Effective communication skills are some of the most useful life skills you can learn. In marriage, effective communication skills ensure that you and your spouse understand each other’s needs and desires, argue less frequently, and avoid misunderstandings. These skills set the foundation for joint decision-making, collaborative dialog, and warm, positive sharing.
Want better communication in your marriage? Take a quiz to see how solid your communication skills are now or read this guide to communication marriage problems. Then brush up on these five key elements of effective communication that you can use every day.
1. Say It
No matter how close you and your spouse are, it is safe to say that you can’t actually read each other’s minds. Yet quite often this is exactly what we expect our spouses to do. This is the opposite of effective communication. Beware of expecting your partner to know what you want or feel. In fact, partners should at all times avoid making assumptions. Hinting, wishing, wondering and insinuating are the primary causes of toxic misunderstandings in a marriage. Just like brushing your teeth, if you don’t practice a healthy “say-it” habit regularly, you’ll face big marriage problems down the road. The more you establish a pattern of saying aloud your concerns and preferences, the less suspicion, resentment, and confusion will be able to fester and decay your marriage.
2. Slow it down
Fast talking often results in quantity over quality. When you speak quickly, you run the risk of confusing or loosing your listener. You also run the risk of becoming increasingly heated if you are talking about an emotional topic. Effective communication comes in slow and small chunks. Present your ideas or opinions in short and steady pieces with enough pause between them to make sure that your listener can understand and fully digest what you have just said.
3. Listen to learn
In adversarial listening, each partner is listening like a debater, zeroed in on finding holes in his partner’s argument and places where he disagrees. Listening this way guarantees you will miss the areas where you might actually agree with what your spouse is saying and will likely take things personally and get heated. The key to effective dialog communication skills is building on the positives, in other words, finding common ground and then going forward based on what you both agree on. Listen to learn about your partner – what he or she wants, feels and needs. Focus on your common understandings and repeat them back to your partner to show that you are on her team.
4. Steer clear of cross-overs
Cross-overs are any time you apply what you think to your partner. A good rule for effective communication is to stay in your lane and never talk about or for someone else. This is more wide-ranging that simply avoiding “you” statements. Cross-overs include: guessing or trying to “mind read” your spouse; guessing your partner’s emotions; labeling your partner; criticizing and controlling or commanding. Dr. Susan Heitler writes in The Power of Two: “Believing that you have the right to tell your partner what to do and what not to do, or that you know what your partner thinks or feels, seriously erodes a couple’s closeness. Crossovers replace the genuine intimacy of mutual understanding” that comes from showing concern and respect for your partner’s individuality.
If you have feedback about your spouse that you want to share with her, do so by using the phrase, “When you…I…” For example, “When you get ready to go out all at the last minute, it makes me feel anxious and stressed.” This focuses the feedback on the effects of your spouse’s actions instead of criticizing him directly. And in turn, placing the emphasis onto yourself and explaining how your feel invites empathy rather than defensiveness. Learn more about increasing positivity.
5. Eliminate “but”
“But” is a little word with big consequences. While you might use “but” to make an addition or even reassure your spouse, this word actually cancels out what your partner just said. For example:
Spouse #1: “I’m really worried that we won’t make the show on time.”
Spouse #2: “But the movie never starts exactly on time, we’ll have at least 10 minutes of previews first.”
This “but” overrides Spouse #1’s opinion with Spouse #2’s. It implies that Spouse #1’s feelings of stress and anxiousness are unimportant or unfounded. It ignores the fact that, perhaps, Spouse #1 highly values punctuality or wants to see the previews.
Eliminate “but” from your vocabulary and replace it with “and.” Using “and” lets you first acknowledge what your partner has just said and then add your opinion so it. Additive rather than subtractive dialog is an essential part of effective communication.
Want to build you skills for effective communication?
Start with small goals. Try focusing on just one of these five elements for a whole week. With repetition, it will eventually become habit and you can then move on to the next one. You might want to share this article with your spouse, too. The good news is, you will see positive results in your relationships even if he or she isn’t interesting in working on improving your marriage right now. Just one spouse who dedicates him or herself to mastering effective communication skills can have a huge positive impact on the relationship.
If you would like more structured help for improving communication in marriage or working on marriage problems, try a FREE 3-Day membership with Power of Two. You can start messaging your personal marriage coach right away and get the curriculum tailored to you.
Take our Marriage Quiz to find out what areas in your marriage could use a skills boost. Many people are surprised at the hidden causes of their marriage problems.