Like most marriages, my husband and I have many important things in common – our shared belief in God, our treasured family, and some interests and hobbies including music, hiking, dogs, and cop shows (I follow the relationships, he follows the action).
Also, as in most marriages, we are very different in many, many ways. For example, we view money differently (I spend, he saves) and we don’t always agree on how clean our house should be (I’m a slob, he like things orderly) and, well, I could go on for a while on our differences.
In discovering our differences, we’ve learned that enjoying a good marriage is really hard work. It is usually how we communicate, or how we don’t communicate that makes or breaks our time together. Without exception, our biggest struggles come when we aren’t communicating well.
Here’s an example from a recent conversation: we were traveling in the car on our way to a movie. My husband was quiet and smiling smugly. I said, ‘What are you thinking?’ He replied, ‘I was just thinking how critical you are.’
“My natural instinct was to say “I am not critical!” But, instead, I took a pause and asked, in as kind of tone as I could muster, ‘What does that mean, that I’m critical?’ He replied, ‘I mean our family couldn’t exist without you. You are so critical to me.”
So glad I asked. In earlier days of our relationship that misunderstanding, followed by some assumptions, and added with a tone of sarcasm, would have set us into quite an argument.
While we are still practicing most of these on a daily basis, here are 10 tips for improving communication in ANY relationship.
1) Use complete sentences. “Good”, “yes”, “no”, “don’t know” and other shorthand answers can convey you aren’t listening or don’t really care.
2) Be as specific as you can. This goes hand in hand with #1, and is also critical. Don’t use vague words like “the thing”, “that way”, or my personal favorite: “look”! – (look where? up? over? down?)
3) Ask for what you need. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements to share what is on your mind, what it is bothering you, or what you need. For example, instead of saying, “You never come home for dinner on time,” say, “I feel neglected and hurt when I have dinner all ready and have to wait for an hour.”
4) Don’t assume ANYTHING. If you expect something and don’t tell the other person, don’t be surprised when they have no idea what you are talking about because, quite frankly, mind reading is frustrating.
5) Don’t blame. Use “we” instead of “you,” when things go wrong. “I thought we agreed to go to this party tonight” works better than “why are you home late again?” And, say you are sorry for your part in whatever misunderstanding is going on.
6) Be kind. Make an intentional effort to be kind and thoughtful on a daily basis. Say what you appreciate (“I love that you make coffee in the mornings!”) and do small acts of kindness (give a flower from the garden, offer a drink or snack, compliment on what they are wearing).
7) Show genuine interest. If your spouse has a specific interest that you could care less about, try your hardest to listen, pick out interesting parts and comment, and be patient.
8) Smile. Try to look for the positive in every situation. When in doubt, hold your tongue and choose to smile.
9) Give the gift of time. Slow your life down a bit and take time to give your relationship the attention that you did when you first met. Put regular dates on your calendar, take a vacation together, hold hands, snuggle up.
10) And, finally, and most important: Say “I Love You” often, and sincerely, even when you are cranky or mad. Because, let’s face it, it’s hard to stay mad when you see compassion and caring in your partner’s face.
Communication specialist, author, and professional speaker Betty Lochner teaches individuals and organizations how to make small changes in how they communicate that make huge differences in their relationships at work and home – improving morale, confidence and productivity. She is the author of Dancing with Strangers: Communication skills for transforming your life at work and at home and 52 Communication Tips. Both are also available on Amazon.com.
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