By far the most critical issue married people say they have when they come to my office in Colorado Springs for help is, “we don’t know how to communicate.” Although communication is a key factor in marriage, it typically is not the biggest issue. After a few sessions, we will usually discover that the issue lies much deeper, and the married couple finds themselves dealing with a bigger problem than they anticipated. Dealing with these foundational issues is the most helpful way to learn how to communicate with your spouse, but if you don’t have rules on how to communicate, it won’t happen naturally.
Communication is very important and, make no mistake, it takes a lot of energy. We need to do the difficult and grimy work of demolishing the walls of our pride, wounds, and defenses. If we have these three walls up, then we are not able to listen to what the other person has to say. If we do listen, we only hear through the distorted filter of our pride, wounds, and defenses. The solution? Work through anger first and then come back to the conversation.
When we communicate, we must first assess whether the other person is ready and willing to listen. If they are ready (look for open body language, a kind tone of voice, or if they have open time) we are then able to proceed with the message. The message must be given to the listener in a kind, loving manner. If I throw you a 95mph fast ball, even if your glove is ready, catching that is still going to hurt and that is my fault. In the same way, if I know my spouse is ready to listen to my message, but I yell it at him, have a fowl mouth, or call him names, that message will not be received and it is my fault. I need to be kind and loving. For example: if I am feeling lonely because my husband has been working late every night, I could yell, “You are so insensitive you aren’t thinking about me at all!” We all know that won’t work. Instead I might say, “I’m feeling lonely because you are working late a lot lately, would you be willing to take me on a date this weekend so that we can reconnect?” Imagine how much better he would respond to that! I state how I am feeling in a kind way, the actions he has taken to evoke those feelings, and a reasonable solution to help me. Notice in the first example that I assumed he wasn’t thinking of me or caring about my feeling. If you want to communicate well, assumptions are not appropriate.
The problem here is a judgment. Judging another’s thoughts and actions based on the feelings I am having now is inappropriate. “They are lazy.” “That person is mean.” All of these types of statements are judgments. If a child thinks their teacher is mean because they were assigned homework that they do not like, the issue is not with the teacher. The child is the one who has negative feelings and makes negative judgements accordingly. Learning what those feelings are will help the issue. “My boss made me work an extra shift, he’s a jerk!” This can be reframed into, “I chose to work an extra shift because I wanted to keep my job. The situation is a real bummer.” Acknowledging the feeling and then immediately taking responsibility for it is profoundly important. Communication is a big part of all relationships, so if you can learn to set aside your pride, take on your responsibilities, and learn to speak in a loving way, I know your relationships will change for the better.
Comment time! How do you communicate with your spouse? Have you learned some good tricks on how to give your message more effectively? I would love to hear from you!