When it comes to a couple’s communication, habits are formed and patterns are created. It can be difficult to change these patterns once they are set. However, when patterns are unhealthy, it can make marital satisfaction decline quickly.
Unhealthy communication patterns can lead to a lot of hurt, anger, misunderstanding and unresolved conflict. Whether a couple tends to bicker, yell, jump to conclusion or just not listen to one another, it will take a toll on the marriage over time.
The good news is, there are some ways to change these communication patterns. Change won’t happen overnight. It takes time to develop these patterns and it will take time to develop healthier habits, but it can be done.
1. Offer Your Full Attention
Half-listening can be a big problem in marriage. Whether your texting while you’re talking or you don’t take your eyes away from the TV when your spouse asks you a question, offering only part of your attention can be a big problem.
Agree to put away your phone while you’re riding in the car or eating dinner together. Pause the TV if your spouse wants to talk. Don’t yell from two rooms away, but go to your partner to hold a conversation.
Giving your spouse your undivided attention can solve a lot of miscommunication issues. For example, if you’re guilty of saying, “You never told me that,” when your spouse says otherwise, it may be because you’re only half listening. Also, make sure that you show that your spouse is important to you and you’re willing to devote your time to your spouse.
Putting down whatever you’re doing shows a willingness to give your full attention. And for those times that you can’t stop what you’re doing, tell your spouse that you want to have this discussion but not until you can devote your full attention to it. Then, have the conversation as soon as you can.
2. Think Before You React
It’s easy to get in a habit of reacting to your spouse in a certain way. For example, if you’re used to becoming irritable when your spouse asks you to take out the trash, it’s likely you’ll respond with irritation the next time it happens.
So, before you react to your spouse in your usual habits, take a moment to think. Take a deep breath and make the choice to try something new. Smile and offer some kind words or give your spouse a hug. It can make the difference between spending the day irritated with one another and enjoying one another’s company.
3. Start with Facts
When you are trying to address an issue, stick with just the facts at first. This can ensure that you both understand.
For example, say something like, “Our bills are adding up to more than we have in the account right now and we need to make a decision about what to do with the credit card bill.” Avoid placing blame or jumping to conclusions but instead make sure you understand the facts.
3. Try to Understand Your Spouse’s Point of View
Once you both are clear on the facts, try to view the issue from your spouse’s point of view. For example, a husband feels frustrated by his wife’s constant reminders that he should join a gym. He considers it nagging and they often end up in an argument. However, he could try to see things from her point of view by reminding himself, “She’s just concerned about my health. It must be scary and frustrating for her to see me have to take so many medications for high blood pressure and high cholesterol. She is just trying to help.”
Looking at things from your spouse’s point of view can help you to develop some empathy and see things in a different light. This can change your feelings and can help you to approach the problem in a different way.
4. Use “I” Messages
When you negotiate or compromise, use “I” messages. Take responsibility for your own feelings and behavior. Remember, your partner can’t make you feel anything.
Instead of saying, “You never pay attention to the bills,” try something like, “I get worried when we don’t have enough money to pay all the bills on time.” Then try to invite your partner to participate in reaching a solution together.
Keep an open-mind as you approach conflict. Discuss what you are willing to do and not just what you aren’t willing to do. For example, say, “I’m willing to stop ordering in for lunch and I’ll pack my lunch every day. That should save us at least $150 a month,” instead of, “I’m not going to give up all my hobbies or time with friends to save money!”
Use messages like, “I feel,” or “I think.” This keeps the focus on finding a solution to the problem rather than blaming. It also shows your willingness to take responsibility for you and can open the way for a lot more discussion with your spouse.