How can I improve communication in my relationships?
It is well-known that poor communication is the main reason couples seek couples therapy. Sometimes communicating with a spouse can feel like an impossible task, especially when it involves a sensitive topic (i.e. finances, intimacy, lack of trust, etc.) Communication is a key component to any relationship and when done properly, these sensitive topics may not seem as daunting. Communication can build trust, intimacy and allow each partner to feel safe to express themselves openly and honestly. It can also shed light on why someone is behaving a certain way or expressing a particular feeling when you just don’t seem to understand. Here are 4 tips to communicate more effectively with your spouse:
Put Away Distractions
We live in a world where we depend on technology for so much, however, when with your spouse, that conversation should be the only priority. Looking at your phone while engaging in a conversation can portray disinterest in what is being said as well as a lack of respect for your partner and your relationship. Facebook, Instagram, Google, The Chive and any/all other online forums will still be there when you finish your conversation. What more needs to be said…put down the phone. Period.
This might seem like an easy task, but it’s not so be prepared. Active listening entails more than just sitting and listening, it requires truly hearing what is being said. If you go into a conversation with assumptions. For example, “I’m right”; “They’re going to break up with me”; “S/He’s lying”) often times this will interfere with your ability to hear what the other person is saying. Further, be aware of your thoughts and beliefs prior to engaging with your spouse so that you can ensure you have a clear and open frame of mind. Active listening also entails being in the moment, not wrapped up in your future responses.
No, this does not mean to simply repeat…every… detail…back to your spouse in a robotic, monotone voice. If you cannot attempt number 1, this will be all the more difficult. Paraphrasing entails listening with the intent to effectively reiterate not only what was said but also the underlying emotion. Also, this means refraining from judgment and not being quick to internalize their words as a slight on you. By paraphrasing, you are simply focusing on your spouses’ feelings and ensuring that you understand what is being discussed in order to move forward in conversation.
We’ve all been there. We go to start a conversation with someone and we are immediately met with crossed arms, hands on hips or a blank stare. Our guard instantly goes up and we go on the defence. Little do we know, they may simply be cold, be experiencing low back pain or are deep in thought. The way we present ourselves in conversation accounts for approximately 80%-90% of interpreted communication and as a result, we can be easily misunderstood. So, make sure when engaging with your spouse you are aware of your body language and the message you’re sending…and yes this means refraining from using a particular middle finger!
You may be thinking “verbal language… I have a list of obscenities that will fit quite nicely here!” Although this may be true, oftentimes it will not result in any type of effective communication. Verbal language includes tone of voice, the actual words chosen as well as the intensity of your voice. For example, Is the tone sarcastic? Do you find yourself speaking louder? Both of these can escalate a conversation into an argument very quickly so ensure your verbal language is both appropriate and conductive in furthering the conversation rather than escalating the argument.
- Laursen, J., Danielson, A., & Rosenberg, J. (2015). Spouses needs for professional support: the spouses’ perspective on communication. MEDSURG Nursing, 24 (5), 325-362.
- Polito, J. (2013). Effective communication during difficult conversations. Neurodiagnostic Journal, 53, 142-152.
- Rhoades, G., & Stocker, C. (2006). Can spouses provide knowledge of each other’s communication patterns? A study of self-reports, spousal reports, and observation coding. Family Process, 45(4), 499-511.
- Yuasa, M., Saito, K., Mukawa, N. (2011). Brain activity when reading sentences and emoticons: an fMRI study of verbal and nonverbal communication. Electronics and Communication in Japan, 94(5), 17-24.