Nobody is born knowing how to communicate well in a relationship, and, unfortunately, we tend to pick up a lot of bad communication strategies from our parents, friends, lovers, and the media. It’s easy to say, “Just don’t get so mad and yell at your partner!”, when really, it’s quite hard to change emotional habits–and few marriage help books tell you how to do so. Here are five concrete communication strategies you can practice that will noticeably improve the atmosphere in your home. And you don’t have to try to master them all at once! Pick one at a time to focus on for a week or two. You will see results in the way your spouse responds to you and the greater ease in which you resolve conflicts.
1. Speak in short segments
Taking turns speaking in short blocks, responding and digesting to what your partner just said and adding your view, is called braided dialogue. Speaking in long chunks, or monologing has several dangers. Firstly, it can alienate your listener. The longer she has to listen, the less able she will be to effectively digest what you have said. Talking in short points makes sure you get everything said and helps your listener understand and respond to each.
After your spouse has made an important point, let him know that you have heard, understand and value his thoughts. You can do this by repeating back the key points as you have heard them (wait to add your own opinion later, though!). This communication strategy gives him the opportunity to clarify anything and make sure you are both on the same page. He will also appreciate that you are truly listening to him.
3. Use “yes…and…” instead of “but”
“But” is a little word with a big impact in communication strategies. “But” basically cancels out or negates what your partner has just said. Instead of “but”, use “yes…and…” to make a point that differs from your spouse’s. “Yes” acknowledges and affirms that your spouse has a valid opinion, and “and” adds your own. Viewing decision-making as additive rather than subtractive (also called “compromise”) will lead to much more satisfying solutions from communication in marriage.
4. Monitor for heat and speed
In any sensitive conversation you may start to notice you and/or your spouse escalating
towards anger. Learn to catch the sign of early annoyance or impatience in yourself. If you start to speak faster, feel your heart rate increase, and start to slip on the other communication strategies, help yourself cool down by taking a quick break. Get a glass of water or take a walk around the block, and then come back to the conversation.
5. Monitor for exhaustion, hunger, and overload
Any conversation is going to be doubly distressed if either of you are tired, hungry, worried, or thirsty. Try to set aside time for your discussion at a time when you are both relaxed and satisfied. If you can’t do so, just keep in mind that you both might be a bit short-tempered and focus extra hard on your other positive communication strategies. And take lots of breaks!