Every marriage has some form of communication: discussing the logistics of daily life, talking about the children or even arguments. Just because you are talking, doesn’t mean you are effectively communicating. To truly master the art of communication, it is necessary to understand the different components of exchanges between two individuals. The information below is your personal course in Marriage and Communication 101.
- Know the Factors Involved:
It is a common mistake to think that communication between you and your partner is only about the two of you. There are four major factors that can hinder effective communication:
1. Norms and Attitudes:
As human beings, we take experiences and interactions of our past and incorporate then into our thought process. If your partner grew up in a home where money issues were never discussed, they may have a preexisting sensitivity to financial topics. If your partner was scolded excessively as a child, they may react strongly to the simplest of criticisms. These are examples of attitudes or norms that can interfere with your communication. It is important, as a couple, to try and understand your partner and any barriers that may exist so you can more effectively overcome these obstacles and get to the heart of the matter you are discussing.
2. External Noise:
Your environment can have a major influence on communication. If there is excess noise or distraction, it may be impossible to effectively discuss important matters. It is critical to choose the right time and right place for detailed discussions about your partnership.
3. Internal Noise
It probably isn’t the best time to bring up buying a new car or replacing an appliance when your spouse has just walked in the door from a terrible day at work. Likewise, it is probably best to delay a conversation about intimacy when your partner has just had a fight with a friend or lost a love one. Realize that our state of mind is often driven by the emotional or physical strain we are feeling at the moment. Be sensitive to these “internal” distractions and communicate accordingly.
A conversation can’t happen in the 10 minutes you have between finishing your breakfast and running off to work. Be sure to leave yourselves amble time to hear each other’s perspectives and come up with some options.
- Be Prepared
In a partnership there is day-to-day communication that occurs off the cuff. Who will drop off the dry-cleaning? What do you want for dinner? What time will you be home? This is the simplest form of communication that exists in every marriage.It is also critical to communicate in greater length about your partnership. If you need to bring up a sensitive issue or make decisions together, prepare yourself before entering into that conversation. Too often, for example, we’ll attach very abstract emotional issues to more tangible conversations around finances. One partner might complain that the other works too much and is neglecting chores when, in reality, they feel neglected themselves. Take private time to think about what you want to communicate and make notes if necessary. The clearer you are about your wants, needs and issues, the more likely your partner is to understand them.
- Listen Like A Mirror
It’s a phrase normally associated with psychologists — “what I hear you saying is…” — but the premise is universal. Don’t be afraid to reiterate your understanding of your partner’s comments in a conversation. This helps clarify their intentions as much as your understanding of the communication. This is particularly important if a high-level of emotion is involved in the discussion. Often you can make an irrational conversation more rational simply by assuring your partner you are listening and helping them clearly articulate their messages.
- Pay Attention to the Nonverbal Communication
Research says that the majority of what we communicate isn’t actually said through words. Facial expressions, vocal tone, body posture and other nonverbal elements can be a big part of communication. If you say you aren’t mad at something with clinched teeth — the message will probably not be believed. It is very important not to let the non-verbal reactions to another situation, like a bad day at work or a problem with the children, carry over into a discussion about your partnership.
- Focus Communication on Action
Many couples feel that they have the same arguments all the time. If your communication is seeming cyclical, it is either because you are not translating those discussions into action or the problem isn’t one that can be solved. Make an effort to leave every discussion about your partnership with a clear set of “action items.”
Having just highlighted the “big picture” essentials on mastering communication, we’ve compiled a list of questions to get you and your spouse started on enhancing your marriage and communication. The questions below have been adapted from a retreat organization- Retrouvaille- to give you some leads on how to start talking. Retrouvaille, which means “renewal” in French, encourages participants to answer “in loving detail.” Some people may find it helpful to write down their answers and then discuss. Others find it easier to confide when they awake in the middle of the night. Take your time. Nobody is scoring the responses.
Begin with a little fantasy like “how would we feel about winning the lottery?” That’s a lot less threatening than “How do I feel about the way you handle money?” Most of the questions have something to do with finances, because money triggers most marital misunderstandings and often symbolizes deeper concerns like trust, love and security.
- If we had twice the income, would we be any happier?
- How do I feel about how we handle money, individually and as a couple?
- How important are possessions in my life, your life, our life?
- How does each of us feel about how we balance the checkbook?
- Are finances getting in the way of our intimacy?
- What do we like best about ourselves and each other in how we handle money? Least?
- How does each of us feel about letting somebody outside the family borrow the car?
- How does each of us define “financial security” and how have our definitions changed over time?
- How does each of us feel when we want something we can’t afford?
- What’s the hardest thing to talk to each other about and why?
- When was the last time we complimented each other and about what?
- What steps can we take to talk and listen to each other more?