When it comes to couple communication, here’s a request I get a lot. “Help us learn how to communicate right!” Sadly, many of the couples asking the question have been married for several years! By then they developed some awful patterns of communicating. In this lesson, I will address these common mistakes so you can avoid them as you are starting out. Did you know that the number one reason why couples seek counseling is that they do not know how to communicate? So, let’s look at the do’s and don’ts of couple communication.
#1: Don’t make assumptions about your spouseHere are two major assumptions couples make that can derail communication quickly:
- My spouse should know what I need
- I know what my spouse is thinking
Do check-out assumptions with your spouseMind-reading rarely works. A more effective approach is to check-out your assumptions with your spouse. Here’s how it can work with the assumption: “My spouse should know what I need.” Checking out assumption:“It’s been a rough day at work and I am overwhelmed with all the household work staring at me. Do you know what I need right now?” If your partner doesn’t answer correctly you can say, “I could use a hug and a little help with the dishes.” Clarifying your need and asking your spouse for support is a reasonable request. It is not a sign of weakness on your part. Nor is it a bad sign if your spouse doesn’t know what you need at the time. Throughout married life we are students of each other. Students learn and get better at anticipating needs, but early on we all have to be taught. Let’s say you think your partner is upset with you. Acting on the assumption you might say, “What are you so mad about?” This is an accusatory question. Instead you can check out your assumption with a better question. “I get a sense your upset about something. If so, are you upset with me?”
#2: Do not talk over your spouseTalking over someone is a clear act of disrespect. You have something to say too, but if you interrupt your partner, the conversation may get off the rails. Next thing you know, your mate is talking over you and the interaction escalates. Couples talk over each other for a variety of reasons:
- when they feel really excited about something and want to share it, but can’t wait for their partner to stop talking
- when they feel like the only way they can get a chance to speak is to interrupt
- when they disagree with the facts of a story and feel the need to correct the narrative
- when they feel something negative coming from their partner. This is a knee-jerk reaction to defend oneself.
Do listen with genuine interestWhen you’re spouse is talking to you, show genuine interest. Stop what you’re doing, put down your device, and look her or him in the eye. This courteous act conveys respect. Sometimes you might not like or agree with what your spouse is saying. The temptation to interrupt is strong. Don’t do it! You’ll get your turn to talk. Hold back and let your partner finish talking. Slow down, be patient, and try to understand the gist of what he or she is trying to say. Doing this will help you both resolve the issue.
#3: Don’t use harsh languageMisunderstandings between couples can cause things to heat up really fast. Reactive dialogue has a rapid back-n-forth motion with a lot of talking and very little listening. When things heat up a couple is in danger of using harsh language. No one likes to be on the receiving end of this. Developing a pattern of harsh language will do serious damage longterm.
Do speak with respectThink before you speak. Not just what to say, but how to say it. The difference between a complaint and criticism is the tone you use. A tone of respect conveys your message more effectively. Here are a few pointers that help you speak with respect:
- Get a quick grip on your emotions
- Take a few deep breaths
- Don’t blame your partner for how you feel
- Use “I” and “we” language when you speak
- Avoid saying, “You made me angry!”
- Instead say, “I am angry about what you said.”