Marriage is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires consistent work and commitment by both partners in order to keep it on a successful path.
“The key to a relationship is communication” is a long- held cliché. There is however, a great deal of truth in this old adage.
The differences between you and your partner as well as the many stresses and strains of life can impede communication. It’s so easy to fall into bad habits or to neglect communication altogether.
Sometimes we may not even be able to identify the errors we are making. This short list will highlight some of the more common pitfalls of marital communication, and give some pointers as to how to improve the dialogue at home.
Learn To Listen
This is another cliché but one that therapists and marriage counsellors can't emphasise enough. So many of us skim over advice on how to listen, thinking we have it down, when in reality our skills need updating.
Listening is so much more than just hearing what the other person is saying! Try to be an active listener. This means not only understanding the content of your partner’s words but actively trying to understand how they feel and see things from their perspective.
You may not be as deeply interested in your partner’s current work project as they are, but put yourself in their shoes. If it matters to them it should matter to you.
It also really helps to show signs that you are listening. Show signs of acknowledgement and if unsure, repeat back what you have heard in your own words. Your partner can then correct you if you have misheard.
This may not be as easy as it seems. When your partner brings up a difficult issue, it can trigger emotions that make it challenging to listen and respond non-defensively. Working on yourself emotionally, physically, and spiritually can help you to manage your reactions more effectively.
Taking this approach goes really far in terms of helping you and your partner understand each other. It can also help to smooth over any arguments or grievances as you will both be able to air your thoughts calmly and without interruption.
It Is Not a Competition
When you are having a difficult discussion or argument with your partner, it can be easy to slide into being argumentative and competitive, particularly if we are this way inclined by nature.
You and your spouse are on the same team however, and you should not be embroiled in competition with each other.
Remember, when it comes to marriage you do not always have to win and you do not always have to be right. As part of the same team you should be working together to achieve a compromise. It is important to know that often time it only takes small changes in behaviour to make a large difference in the relationship. For example, you may think your partner is overly demanding with cleaning, but it may turn out that a relatively small cleaning task is enough to show that you care.
Obviously, if you are being required to give way on anything unethical or that compromises your personal values or safety then that is a different matter.
In terms of the smaller things however, don’t make a mountain out of a molehill. Work alongside each other and not against.
Be Open About Your Vulnerability
When we are embarrassed or feel vulnerable about something, it is all too easy to conceal our feelings and become defensive and outraged instead.
This habit is absolutely destructive in a marriage as it blocks the lines of communication and paves the way for misunderstandings and arguments.
For example; your partner said something this morning that hurt you but you think this is embarrassing or petty on your part. Later this evening you find yourself becoming passive aggressive over dinner before blowing up in anger when he/ she makes a similar comment.
This situation could easily be avoided by some honesty. By opening up about your hurt feelings and using the first person, “I felt hurt when you said..”, your partner would know the effect of their words.
This avoids the need to let feelings simmer and resort to negative emotions at a later stage. It’s not embarrassing to show your vulnerable side to your partner - in fact it is extremely healthy in a relationship. When you take the first steps to emotional honesty your partner will start to reciprocate. Likewise, be open to your partner’s vulnerability and always encourage this sharing.
Examine How You Talk to Your Partner
You and your partner have a unique way of talking to each other. A marriage is a relationship like no other and particularly as the years go by, you may have developed certain patterns and habits. Sometimes these issues can go beyond just habits and actually be a result of the way we process language. Speech pathologists would say that individuals can have difficulty producing language in various ways and that this can effect the ability of individuals to process communication, even with familiar individuals like spouses.
We are all more familiar with family members but this should never be to the detriment of being civil and respectful. Next time you have a negative encounter with your partner listen to yourself and how you have spoken to them. Have you been irritable, bossy, condescending or sarcastic? If so, this is probably not a once- off. Although it can be hard to face- up to our own flaws it is the first step in change.
If you realise you have a habit of being condescending towards your partner when you are tired for example, become more aware of it and make a conscious effort to change.
Involve your partner in the process. Openly discuss the bad habits you have both acquired and explore why these have slipped in.
Although it’s difficult to change these patterns doing so will make a massive difference to your relationship.
Psychologists propose that one of the best tests of a marriage is to compare the ratio of negative to positive exchanges. Think about how your marriage rates using these criteria and try to introduce more positive and supportive dialogue.
These are just some basic tips recommended to improve the lines of communication in your marriage. Obviously, there are many more and this is not a one- stop solution.
Communication is a project which both you and your partner must work on. Doing so can be difficult at first but also extremely rewarding. Try out some of these tips above. If your marriage needs more expert intervention however, make sure to seek out professional help and support.
By Dr. Syras Derksen, a Winnipeg psychologist that provides assessment and therapy services for children and adults.
Whitchurch, G. G. (1992). Communication in marriages and families: A review essay of family communication textbooks. Communication Education, 41(3), 337-343.