Communication problems are one of the biggest challenges couples face in a marriage. Inability to communicate effectively with one’s spouse can lead to one or both partners feeling unheard, not cared for, and/or unloved. The bad news is that communication problems can have a devastating and even fatal impact on a marriage. The good news is that with the right tools, communication difficulties are some of the easiest marital problems to fix. Here are five communication no-no’s that couples are often guilty of and what you can do to turn them around:
5 Common communication problems and what you can do about them.
This ancient art has gotten many couples in trouble and has allowed for many a situation to be blown out of proportion. Even if you are very intuitive or have ESP, don’t try to read your spouse’s mind and don’t expect him to read yours. When you try to guess what your spouse is thinking, you make decisions and react based on information that may just be a figment of your imagination. You may become upset and waste hours or days stewing over something that you created in your own mind. If you want to know what your spouse is thinking, the best thing to do is ask! For those of you who expect your spouse to read your mind, know that you may be wasting your time. If you need your spouse to know what you are feeling or what you want from him, you need to tell him directly. While in a perfect world our spouse would intuit all of our needs without us asking, he is so busy in his “own world” that he is probably not thinking about your needs all of the time, nor will he necessarily know what you need without being told.
There is usually one spouse that just can’t hold back when he/she has something to say. For the “dumper”, once she gets it off of her chest, there is often a sense of relief. The problem is that the spouse on the receiving end is now likely feeling stressed out or reactive. If you have something important to say, especially if it is a complaint or emotional upset with your spouse, don’t dump without consideration of the other. The moment your spouse walks in the door, tired and hungry, is usually not the best time. When you catch your spouse off guard, their primary response will be survival. That often looks like withdrawing or reacting defensively. Instead of dumping, ask your spouse if he is available to talk. Is now a good time? If not, try to schedule a time within the next 24 hours to have that important conversation. When you take your spouse into consideration, you are more likely to have your concerns heard and have him/her willing to engage with you in the future.
How many times does your spouse feel that she can’t even finish a sentence without you interrupting? She may not even want to communicate with you as it is often not safe to share. While you may feel like you have something valuable to share or may even disagree or feel hurt, when you are listening, it is not the time to respond. Try remaining silent until your spouse is finished talking. When he is done, ask if there is more he wants to share. The couples I work with in my marriage counseling practice take it a step further and learn how to mirror each other. They repeat back what the other has said without interpretation or interruption. This assures that their spouse was truly heard, helps de-escalate conflict, and helps them control their own reactivity and urge to respond. It does wonders for the relationship and allows them to have a calm and civil conversation, one in which many couples have rarely experienced.
4. Unsolicited Advice-
As well-intentioned as you may be, unsolicited advice is a big communication no-no. If your spouse is sharing his feelings, it is not the time to offer your assessment of the situation unless otherwise asked, even if it is painful for you to hear. If your husband is depressed and opens up and shares his feelings of misery, telling him that he has a lot to be grateful for, just won’t do it. It’s not helpful, it may leave him feeling invalidated, and he may be less likely to share with you in the future. If you are truly listening, your focus must be on the one sharing, not your own feelings of discomfort. Your feelings are important and could be the topic of a different discussion, but not now. Do your best to validate by either not responding or sharing validation phrases such as “what you’re saying makes sense,” “your feelings are important to me”, “what you’re saying is valid.”
Criticism is a nasty habit that can belittle a spouse and break trust in a relationship. You started off your marriage optimistic, looking to your spouse as a life partner that you could always turn to, and know it feels like you are being picked on a daily basis. It goes without saying that it is important to focus more time on what your spouse is doing right as opposed to focusing on the negative. As you begin to see more of the positive, the negative will be less apparent or bother you less. Nonetheless, there are likely to be things your spouse does that bother you. Instead of criticizing learn a healthier way of asking for your needs. Replacing shaming statements such as “ you always do such and such” by taking ownership and using the word “I” such as “ when you do x,y,z, I feel”. When approaching your spouse with more sensitivity and gently explaining why you feel the way you do, as opposed to focusing on what she is doing wrong, you are more likely to see the change you are looking for.
Healthy communication is so essential to relationships because communication is the means by which we relate to our spouse. We cannot not communicate. While mindreading, dumping, interrupting, unsolicited advice, and criticizing often come second nature to us, they are extremely unhelpful ways of communicating as they break trust and inhibit connection. Healthy communication creates a structure of safety in the marriage which allows for love and connection to thrive.
If you’d like to improve your communication in your marriage, don’t hesitate to contact us via phone, email, or contact form to schedule your own couples counseling session. It is the best thing you can do for your relationship!
With best wishes for your relationship success,
Shlomo and Rivka Slatkin