened to when two things happen: (1) your partner asks questions—not by interrogating—but with curiosity to help them understand what you’re saying; and (2) you can say to your spouse, "Yes, you’ve got it. That’s exactly what I was saying."
3. Use "I" statements. "I" statements are a clear way to communicate, because rather than blaming them by saying, "You always do this," you’re telling your spouse how you feel. "You" statements end up feeling like an attack, and the only way your partner can respond is by defending himself. For example, "I feel sad because we argue all the time," rather than saying, "You’re always out to hurt me." This statement conveys that you’re taking responsibility for your own feelings, rather than blaming them for your anger.
4. Checking it out. A good way to have clear communication is to check out with your spouse what he/she heard you say and vice-versa. That way you can see if your message was received correctly to avoid the recipient making the wrong assumption about the message. For example, I would say to my spouse, "What did you hear?" Then my husband would feed back to me what I said. If that’s not what I said, I’d repeat it again until I’m satisfied that my husband has heard me, and vice-versa. Remember, you’re just trying to make clear communication, not criticize each other’s speaking or listening skills.
5. Have patience. Be patient with yourself and your spouse. Good communication means giving your partner the benefit of the doubt and being clear and kind in your communications. Remember, you want to make it safe for your spouse to talk to you. If you’re criticizing each other, attacking and defending in your communications, annoyed that your spouse is quiet or isn’t saying what you want to hear, that does not create a safe environment to talk. If your communication has broken down dramatically, you might want to seek professional help so that it doesn’t destroy the marriage.
6. Don’t ramble. Try to make your message clear and to the point. It’s confusing to hear a rambling message and it’s likely that the recipient of the message may get annoyed and frustrated, which then makes the sender feel unheard and unappreciated. Think about what you want to say before you say it. If your significant other is rambling, let them know in a kind way that you’re getting confused and want to hear the message, but are unable to. Don’t just blurt out that they are rambling!
7. Listening versus hearing. There is a big difference between listening and hearing. When you hear your partner, you hear only the words and often react to those words with anger. That’s where the communication starts to break down. When you really listen to your spouse, you’re going beyond the words to their feelings; you’re putting yourself in their shoes and are less concerned about your own reaction. How do you really listen? Take turns talking to each other. Rather than a dialogue, have two monologues. Put your feelings aside and for two-to-three minutes let your partner talk. During that time, don’t interrupt or comment on his/her point of view. Really look and listen to your spouse. Then switch. When you truly listen, without talking, you will hear things in a very different way and your dialogue will create a whole new perspective.
Good communication takes practice and is an invaluable tool that has the potential to make all of your relationships healthier, stronger, and more fulfilling.
Also known as the "last ditch effort therapist," Sharon M. Rivkin, therapist and conflict resolution/affairs expert, is the author of "Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to Stop Fighting Without Therapy" and developer of the First Argument Technique, a 3-step system that helps couples fix their relationships and understand why they fight. Her work has been featured in Oprah Magazine, Reader's Digest, Time.com, Yahoo!News.com, WebMD.com, and DrLaura.com. Sharon has appeared on TV, was quoted on The Insider TV show, and makes regular radio appearances nationwide. She has also appeared on Martha Stewart Whole Living Radio and is the "Resident Shrink" on Coach Ron Tunick's radio show, The Business of Life, on KKZZ 1400AM. For more information, please visit her website at www.sharonrivkin.com.