Everyone knows men and women communicate differently but I was starting to feel like my husband and I spoke different languages.
Too often, our conversations would derail and we’d end up walking away. An hour or so later he’d ask if I was okay, and I’d say, “I’m fine.”
I was “fine” – freaked out, insecure, neurotic, and emotional. I was also defeated. How can two successful, articulate professionals be so ineffectual in our communication? We had no trouble making our wants and intentions clear at work, but at home we were a mess. I felt like I was eating soup with a fork.
When my husband proposed going to counselling, I felt hope for the first time in ages. If he, Mr. I Can Do This Myself was willing to try, why wouldn’t I?
We learned to use language like “I feel” vs. “You always…” or “You never…” I learned that meeting him at the door with “We need to talk,” was a shortcut to a fight, and he learned that when I say “I wish you weren’t going out with the guys,” what I mean is “I miss you.”
We’ve both learned to be intentional and to avoid passive-aggressive behaviour in our conversations. There’s no more, “I thought you knew,” or “I was only joking!”
Learning to communicate has strengthened our relationship, it’s made us better parents, and it’s transformed our marriage. If you’re struggling in your marriage, don’t walk but run to your nearest counsellor.
Good communication skills are the keys to any successful relationship because relationships are emotional and rely on interpersonal verbal and nonverbal exchanges between the two people involved.
Effective communication skills are the keys to a successful marriage. Relationships are emotional and couples are dependent on interpersonal verbal and nonverbal communication to connect and interact with one another.
- Listening is more than waiting for your turn to talk. Don’t just hear your partner – listen to what they’re saying. Stay engaged in their words and watch their body language.
- Think before you speak. If you take the time to respond rather than simply firing off the first thing that comes into your head, you’ll prevent a lot of hurt feelings and miscommunication.
- Leave the past in the past. If you’ve previously resolved an issue, leave it alone. Don’t drag it out every time you experience conflict in the relationship. If you haven’t resolved it, take the time to address it, then agree to not to punish the other party by bringing it up again.
- Silence is not golden. Effective communication in a relationship means both of you have to be involved in the conversation. There’s a difference between taking a little time to cool off or formulate what you want to say and giving your partner the cold shoulder. Refusing to talk does far more harm than good.
- Timing is everything. Don’t bring up a sensitive issue or expect your partner’s full attention if they’re about to leave for work, in the middle of a project, or just waking up. If something is pressing and now isn’t a good time to talk, be intentional about setting a time later that works for both of you.
- R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Always speak to your partner the way you want to be spoken to. Things like name calling, accusations, and raised voices only lead to more conflict and impede rather than facilitate your communication.
- Communication is a team sport. At the end of the day, there will be many things you and your partner disagree about, but whether it’s politics or paint colours, remember you’re on the same team. Agree to disagree and move on. Couples who learn to solve problems together are the most successful.
- Be intentional about spending time together talking. The best things in life aren’t free; they take work, and that includes a healthy relationship. Set aside time every day to check in with each other. Put your devices down and engage in real, face-to-face conversation.
- Use “I” rather than “You” statements when addressing conflict. Talk about how you feel or what you perceive rather than assigning motives to your partner. For example, “I feel like you don’t respect me when you correct me in front of our children,” rather than, “You always undermine me in front of the kids.”
- Be specific. Don’t throw out unfair generalizations like “You always,” or “You never.” They’re often inaccurate and put your partner on the defensive.
- Express negative feelings in a constructive way. Instead of “You clearly don’t care about your family because you always work late,” it’s better to say, “It’s disappointing that you have to work late again.”
- Positive statements should outnumber the negative. Be intentional about expressing your love and gratitude to your spouse. Couples who engage in healthy, positive communication on a regular basis have a much easier time resolving conflict when it arises.
Relationships are constantly evolving and require both partners to engage in healthy dialogue to stay on course. If your relationship is suffering because of anger issues, poor communication, or an unwillingness to compromise, there are ways to work through the conflict.
- Start by thinking through what you want to say. Some find it helpful to prepare by writing out their thoughts, others by practicing out loud what they want to say. Either way, knowing where you’re going in the conversation will alleviate some of your apprehension and allow you to focus on the issue rather than the potential negative reaction.
- Pick your time and place carefully. Is your partner a morning person? No? Then don’t initiate a difficult conversation as soon as they get out of bed. Sometimes, having a conversation in a public place might be beneficial as the person is less likely to get upset for fear of being embarrassed.
- Stay positive. From the beginning, express optimism that you’ll be able to work together to find a solution. Compliment your partner by saying things like, “I really appreciate all you do for me and I want you to be happy too.”
- Be willing to try again. Sometimes your partner will get agitated and angry right away. If you feel things are spiraling out of control, be willing to step back and try again another day. Thank your partner for allowing you to start the conversation, and respectfully say, “I think we need to put this conversation on hold and try again another day.”
- Figure out what the real problem is. Often the fight you’re having isn’t the fight you think you’re having. A fight about not taking the trash out might really be your partner feeling disrespected and unappreciated. Issues like job stress, financial pressures, and the demands of your children and extended family can manifest in angry outbursts or sullen behaviour. Consider if there are factors like these weighing on your partner and causing them to respond negatively to you.
- Use the “three sentence rule.” When you need to communicate something to your partner that they may interpret as nagging, keep it short and sweet. Smile, be warm, and encouraging. “Honey, we have friends coming over and the place is a mess. Do you mind running the vacuum for me? I really appreciate your help.”
Many people think marriage is all about marrying the right person, but it’s also about doing the right things with the person you married. If you’ve experienced a setback and things seem to have gone off the rails, there are ways to correct your course and get back on track. The key is to avoid slipping into a negative mindset. Don’t allow yourself to focus on your partner’s negative qualities or habits. Instead, focus on the reasons you fell in love in the first place.
It’s also important to treat your partner with the kindness and respect you expect from them. You reap what you sow, and sowing kindness and respect strengthens the bond between you. Practice self-care. A healthy relationship is made up of healthy individuals. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you are putting unnecessary strain on the relationship. A healthy “you” makes for a healthy “us.”
It’s also important to take a good look at where things went wrong. There may be no specific incident, but rather a gradual decline in your emotional and physical intimacy. Decide where you want to be and come up with a plan of how you can get there together.
Like Nike says, “Just do it.” Your sex life can be the first thing to suffer in a struggling relationship, but it can also be a shortcut to reconnecting and rekindling emotional intimacy. It won’t solve all your problems, but it can help you and your partner reignite lost feelings and connections.
Couples who are committed to working things out have the strongest relationships.
- Put your anger aside. Nothing gets resolved in a conversation with anger as the dominant emotion.
- Determine this isn’t a competition so it’s not about right and wrong, winning and losing. No blame-gaming or shaming.
- Take the high road. Name calling and accusations will derail the conversation before you even get started.
- Agree to disagree. You’re never going to agree on everything, pick your battles and decide if this issue is a hill you’re willing to die on.
- Let it go. If you resolved a conflict or forgave a mistake, don’t keep bringing it up. That’s toxic behaviour.
- Keep it between the two of you. Be very careful about who’s listening and where you work on your problems. Constantly fighting in front of your kids can lead to insecurity and greater conflict, and even if you’re behind closed doors, remember that voices carry so keep your tone even and the volume level low.
- Be humble and own your mistakes. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to reason with someone unwilling to admit they’re wrong.
- Don’t make snap judgements. People are complicated creatures with complex emotions. A harsh word from your partner may be related to stress at work and not a reflection on you.
- Go in with an open and optimistic mindset. If you believe you’re never going to work it out, you’re probably going to prove yourself right. Deciding a problem can’t be fixed derails any hope of resolution before you even begin.
- Consider all your options. If you can’t work it out on your own, a professional counsellor may be able to provide tools and help you both find a resolution.
Marriage problems need to be fixed, not ignored. If you and your partner are committed to working through the issues driving you apart, there is hope for putting your relationship back together.
Consider what issues are a constant source of friction between you. If the list is endless, chances are you are facing significant challenges and you need to work on more than communication skills. A professional marriage therapist can help mediate and guide you to the source of your conflict and then provide you with the necessary tools to resolve your differences.
Think about not just what you fight about but how you fight. Learn to communicate without snarky comments, criticism, sarcasm, blame, and yelling. All of these behaviours are counter-productive and escalate conflict. If you feel yourself losing control, tap out and come back to the conversation when you can re-engage positively.
Learn to express concerns positively. Instead of attacking language like “You always…” or “I hate when you…” instead use phrases like, “ I get concerned when…” or “I feel…” followed by your emotion e.g. sad, unappreciated, overwhelmed.
Learn to make decisions cooperatively – look for a win/win instead of win/lose. Mutually satisfying solutions are possible if you’re both willing to compromise.
Finally, say no to the three A’s that ruin relationships – Affairs, Addiction, and Anger. If you or your partner aren’t willing to break the destructive cycle of any one of those, you may not be able to salvage your marriage.
It may be obvious to say, but marriage is a long-term commitment. Like anything long-term, keeping your relationship vibrant and fulfilling takes work. If you’re looking to reignite the spark in your relationship, there are many simple things you can do to fan the flames.
Do something old or do something new. Was Friday night date night? Make it a priority again. Have you always wanted to learn to dance but never have? Sign up for a ballroom dancing class together. The familiar warms your relationship with nostalgia, the new draws you together through a fun experience.
Flirt with your partner. Give them a wink or a smile, or send subtle, or not-so-subtle, text messages to each other. Your sex life is often the first place you see cracks in a relationship, but being intentional about the intimate side of your relationship goes a long way toward filling in those gaps.
Disconnect from the world and spend time together. Put down your devices, snuggle up on the couch and watch a favourite movie, or make dinner together and spend a romantic evening in front of the fire.
Finally, engage in self-care. You cannot be fully present with your partner if you’re not taking time for yourself. It’s not selfish, it’s mutually beneficial.