How to communicate better with your spouse
Communication is on the list of every list of marriage advice and characteristics of a good marriage. And it’s rightly so. Communication is vastly important.
In the 21 years my husband and I have been married, we’ve learned a few things about communicating effectively. We’re not perfect and still make mistakes, but we know much more about communicating now than we did on the day we said “I do.”
Married couples have so many things they need to discuss: their relationship, finances, parenting, household chores, schedules and so much more.
We’ve learned that along with being honest with each other, there are right and wrong ways to communicate well whether we’re having serious or mundane discussions.
1. Watch your tone of voice.
My husband knows me better than anyone else. So when I say the right words but with the wrong tone of voice, he is far from fooled. Being passive aggressive or sarcastic aren’t great for communicating well.
I’ve found this to be true even when I want to take care of him. Like if I ask whether I can make him something for lunch when I’m making food for the rest of us, I can easily say it frazzled or sincere. How I say it makes all the difference.
2. Be aware of your body language.
This goes right along with number one, but body language communicates a lot. I’ve often said I’m pretty good at taming my tongue, but sometimes I struggle to tame my face. That’s especially true with my husband because he knows me so well. He can tell by my face and actions whether I’m feeling grumpy or irritated.
Our spouses can also use our body language to tell whether we’re really listening to them or if we’re distracted.
3. Make sure it’s a good time to talk.
Early in our marriage, I learned that I can avoid strife by simply asking my husband if it’s a good time to talk. He does the same for me. Then we can finish a task if we need to or put down electronics or whatever we need to do to devote our attention to the other person.
This has continued to serve us well in working from home. We share an office. Throughout the day, we usually need to talk to each other about something and will ask first if it’s a good time or for the other person to let us know when they have a free minute. It sets us up for good communication from the start — even about small stuff like what the kids’ schedule is that day.
4. Remember nobody is a mind reader.
Another lesson I learned about communication early on in our marriage was that I couldn’t expect my husband to know something I didn’t tell him. Instead of just assuming he knows something is important to me, I tell him.
I also have learned that he doesn’t always know what is bothering me or what I’m stressing out about unless I tell him. He can almost always tell something is up, but he can’t be there for me sometimes unless I allow him by sharing with him what’s going on in my head.
5. Pay attention to your phrasing.
Communication ramps up into an argument pretty quickly when we pull out phrases that accuse. We all go on the defensive when we feel attacked. Instead of saying something like, “Why don’t you ever make dinner? I have to do everything around here!” Try, “I’m overwhelmed and need help. Can you make dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays?”
You’ll end up with what you were wanting but you won’t have to have an argument in order to get there. Your spouse will understand what’s going on with you and how he can help. You’ve opened the door of communication so that you can truly share with each other.
6. Don’t use words to hurt.
I know the things that bother my husband the most, just as he knows the same about me. The best thing we can do is stop ourselves from using that in the middle of a disagreement. You don’t want to break trust that is hard to get back.
The other rule that we made from the beginning of our marriage is that if either of us ever brings up divorce, we’d better mean it. I mean that in we don’t want to throw around threats that we don’t mean. We can get upset and disagree, but we don’t want to do lasting damage to our marriage and relationship.
7. Listen to understand, not just for your turn to talk.
While it’s important to be aware of what we are saying with our words and body language, communication can’t happen unless we listen. And that sounds much easier than it is!
When my husband is talking with me about something important, I do my best to actively listen and make sure I’m paying attention, not just waiting for my turn to talk or formulating my response inside my head.
8. Know when it’s time to table a discussion for the moment.
Sometimes it’s just not a good time to have or continue a conversation. Maybe you’re too upset and know if the conversation continues you’re going to say something you’ll regret. Or maybe you’re too distracted to really listen. Maybe you’re just too tired to continue talking. Tell each other and agree to come back to the topic — then do so!
Often our best time to chat about things is just before bed because the kids aren’t up and interrupting us. But, I’m not a night person. So some nights I’m literally just too tired to have a good conversation about a serious topic. When I’m tired, I get irritated and emotional much easier. (Who doesn’t?!) I opt to tell my husband that I want to have the discussion but I just can’t at the moment. And then we find a better time to talk later.