Communication is crucial in marriage. Most marriage breakdowns and breakups can find some level of poor communication as a root cause. It has been said that there are six possible messages heard in every conversation:
1. What you intended to say…
2. What you actually said…
3. What your spouse heard you say…
4. What your spouse thinks he/she heard you say…
5. What your spouse says about what you said…
6. What you think your spouse said about what you said…
I think the following quotes sums it up quite well:
“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” ~Robert McCloskey
Communication isn’t easy, yet for some reason we all think that we are the clearest and most concise communicators on the planet!
For a marriage to communicate at it’s best there are some practices you need to major on, and some practices that you need to eliminate!
1. Practice Clarity
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who is as vague as a politician during election season? They talk a lot but never seem to quite land the conversation with clarity. Choose to speak as clearly and concisely as possible. Often, a person will be vague because they are afraid that speaking truthfully will cause to much damage, when in reality a lack of clarity causes the listener to create their own interpretation of what is being said. Choose against beating around the bush hoping your spouse will catch on to what your are trying to communicate in a round about way. Trust me, they don’t get it. Communicate with clarity and brevity, and when your done ask your spouse to paraphrase back to you what they heard. This will reveal just how we misinterpret what we are being told.
2. Choose The Right Time
Believe me, there is a right time and a drastically wrong time to have an intense conversation. Most people choose the wrong time because they are in a reactionary mode and not a responsive or proactive mode. Let’s start by looking at times to avoid:
a. Late at night
b. When you are tired
c. When you are really angry
d. When you’re distracted
Important conversations need all the bandwidth that we can muster. So choose a time when you free from distractions, have emotional bandwidth, are removed from reactive anger and are not running on fumes or are trying to handle the kids, cook dinner or are engaged in something else that requires your attention. Good communication requires that you are physically, spiritually and emotionally present.
3. Listen Fully
In order to listen fully we must choose to actively listen to our spouse. That means that I need to stop thinking about my response, rebuttal or redirect while my spouse is talking. Active listening is hard but is one of the most powerful tools you have to increase the intimacy in your marriage. When our minds are contemplating what our response or justification should be, we have stopped listening and have increased the odds of misunderstanding what we are being told. When we choose to fully listen, we have just voted -for- the relationship by deciding that it is more important to understand each other than prove we are right.
4. Clarify What You Heard
This is so powerful, but few couples actually do it because they think it is simply a counseling gimmick. It doesn’t have to be so “cliché'” though. Many times a day I am asking people if I am hearing them right, and in our marriages it is even more important to ask that question. Simply intoning, “So are you saying…” after your spouse has told you something is not psycho-babble, it is choosing to make sure you are getting clarity on what you are hearing. That leads to understanding, and understanding births intimacy and a deeper knowing.
5. Continue The Process
Remember that learning and growing in communication is a life-long process. We never arrive, we are always learning! As our communication gets better we often take it for granted that we “get it” or that we always know what our spouse is trying to say. In other-words we get lazy with our communication and that eventually leads to some big misunderstandings. So keep at it! Keep asking questions. Keep clarifying what you are hearing. Keep listening with your eyes, ears and heart.
Don’t Do This!
Criticism works like soul-sabotage. Often when a spouse has unmet expectations that have not been addressed, frustration goes underground and then combusts in the form of character assassinations that target the shortcomings of their spouse. When we criticize our spouses, there is a deconstruction that takes place infusing feelings of inferiority and worthlessness. Criticism rarely changes the behavior that sparked it, but it does destroy the intimate fabric you are weaving in your marriage.
Attack and criticism often are tandem strikes launched out of frustration. When we get big, loud and launch an attack, there is no going back. An attack is often postured as a defensive attitude. When we get defensive, we are no longer listening, and all of our energy is shifted towards winning the battle. Choose not to attack emotionally, verbally and of course physically. An attack can also come in the form of an onslaught of pressure from one spouse to “fix” an argument. When we push in this way when the timing is not right, we can end up doing more harm than good. Become ware of your actions, your words and your intensity, sometime we have no idea how much we live in “attack mode” and call it communication.
Withdrawal is the opposite of the attack, but it is just as deadly in a marriage. The message that is sent when a spouse completely withdraws with no explanation is one of “You don’t matter.” This often causes the non-withdrawing spouse to engage harder or in a more intense fashion and the destructive cycle builds and builds until it explodes. Stay engaged, decide on a good time to discuss your relationship and choose to eliminate isolation as a coping tool. Also ask yourself why you are withdrawing. Are you doing so as a weapon or a way to make your point, or are you truly processing something. Stay present and stay engaged and you’ll be helping your marriage grow.
When we feel that we are being wrongly criticized or blamed, our internal defense attorney is “Johnny-on-the-spot” and leaps into action with both barrels loaded. Remember that when all of our mental and emotional energy is spent justifying something or defending ourselves we are no listening, therefore communication is not happening. The best way to navigate this scenario is to listen, acknowledge your spouses perspective (a persons perspective is their reality whether it is true or not) and seek clarification on how to best move forward. When a couple has chosen to stop defense as a first move, they are better able to hear each other and realize that their perception(s) might be or are wrong. When we fight to the death for our position we never see if a perception is wrong.
Deflection is a great tool for denial. Instead of dealing with the conversation at hand, we “dodge-duck-dip-dive-and-dodge” the issue. This avoids the hard work of growing up and we deflect away the opportunity to grow in intimacy with our spouse. We deflect by minimizing a situation, “Oh it’s not that bad,” or “Come on I’m not like that.” We deflect by changing the subject multiple times during a conversation. We deflect by dancing around an issue and not addressing it in a clear way. We deflect by blame-shifting or playing the “victim card.” Remember that when a spouse deflects, the chance to truly communicate has just left the building.
So how are you doing? Take a moment and go back through the Do’s and Don’ts. Rate yourself on each area between 1 and 5. 1 being rarely and 5 being always…then take a faith leap and have your spouse rate you…that will show you pretty quickly the reality of your perception 🙂