Learning better marriage communication tools
Good communication is a truism for a happy relationship. Marriage counseling teaches effective marriage communication tools, but you don't have to spend money to learn. Yet some of the most essential ways to have a great marriage have little to do with couples' communication. It might have more to do with the fundamentals.
Take more couple time alone.
Parents and those who work from home find themselves with little "alone time" both as individuals and as a couple. Set aside time each day to talk. Make it uninterrupted time for just the two of you.
Managing your own irritability and stress
A U.S. View Source report on sleep reports that 35.2% of all adults get less than seven hours per night. According to sleep expert Matthew Walker, you need between 8-9 hours:
"Human beings are the only species that deliberately deprive themselves of sleep for no apparent gain. Many people walk through their lives in an underslept state, not realizing it."
And your need for sleep doesn't decrease with age. We've learned that 70-year-olds need just as much sleep as 40-year-olds.
Sleep deprivation can cause negative moods (anger, frustration, irritability, sadness) and a decrease in positive moods. And not being able to sleep is often a symptom of depression and anxiety.
Consider the following as sources of irritability and stress:
- Drugs like stimulants or caffeine
- medical conditions such as an overactive thyroid or low thyroid
- medication or
- even being hungry with low blood sugar.
Don't wait if a lack of communication is present in your relationship. Consider all of these factors and make changes.
Use your everyday life to reduce stress.
In about 15-20 minutes a day, couples can dramatically in feel listened to and supported. The tool called: The Stress-Reducing Conversation is part of a group training called: The Art and Science of Love.
Participants reported fewer relapses when they did this daily.
Best of all, it requires simply calming down and tuning in as each person talks about their day:
- frustrations and irritations
- the things they are proud of
- the unpredictable events or people in our lives.
Researchers found that this daily discipline did wonders. It shielded the couple from external threats and allowed them to strengthen their bond to home and family life.
Over time, the couple filled in the puzzle pieces of their lives.
- They learned the cast of characters in each other's lives.
- They learned more about the worries and pressures each faced.
- Like a reality tv show, they began to learn the cast of characters.
They followed along as their partner updated them on (or just vented about) what happened since the last time they talked.
And the listener did no heavy lifting. They offered no:
- criticism or critic
- solutions or suggestions.
Instead, they offered:
- a supportive listening ear
- true friendship and empathy
- support and validation.
Ask for an ally, not a problem-solver
Doing less is more in healthy relationships. If you want to improve communication, pay attention, make eye contact, tune in, and just listen. Your tone and body language work together to say:
"I'm here for you. Nothing is more important to me than listening to and trying to understand what you are wanting to tell me."
Believing that someone has your back does wonders for an intimate relationship.
Use touch to effectively communicate.
Many couples rely on active listening alone. But words are just one type of communication.
Happy couples reach out and provide comforting touch. When your partner is emotional, actions speak louder than words.
- rest your fingers on a shoulder,
- grab a knee, or
- rest against your spouse.
Sometimes even your physical presence, without the words, say, "I'm with you." If you sense that your partner has had a miserable day, make contact. Make physical touch, like hugs and supportive kisses, a daily form of communication.
Rethink your values
We all need to make money and develop ourselves professionally. But for many married couples, COVID required us to put work in a new perspective.
They’ve had more of a chance to get closer and really rethink their values as a couple and as individuals.
It invited us to consider our true values that sometimes get lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Healthy communication goes beyond:
- providing instruction,
- giving direction, or
- sharing the essential details in life.
Happy marriages look ahead and discuss what the "good times" really mean to them as a family.
Tune in to dreams and hopes, and aspirations.
For effective communication in marriage, stop the "critic" from coming out when your partner is talking about their hopes and dreams. Instead of commenting on how impractical the aspirations are, be a "dream catcher."
I like doing a Gottman intervention called “Dreams Within Conflict." This tool is used to help couples work through gridlocked or perpetual problems. The speaker (or "dreamer") answers a series of questions asked by the listener ("dream catcher").
There is nothing particularly magical about these questions. The purpose is only to ask open-ended questions to allow their partner to feel safe in sharing their story.
They also help the listener stay neutral. Sometimes I have them keep notes to keep focused as the listener. Remaining curious about how your partner thinks and feels is the key.
- Where do your partner's thoughts and feelings come from?
- Why do they feel so strongly about this issue?
- What does it represent or symbolize to them?
Listening without preparing your rebuttal and without judgment. Work toward greater understanding and try to connect. As you learn your partner's dreams, hopes, and aspirations, both of you will feel more connected.
I agree with your advice on couples counseling and will share your post with a friend who is experiencing life transition issues and considering virtual therapy. Thank you for your insights.