Scan any list about the most important elements of a happy marriage and effective communication will be somewhere between “shared values” and “physical intimacy.” Its ubiquitous inclusion is not because relationship writers are lazy. It’s because communication truly is key in any relationship. Especially one where you face each other every day prior to morning coffee, tackle everything from kitchen remodels to retirement plans and expose your greatest vulnerabilities and dreams.
The reason that communication can become a point of contention in a relationship is that while talking is easy,
Listening is hard.
And taking responsibility for our own emotions and responses is harder still.
But that doesn’t mean that everything to do with improving your communication has to be hard. Here are ten easy hacks to start improving the communication in your marriage beginning today:
Use Figurative Language
Feeling misunderstood is extremely frustrating. And it’s easy to get caught up in blaming your partner for refusing to listen. But maybe they’re listening and simply not relating. Not because they don’t want to. But because they don’t have anything to latch on to.
So instead of getting irritated, try getting creative. Reach back in your mental archives and pull up those metaphors and similes from your school days. Instead of explaining what it is, try painting a picture of what it’s like. You’re not trying to replicate every detail or match every trait. You’re just working to establish an anchor point for understanding. You can fill in the gaps later.
Follow the Percent Rule
I am a huge fan of the 80/20 rule – do the “right” thing 80% of the time and cut yourself some slack the other 20% of the time. Although this is most often applied to nutrition, it works with communication as well.
Share 80% of the positive thoughts you have about your partner or your relationship. (Yes, it would be nice to aim for 100%, but life, you know? So strive for 80%.) This means every time you admire your partner’s butt as he or she walks away, each time you notice that the garbage has been taken out and whenever you see him or her tackle something with ease, you speak up. Or write a note. Or send a text.
And the 20%? Share only 20% of your negative thoughts. This means you may have to choose them wisely. Don’t waste those words on a gripe about the scattered socks unless that’s really something that you to express and you want addressed. These words should be reserved for problems that can be solved together, not complaints for the sake of grumbling.
Pay Attention to Physical Comfort
One of the worst grades I ever made on a college exam was on a chemistry test that was administered in a frigid room while I sat on a cold, unforgiving metal stool. My body was in such discomfort that my mind wasn’t operating anywhere near its best.
Conversations operate the same way. There’s a hierarchy of needs and a full stomach, a rested body and an acceptable environment come before listening and responding effectively.
So by all means, go to bed angry if you need to. Staying up and staying engaged in the discussion will only backfire.
Ask More Questions
Do you find yourself responding defensively or getting angry after a statement by your partner? The instinct is to respond with a sledgehammer, shutting down that line of discussion completely and utterly.
Instead of smashing the claim (and you partner) into smithereens, try increasing the amount of questions that you’re asking. This strategy has a two-pronged benefit – it helps give you added information to aid in your understanding and it validates to your partner that you’re listening to them.
Use a Candle
Do you or your spouse have trouble initiating difficult or complex conversations? Try this simple idea.
Tell Stories of Your Shared Past
One of the ways that researchers are able to predict divorce in a couple is the relationship origination story that they tell. Happy couple tell happy stories, making light of or brushing over any rough patches on the way to the alter. Do they tell happy stories because they are happy or does the mere retelling of a happy story cultivate additional happiness?
I would wager it goes both ways.
Make a habit of telling favorable tales about your shared relationship history. You’re making deposits in the marital bank and reinforcing your bond.
Write It Out Before Talking It Out
Have you ever uttered, “You make me feel…?” No shame. I’m guilty too. We say that because it’s easy, skimming the surface – you did this, I felt this – instead of digging deeper – you did this, it reminded me of that, and I felt this.
One of the biggest things you owe your spouse is to take responsibility for your own stuff. And that starts by being aware of your stuff. The connections between your present and the luggage you brought with you from your past.
So talk to your journal before you talk to your partner.
Because writing your thoughts is a great way for you to see those connections between what was done and how you feel. Because nobody else can make you feel a certain way.
Engage In a Shared Task
The body tells our minds how to feel. If you clench your fists, you will respond more aggressively in conversation. If you roll your shoulders back, you not only appear more confident, you speak more confidently.
So when you want to communicate to establish a connection, begin with a physical association through a shared activity. This doesn’t need to be complicated – washing the dishes, taking a walk, shopping for groceries all count as joint tasks.
Just another reminder that you’re in this thing together.
Use Texting Wisely
In a marriage, texting should only have two uses: 1) Planning or 2) Play.
Logistics comprise a significant portion of any relationship. And texting is a great way to work out the details of shared lives in real time.
But a marriage that only shares plans isn’t much of a marriage.
And phones are great for sharing more than just reminders and schedules.
Flirt. Seduce. Banter. Joke. Play.
And ban anything negative or complicated from your texting vocabulary. Some things are better addressed in person.
And the number one hack you can utilize to improve your communication?
So often the reason that a conversation heads south is that we react to what we expect to hear instead of what is said. We construct a response before we even hear our partner out.
In other words, the battle is really within ourselves.
The single most important change you can make in your communication is to approach with curiosity instead of conclusions.
And you just might learn something new about your partner.
Or even yourself.