Summer is a popular time for honeymoons: that singular combination of vacation and celebration made all the sweeter by its stark contrast to the stressful period of wedding planning. It’s hard to top a honeymoon’s potential for sheer enjoyment of leisure time, which is why it can lead to problems.
When things feel effortless, it’s easy to take the health of your relationship for granted and fall into bad habits. Instead, you should seize the opportunity to put healthy communication practices in place. You’ll be glad you did as your marriage matures and challenges inevitably arise. Here are three essentials that you’ll thank yourselves later for mastering.
1. Listen reflectively. When your partner is telling you their thoughts or feelings about a concern—whether about his or her life or your relationship—periodically recap your understanding of what you’re hearing, in your own words.
You can practice this with positive thoughts and feelings, "I can hear how excited you are about that job promotion and how it will really let you make use of your talents!" And more contentious ones, "You’re saying that you feel like you do more of the housework than me, and that I might be taking you for granted. Is that right?"
In all cases, your reflective listening is letting your new spouse know that you’re attentive and that you care about his or her perspective. In more challenging times, by giving voice to your partner’s ideas you’re considering a perspective that may be accurate but not self-serving, and you’re helping to defuse hard feelings.
2. Use "I" statements. These take the following general form: "When you _______, I feel _______." While they can certainly be used to express positive emotions, they are especially useful as healthy way to express strong negative ones.
For instance, compare these two statements: "You’re always coming home late without calling first, and I hate it!" Versus, "When you don’t call to let me know you’ll be late, I feel sad, like I don’t matter to you."
Notice how the second sentence sounds less adversarial? That’s because the "I" statement format requires you to retain ownership of your own emotions and avoid the blaming, accusatory language that tends to make people retreat to their separate corners and puts an end to constructive dialogue. It also helps you avoid using the terms "always" and "never," which are usually inaccurate and unhelpful.
“The 80/20 Rule is also helpful if an argument is brewing and you find yourself starting to rant.”
3. Try the 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 Rule is pretty straightforward: it means that when you’re having a conversation with your partner, shoot for listening 80% of the time, and talking 20%.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with just having a natural back-and-forth in your everyday conversations, and obviously both of you couldn’t use this rule all the time because someone needs to be the "80%" and the other the "20%."
However, it’s worth a try if you’re consistently the one doing most of the talking. Let the other person do that for a change, and help the process along by asking open-ended questions. The 80/20 Rule is also helpful if an argument is brewing and you find yourself starting to rant. In both of these cases, it may be difficult to try and, as with most things in life, its difficulty is probably a sign that it’s a good and worthwhile thing to do.
If you start implementing these techniques early in your marriage, and often, the inevitable waning of the honeymoon glow and the changes and growth that each of you undergo won’t be things to lament or fear. You’ll have the tools that will allow your intimacy to grow and your relationship to flex along with you.
Jim Hjort, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of the Right Life Project, where he helps people overcome roadblocks to self-actualization as a psychotherapist, Right Life Coach, and mindfulness meditation instructor. The Right Life Project helps you understand the ways you can work with the different dimensions of your life (psychological, social, physical, and vocational) to be happier and more fulfilled, and to reach your full potential. You can learn more at RightLifeProject.com and follow Jim on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.