Marriage is one of the most sacred ceremonies and practices in our society today. Couples spend thousands of dollars on the perfect wedding. They pick the perfect venue, cater the event with the most decadent foods, decorate the space with elegance and style, and dance the night away to their favorite music.
A big missed step with couples is that they don’t spend any effort, time, or money on learning the right skills and preparing for marriage. Premarital Counseling is an important step that could save a lot of heartaches a few years after the wedding. Once the celebration is over, just the couple remains, and sometimes, the silence sets in.
Many couples struggle with communication and unmet expectations. This happens because they do not take time to prepare for a lifetime of marriage. They discover problems as they start communicating with each other! This does not mean that they no longer love each other or that their marriage is over. It simply means that their current communication techniques are ineffective. It is time to break the silence. Here are six ways to improve communication in your marriage.
1. Identify your Communication Style
In a marriage, not only is it common but is expected to communicate differently than your partner. The key to effective communication is to identify your and your partner’s individual attachment styles. There are two types of communication styles: the intuitive communicator and the literal communicator.
An intuitive communicator will infer their partner’s needs from statements that are made. A literal communicator will make a statement at face value without any extra interpretation. For example, if your spouse says, “I am really hungry.” Would you interpret their statement as them asking you to make the food? Or do you hear that statement and think to yourself, “That is a piece of information that they vocalized.” An intuitive communicator would prepare their partner’s meal, while the literal communicator would not.
Identifying your styles of communication will enable you and your spouse to clearly communicate your needs to each other without misinterpretation. Do not set your partner up for failure by having an uncommunicated expectation that they are unaware of and, therefore, cannot meet. An effective way to clearly communicate your needs and desires is by stating your needs and the expectation clearly, then giving your partner a timeline in which to meet this need.
This can be both specific and priority-based. Make sure to express your purpose or the motivation for your request. For example: “I would really appreciate it if you could sweep and vacuum the floors today before you go out because it would allow me an extra few minutes to rest and read my book.”
2. Identify Each Other’s Primary Needs
What is it that you need most from your spouse? Is it a night out, a deep conversation, a sink that is free of dirty dishes? Communicate your most important needs and desires to your partner to ensure you feel seen, loved, and supported. This will allow you and your partner to prioritize those needs over the less significant ones.
For example, you may be feeling frustrated because your spouse thinks they are meeting your needs by running errands and making you tea. However, you would rather sit down with them and have an engaging and intellectual conversation. If you say, “I feel really distant from you,” it will trigger your partner to respond with, “I’m doing all these things for you.” While both of you are seeking ways to feel loved and connected, there is a miscommunication of primary needs.
In marriage, we tend to love the way we want to be loved. However, it may not always be the way our partner needs to be loved in order to feel loved. Make time to ask questions about what it is you or your spouse truly needs to feel loved. Use clear and direct directions and follow up with them when their needs are met. This will drastically reduce misunderstandings and unmet expectations.
3. Understand Your Conflict Style
A vital part of communication is also learning how to work through conflict. Learning about your conflict style is important so that you can better understand why your arguments seem to spiral. Are you more assertive with conflict? Are you expressive with your anger and find it easy to verbalize when you have an issue? Or are you submissive with conflict? Do you internalize the issue and freeze in a discussion?
To an assertive partner, it can feel like abandonment when our spouse shuts down; however, to a submissive partner, their flight response kicks in, and they want to get away from the conflict as soon as possible. Understanding how each of you handles conflict will keep a disagreement from escalating. Before a conflict arises, create a plan or strategy for how to most effectively manage the disagreement.
4. Set Rules and Guidelines for Disagreements
It is normal for couples to argue and disagree with each other occasionally. How you argue can make or break your emotional connection. Here are a few highly recommended rules to follow during a conversational conflict that will result in a peaceful resolution. Avoid insults or name-calling. This will go a long way to keeping things from escalating out of control.
Use respectful verbiage and statements such as “I feel” instead of casting blame with phrases like “you always/never.” This will facilitate a productive conversation. Remember that you are a team. It is the two of you versus the problem, not each other. Do not bring up trigger points without reason. If these subjects must be addressed, be prepared to offer a solution, and work together to find a compromise.
After an argument or conflict, prioritize a positive experience together, such as an engaging physical touch or an expression of appreciation. Set up an “aftercare” plan to avoid any lingering negativity or iciness that might follow a fight. Studies show that it takes five positive experiences together to cancel out one negative experience. This mutually agreed upon plan will outweigh the conflict and foster closeness once more.
5. Foster Trust
With each interaction, foster trust. All communication is lost without this key element. Create a safe and non-judgmental space for you and your partner to be authentic and genuine. This will ensure you and your partner feel comfortable communicating about the issues, fears, and desires that you previously have been unable to express. Trust allows couples to be more vulnerable, honest, and open more frequently.
6. Express Kindness
If your marriage is feeling emotionally distant or you are struggling to find your way back together, focus on acts of kindness. Consider the term ‘reciprocity.’ It is the idea that when you do something nice for someone else, there is a subconscious and unspoken desire to return the favor. Utilize this effect and apply it to your marriage. Even when you do not feel like it, show kindness to your partner and reciprocate it when they do something kind for you. By practicing selflessness with your partner, it will draw you both closer together again and reconnect the distance.
These acts of kindness do not need to be extravagant or expensive displays of affection. In fact, it is advisable that they are not as they are not sustainable in the long run. Find something small that you can do for your partner every day. You can simply ask thoughtful questions like, “How can I make your day better?” or “Is there anything you need me to do?” These are small, tangible ways to express your love. These seemingly insignificant gestures will help your spouse feel loved, appreciated, and special.
7. BONUS: Keep Communication Fun
If you feel that you’ve hit a roadblock in your marriage or have run out of things to talk about, try using a questionnaire game to bring up new topics and deepen your emotional intimacy. There are a wide variety of games like “We’re Not Really Strangers” or the “Intimate Connection Deck” that you can keep on hand for a night of emotional connection. Take turns following the card prompts to ask thoughtful questions, answer honestly, and reconnect with each other after a long day.
Feel free to add one or two lighthearted questions over breakfast or during a long drive together. It does not always have to be an extensive or serious game of heart-to-hearts. Personalize it to your own relationship to make the most of your time spent together.
Marriage is not easy. Two very different people with very different ideas come together to create a life together. In order to succeed, effective communication will be the key. Follow these simple ideas and techniques, work hard to communicate effectively, and your marriage will thrive. When you decide it’s time for therapy, call Jousline Savra. As a psychotherapist, she has nearly 22 years of counseling experience helping couples and adult individuals to attain emotional stability, improve their relationships, enhance their communication and their emotional connection.