How To Communicate Effectively With Your Spouse
Most couples are in love when they get married, and dream about having a loving and fulfilling relationship with their spouses. However, there is another fact about this long-term relationships: Marriages have ups and downs. So, in order to keep the dream alive, we need to learn how to get out of the lows. But, how? you might be wondering… Learning to communicate is the way to manage these ups and downs, and stay connected even if there are disagreements or changes happening.
Here, you will learn the tools for communicating effectively with your spouse to avoid having unresolved arguments. In my opinion, it might be the best resource to keep your marriage intact. But before jumping to solutions, let’s understand what are the common mistakes that can destroy a marriage and examine the different levels of communication.
According to Dr. John Gottman, the way we communicate with our spouse determines the success of a marriage. Through his analysis, he found that the most common mistakes of communication that can affect the satisfaction of marriage are:
Criticism – The key here is to express a need without blame; not focusing on attacking the person but the specific behavior in a positive way. Example: Mistake: “You always talk about your day and you don’t even ask me about MY day!” Antidote: “I’m feeling left out by our conversation tonight. Can we talk about my day, please?”
Defensiveness – Accept responsibility instead of adopting a defensive behavior when you feel criticized. Example: Mistake: “I’m afraid that we are late because of you, not me! Antidote: “Sorry, I think I am also responsible for not being on time because I wasn’t paying attention to the clock.”
Contempt – Try building appreciation toward your spouse instead of name-calling, mockery or using sarcasm. The tone of your voice also counts. Example: Mistake: “I'll need your help with the garden but I know you won’t do it because your middle name is Lazy.” Antidote: “I would appreciate it if you help me with the gardening tomorrow.”
Shutting Down/Ignoring – Also known as Stonewalling. Instead of blocking off the conversation with your partner when you see that conflict is arising, try to face this uncomfortable moment and resolve the problem. Also, there are some physical manifestations that you may experience when you don’t express your feelings like, headaches, rashes, fatigue, heart palpitations and more. It is important to calm down the physical manifestations to be able to have a productive conversation with your spouse. Taking a break could be the key to get there. Example: Mistake: “Leave me alone” (and walk away). Antidote: “I need a minute before we talk. Can we talk after I calm down?"
THE 5 LEVELS OF COMMUNICATION IN MARRIAGE:“IT’S NOT WHAT YOU SAY BUT HOW YOU SAY IT” —SOFIA ROBIROSA, MBA, LMFT, CAP.
It is very useful for couples to understand the levels of communication in marriage so they can recognize where they are and go as deep as possible. This will lead to good connection and intimacy. Let’s learn about these 5 levels:
The Trivial Conversation: At this level, communication is kind but basic. Example: A–Good morning! It’s so hot today. B–Yeah, it is!
Describe Facts and Actions: At this level of communication, the spouse describes the event without giving personal information. Example: A-“Honey, you know that I saw Jennifer today and she got a new car? B-Oh, that’s good! What make is it?
Share Ideas and Judgments: Here the spouse is open to say whatever thinks and feels if there is a chance. Example: A-I think that my brother doesn’t want to get married yet. What do you think about it, honey? B-Mmm… I don’t know. What makes you say that? A-Well, it seems that every time a girl gets close to him, he starts finding flaws.
Communicate Feelings and Emotions: At this level, the spouse feels free to express his feelings in an honest way. This creates a deep bond between the couple. It’s a high-risk conversation but the reward is big. Example: A-Sweetie, I’m feeling very anxious about having a child. Maybe I’m not ready yet. What do you think? B-I understand your concern. It can be scary. Let’s talk about it.
Complete or Intimate Communication: This is the deepest type of communication between the couple and it takes place when they listen attentively to each other, being present with and for each other without distractions. When they are able to develop this level of communication, they will have the ability to perceive the other’s gestures in order to understand how the spouse feels. This is a level of total transparency where you share the real you. This level of conversation looks similar to number 4; however, it also allows for a space to reach a compromise when needed.
There is a technique called “Fight Fair” used to communicate effectively with your spouse whenever conflict shows up. This technique is used between couples in which there is no one winner, as you both feel like you won when done correctly. This is a conversation based on empathy so you can clarify any problem or disagreement in a way that you will feel loved and understood.
Practical Tips for Communicating Effectively in Your Marriage:
When there is a potential fight, I suggest you apply this technique.
Request time to have a private conversation with your spouse
Choose who will start the conversation
Sender sends his message. Receiver listens
Receiver replies sender’s message -It’s very helpful to start paraphrasing the sender’s message in your own words. Example: So, what you are saying is that you felt hurt when…
Receiver confirms if the message was understood. Example: Yes, that’s what I mean…
Receiver asks if there is anything more that needs to be addressed
Keep in mind that one person speaks at a time. Do it in a kind way
Avoid pointing the finger. Use “I” instead of “You”
I recommend that when addressing a problem hold the receiver’s hand and look into the eyes
Don’t bring back a past conflict if it was solved. If there is a past unresolved conflict, contemplate if it’s appropriate for the topic at hand
If someone flies off the handle, then request for a time break and resume the conversation later
Apologize to the sender in a lovely way. Hug your partner.
Now you have tools for effective communication with your spouse. Try them out when the right situation arises. Remember that marriage is about communication and involves respect and kindness. If communication breaks down, the relationship deteriorates.
You’ll be surprised how efficient this technique is and how it can also be used with your children or co-workers.
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To your relationship success!
Your Therapy Friend,
Sofia Robirosa is the owner of Infinite Therapeutic Services and is a Relationships & Parenting Expert. She offers individual, couples, and family counseling to individuals seeking to enhance their relationships. Her private practice is located in Plantation, FL. She attended Nova Southeastern University for both her Bachelor and Master Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy and in Business Administration. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and a Leader in Active Parenting for children and teens, an evidenced-based program. She is also a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She is a passionately committed therapist, who thoroughly takes pride and joy from her job. She enjoys working with a culturally diverse population and is bilingual in Spanish and English. She is a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and an active volunteer of the Broward Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves her family, which consists of her husband, daughter, and two dogs. Some of her interests outside of work include spending time outdoors, traveling, and dining. Read more about her at: www.infinitetherapeuticservices.com and follow her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/infinitetherapy/