Often, when couples come to me, I ask, “What is the obstacle in your marriage?” The husband often says, “I can never seem to make her happy. She just wants to fight and argue.” The wife often says, “He just won’t talk with me and do chores around the house. We don’t communicate.”
The good news is that this is a very “fixable” opportunity for growth for this marriage. The bad news is that I have seen marriages become stale roommate relationships or even end up in divorce over such “fixable” matters.
The couple describes how they try to talk things out, but they just fight all the time…with the husband eventually shutting down and the wife getting more critical. They are often surprised when I ask them, “What would happen if you stopped communicating so much?” (I then hear a deafening silence over the phone.) My next question is, “How could you both enhance the quality of minimal verbal communication?” Discussion regarding what quality communication could look like in their marriage becomes the topic for the next few sessions.
Focus on the QUALITY of how you both communicate verbally/non-verbally vs. how much.
Tips for improving the quality of your communication, and ultimately, the quality of your relationship include:
1. Appreciate male and female differences in communication styles. Asking a man to sit and talk about his feelings is like asking him to poke his eyeballs out! And, women need consistent reassurance that they are loved no matter what. When a couple understands those concepts fully, strategic communication…not necessarily MORE communication can occur.
2. Change your focus. Instead of looking at how your partner is contributing to the problem, focus on how YOU are contributing to the problem and the intentions of your partner’s behavior.
3. Appreciate MORE. Focus on 75% of what comes out of your mouth be words of appreciation, acknowledgement of what your partner has done right, or words of encouragement regarding your partner’s strengths. Also, your partner may have a “nugget of truth” in their perspective of the situation. YOU may not be really “hearing” your partner as well as you could.
3. Avoid relationship poison. Criticism, defensiveness, shutting down, or snarly sarcasm/name calling verbally or non-verbally is like poison to any relationship. Keeping such behaviors to a minimum while working through a challenge
4. Think “same team”…..that you both have each other’s best interest at heart. When relationships hit rough waters, partners often begin taking their partner’s behaviors personally. Realize your partner behaves in certain ways for lots of reasons. Then you will stop over-reacting and making the problem worse. Ask the question, “How can WE make this situation better?”
5. Change your habits. SHOW how much you want this relationship to be a happy one by YOUR actions and habits. When couples begin to understand that the majority of communication is in the habits and actions CHOSEN to give the relationship, more progress toward a better relationship is made.
6. Let go of control. Sometimes one or both partners think communicating “their way” is the best or only way to solve the problem. Often, with the help of a relationship coach or someone more objective, other options can be considered.
So….MORE communication or even BETTER VERBAL communication is not always the answer. What YOU THINK and DO DIFFERENTLY vs. what you say can have the greatest impact on relationship outcomes!
(Other actions are necessary if you are married to a chronic cheater, a person addicted to alcohol/drugs or gambling, or a person who is physically abusive.)
Much joy and peace,