One of the top four issues in marriages is communication. Knowing How to communicate better with my spouse is at the top of that list. So what are the keys to better communication?
To communicate better with your spouse you must first understand the different communication styles and goals of communication. Conflict resolution is different than a romantic exchange. The principles are different for both. But there are 19 tips that can help you become a better communicator with your spouse.
In this article I want to talk about several areas that need a communication tune-up in most marriages. It should be obvious that how you communicate in a conflict is different than how you talk to your spouse intimately.
Sure, there are similarities. We should always communicate in a loving way. We always need to slow down and listen. Kindness is required in all discussions.
However, conflict resolution calls for a different set of skills than romance.
Conflict resolution is about finding a solution. It’s about problem solving. Coming up with a course of action that resolves a difficulty.
Romance is about connecting on an intimate level. It’s about bonding in a deeper, emotional way.
Both skill sets are necessary for a healthy marriage. But the communication ‘rules’ are different. We need to learn to relate on different levels if we are to build a happy marriage and communicate better with our spouse.
Here’s what we will cover in this article:
1. How to Communicate in Conflict
2. How to Communicate for Intimacy
3. 19 Communication Tips for Couples
Let’s dig in.
How to Communicate in Conflict
Conflict arises in marriage when there is disagreement.
That should be a given, but often I find that many couples miss this point.
There are four basic reasons underlying all conflict.
1. Unresolved Issues
2. Unmet Needs
3. Unfulfilled Expectations
4. Unsatisfied Desires
When one of these is dominant, conflict arises and must be dealt with.
Dr. John Gottman says (affiliate link):
The assumption is that these (methods of communication) will be the same. In other words, the principles at work in good relationships can be applied to ones that are unhappy to fix them. But this could be wrong. There might be a different set of principles for fixing ailing relationships.
I believe he is right.
He uses the analogy of orthopedics. An orthopedic doctor needs an in-depth knowledge of how bones work and grow, as well as how to set them when they are broken. In fact, if you get this wrong you can cause permanent damage to the bone.
Dealing with conflict requires a skill that is unique.
7 Keys To Better Conflict Resolution
I recently read a stunning statistic. The average couple spends less than 4 minutes a day talking about things other than schedules, kids, dinner, etc.
One study reveals couples spend about 20-30 minutes talking in general.
It’s no wonder there are communication issues in marriage.
The remedy is simple: Make It A Priority!.
1. Be positive instead of negative.
John Gottman says, ‘The ratio of positive to negative affect during conflict in a stable relationship is 5:1. This means that for every negative word, attitude and gesture there are 5 positive. This offsets the negative.
In unhealthy relationships this ratio is 0.8:1 (0.8 to one). This means that for every negative word, attitude or gesture there is less than one positive.
This obviously sets the tone of the conflict toward a negative conclusion.
Key: Keep communication as positive as possible.
2. Face Each Other
Gottman discovered that couples who turn away from each (both physically and emotionally) escalated conflict faster and more often than couples who face each other.
When one partner ignores the spouses attempt to connect, it establishes and anchors the conflict. It then has potential to become a part of how the couple communicates.
Here’s an example…
During a potentially heated conversation between Nick and Sarah, Nick decided the issue needed to be diffused before things got out of hand.
Sarah made a comment that could have offended Nick, but he knew that Sarah was just venting. So he decided the best course of action was to make a joke about it – at his own expense.
When Nick did this it made Sarah laugh.
She ended up apologizing for the comment. The conflict was averted. Nicks attempt to ‘face each other’ helped them move past the issue.
He could have taken offense, responded with his own insult and escalated the event. But instead of pouring gasoline on the fire, he chose to see beyond it. To face her and diffuse the issue.
3. Repair and Heal.
The goal is not to avoid arguments. The goal is to learn how to disagree and still love.
Everyone has disagreements. It becomes toxic when couples fail to repair and heal the breach.
Our goal as couples is not to create emotional wounds, but to recognize them and commit to heal them.
We know we need to forgive at times. Our spouse says or does something wrong, so we forgive them.
But I think we need to take it to another level.
Forgiveness must go deeper than merely releasing them from the consequences of the event. We need to develop an entirely different perspective on what forgiveness means.
I like the way Fritz Heider describes this. He calls it ‘fundamental attribution errors.’
‘A tendency in people to minimize their own errors and attribute them to temporary, fleeting circumstances, but to maximize the errors of others and attribute them to lasting, negative personality traits or character flaws.’
In other words, we tend to overlook our own flaws while focusing on those of our spouse.
In essence it’s saying, “I’m okay. My flaws are not that big…but you are defective and your flaws are bigger.”
It’s giving the impression…
I am not equal to my flaws.
You are equal to yours. You are the culmination of your weaknesses.
To truly forgive means we change the way we see the flaws, weaknesses and brokenness of our spouse.
It means we try to see them the way we want to be seen.
5. Take a Break.
When things escalate we need to take a break. Not a permanent break. I’m not talking about separating.
We need to take a ‘time out’ to regain perspective.
When tempers flare and issues become heated, we often move into a state psychologist call ‘flooding.’ It’s the emotional experience that causes people to want to either flee, fight or become defensive. Neither of these responses is healthy.
Taking a time out can help us gain perspective and decrease the ‘flooding’ effect.
6. Accept Influence.
Here’s what I mean. Pride often gets in the way during an argument. We don’t want to admit that we are wrong. Or that there is another perspective.
Healthy relationships know how to give and take. They don’t take it personal.
John Gottman says,
“To be powerful in a relationship we must be capable of accepting influence on some things our partner wants.”
7. Match your Conflict Style.
Harold Raush first talked about conflict styles in his book, ‘Matches in Conflict Style’ published in 1974.
He describes three groups of people:
Those who know how to live in harmony with each other in spite of disagreements.
2) Conflict Avoiding
People who avoid conflict by emotionally shutting down or withdrawing physically.
Couples who constantly pick at one other and bicker incessantly.
Most problems occur when one partner wants change but the other avoids it.
When there is a ‘gross mismatch’ emotional injury occurs.
His book is a fascinating study on how these conflict styles interact. It’s beyond the scope of this article to analyze each of these. The major point I want to make is that we can be far apart on the scale, or close together on the scale. The further apart we are, the more conflict dominates our relationship. The closer we are, the more ‘in sync’ we feel.
The first step is to identify which type of person you are, and work to move closer to match your spouse. Awareness is the first and biggest step.
Happy couples see issues as joint problems, as opposed to thinking ‘it’s YOUR problem, not mine.’
They also see them as isolated to a single situation or event, as opposed to constant and perpetual characteristics. They don’t use statements like ‘you ALWAYS do this…’ or ‘it’s ALWAYS the same with you…’
In other words, healthy couples tackle things that get in the way of their intimacy and connectedness. They see ‘it’ as the enemy, and not each other.
How to Communicate for Intimacy
Psychology today states…
Strong Communication in the Living Room = Higher Sexual Satisfaction in the Bedroom
Let’s go back to the research of John Gottman for a minute. He describes a healthy relationship in terms of building a house. The foundation is friendship. But what does that mean exactly?
He uses three phrases to explain.
1. Love Maps
The love map is the most fundamental, basic level of friendship.
“It’s about feeling like your partner is interested in knowing you, and your partner feeling that you are interested in knowing her or him.”
Let’s take a quick survey.
Do you know what your partner is most concerned about right now?
Do you know their deepest desires? Hopes?
What are their biggest unmet needs? Do you know?
What about their greatest fears?
Have you walked the path to discover those things?
This is why Gottman calls this a love map. It’s a map of their heart. It’s the big ‘birdseye view’ of their heart and soul.
2. Shared Fondness and Admiration.
What do you admire about your partner?
What do they do that makes you proud?
What is it about them that makes you fond of them?
Why is this important? Because we tend to verbalize things we appreciate, admire and are fond of. When that happens we encourage our partner. This builds strong bonds between us.
Everyone likes and wants to be acknowledged and appreciated. When we express this we become endeared to our spouse, and they become connected to us.
3. Toward Facing.
I touched on this above, but it’s important to understand how this builds intimacy.
When we spend time with our spouse, we are constantly (even though we don’t always recognize it) making attempts for emotional connection. We are bidding for their attention so our basic needs can be met.
Remember those four things mentioned above?
We are constantly attempting to have those things answered.
When those things are met, we are making deposits in their emotional bank account.
For example, if your spouse (wife) comments, ‘This dress is so old! I’m not sure I like it any more.’ Is she really making a comment on her apparel? Or is she bidding for your attention, interest, affection, warmth or empathy?
I believe it’s the latter.
Whether we realize it or not, we all makes these ‘toward’ movements. When they are met with disinterest, or apathy, there is a ‘turning away.’ It’s not intentional. It’s subconscious. But it’s real. There is an emotional disconnect.
Every time there is a positive response, a deposit is made in the emotional bank account.
It’s my belief that most affairs are not based on lust. Or even sex in general. It’s a ‘toward facing’ movement. Somewhere along the line the bank account became empty. When the validation is not met over time, we seek to find it elsewhere.
This ‘toward facing’ concept can be misunderstood. I’m not suggesting that men and women are manipulators. This is not a malicious attempt to exploit and get attention. It’s not emotional maneuvering to get your way.
It is…however… a subconscious, innate desire to be validated. This is normal and natural. It’s how relationships are forged.
What does this have to do with intimacy in communication?
These three pillars create the foundation for deeper intimacy.
Back to the Psychology Today statement:
Strong Communication in the Living Room = Higher Sexual Satisfaction in the Bedroom
When we build the emotional bank account, we lay the groundwork for deeper connected-ness and intimacy.
How do we make deposits into the emotional bank account of our partner?
1) Words of affirmation. Say positive things to and about them.
2) Encouragement. Let them know you believe in them.
3) Show Interest in what they care about.
4) Spend time together. Quality time is key to a strong relationship.
5) Laugh together. Laughter is like glue that bonds us together.
6) Talk about dreams, desires and your future. We connect with people who share our dreams.
19 Communication Tips for Couples
These 19 tips will help you communicate better and resolve conflicts faster.
>>> Free Download: Get the 19 Communication Tips for Couples PDF <<<
1. Avoid Negative Phrases
Don’t say things like ‘you never’ or ‘you always.’
Avoid stereotype language that boxes your partner in. Use honest, open language that doesn’t accuse or belittle.
2. Don’t Try to be a Mind Reader
Assuming you know what your spouse is trying to say can be dangerous. This is the basis of most misunderstandings. Ask for clarificaton or repeat the comment back to your spouse and say, ‘Is this what you mean?’
3. Don’t Be Defensive.
It’s easy, especially in the heat of the battle, to take everything personal.
This is why it’s important to know when to walk away from the conversation (see below).
Work at seeing the big picture. This will keep you focused on the issue, not the person. We shipwreck when we allow the conversation to turn to personal insults rather than problem solving.
4. Express Gratitude
This can make a huge difference.
My wife and I have a great marriage. One of the things I credit is we constantly tell each other ‘thank you.’
Even for the little things. We have a habit of expressing gratitude. Our past experiences help us realize how thankful we are for each other, so we tell each other. Often.
It’s easy to cultivate a negative climate in your home. One way to change this is to speak positive words that affirm each other.
5. Be Clear.
Express your desires, needs and wants clearly. Don’t make your partner guess what you mean or need.
I often advise couples to ‘NOT’ talk about issues until they have a clear perspective on what the real problem is and what they want to see happen.
Clarity helps us move forward. There is nothing worse than talking about a problem with no real remedy in mind. It leads to greater frustration.
Get clarity, before you open the conversation.
Just remember, clarity doesn’t mean being closed to other options. It just means you know what the issue is and where you need to go. How you get there can be negotiated.
6. Don’t Stop Dating.
You don’t have to ‘break the bank’ on your date, but go out and spend time doing things you enjoy together.
Set a date night and don’t break it.
My wife and I have very busy lives. We do a lot of volunteer work, counseling, we lead a major ministry at our church, write and speak at events. But…we always make time for date night.
Why? Because we value it. It is our priority.
7. Write a Love Note to Your Spouse
Written words are powerful. They can do more to connect you with your spouse than you imagine.
Both women and men love to feel adored and admired.
My wife has kept every card, letter and note I’ve ever written her. She loves them. Which makes me love to write them.
8. Tell Them Exactly What You Love About Them.
Take time to think about 10 or more qualities you admire about your spouse. Then let them know.
9. Create Mementos of Your Relationship.
I love this one. When something significant happens in your relationship, create something (or collect something) that reminds you of that moment.
For example, when my wife and I first move to Colorado, we discovered the beauty of hiking in the mountains. On one of our first hikes, we picked up a beautiful rock to remind us of our first ‘Colorado Adventure’ together.
We love to look at photos of our vacations and trips together. These have become our special memento’s.
10. Share Experiences Together.
It doesn’t take much. A simple hike in the mountains, walk on the beach, or family game night around the table.
One of my favorite ‘shared experiences’ with my wife was in Rosemary Beach, Florida. We had vacationed with some friends for a few days at a condo.
Our friends left a few days before us, so we had the condo to ourselves. We decided to ride the bikes into town and visit a few of the local shops.
We had coffee at a quaint little place that morning, and spent the rest of the day walking the streets and shopping. The scenery was beautiful and is one of our top favorite times.
But it doesn’t have to be that elaborate.
We have bonded by visiting a bookstore, sitting the aisle reading books. (we are both book-nerds so it works for us). Key is to find what you enjoy doing and share it together.
11. Open Up.
I like the way one writer put it:
Talk about yourself, but take up all the air in the room.
Talk about what you want, like and desire. But don’t spend all your time on you. Once you’ve shared your feelings and heart with your spouse, ask them what they want. Then listen.
12. Learn the Art of Questions.
I’ve been in sales a lot in my life. The best sales people I know aren’t great talkers. They are great at asking questions and listening.
People love to talk about themselves. So learn how to ask questions that get your spouse to open up and talk.
It’s not only about them talking, it’s about you discovering things about your spouse that help you connect on a deeper level.
13. Learn When To Table the Conversation.
Sometimes topics become ‘too hot to handle’ at the moment. Learn how to set it aside until a better time.
Warning: When you do this, make sure your spouse knows it’s not gone forever. It’s just tabled until you can both get emotions under control and discuss it without it harming the relationship.
14. Touch When You Talk.
Psychologist agree that physical touch during verbal communication enhances listening and involvement.
I’m sure there’s plenty of research to back this up and explain ‘why’ it happens. All I know is that it works.
There is something about the physical connection that brings the ‘total self’ into the conversation.
Next time you have a tough subject to talk about, try gently touching your partner to let them know you are connected and not wanting to be distant. Then ask if it is a good time to bring up the subject.
I think you’ll be surprised how that simply point of connection changes the dynamic.
15. Reward Good Behavior.
This can be grossly misused and can become borderline manipulation. So don’t over use it. And make sure it is sincere.
Dr. Jonathan Alpert (psychotherapist and advice columnist in New York) says, ‘Women often find men who are good husbands and fathers sexy so the hint of an even greater reward in the bedroom will almost guarantee success.’
Like I said, this can come across as a major turnoff if it is done with manipulation.
But in reality, it can work for both men and women. One writer put it this way: “Reward your spouse by doing something you both enjoy!”
I’m not suggesting we are like Pavlov’s dogs, but in truth, we all like to be rewarded.
16. Walk In Their Shoes.
We’ve heard this since we were kids. Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.
How easy it is to get blinded by our own perspective. A wise person is someone who can step out of their perspective and see from the other person’s position.
When you do this with your spouse, you will discover issues tend to dissolve quickly.
If you do not understand or know their perspective; ask them. It’s that simple.
High voltage emotions keep us from clear thinking. Stepping into their shoes helps us diffuse those emotions and get a better view of the problem.
I’ve found many times, when I ask questions to get clarity, the issue is not what I thought it was. I see what my spouse is saying. This changes everything.
17. Watch Your Tone
It’s not so much ‘what’ we say, but ‘how’ we say it that matters.
We know this to be true. Problem is we seldom slow down enough to use this valuable wisdom.
18. Give, Don’t Take.
Ask yourself this question: Do you really care what your spouse thinks? What they want? How they feel?
Or are you only interested in what you want, feel and think?
If you truly want your marriage to be healthy; if you really want a great relationship, these questions should be on your mind when you enter into a conversation for resolving conflicts.
Many relationships are often ‘one sided.’ One partner does most of the giving, the other most of the taking.
This will usually end bad. Not necessarily divorce, but it ends badly.
The goal is for both partners to give 100%. When that happens, you have a healthy marriage.
19. It’s Really About Love
When love is the goal (as opposed to winning, being right, and getting your way), you will always have marriage success.
The path to a great relationship is love.
It’s that simple. Not easy, but simple.
The goal of all conflict resolution should be love.
How can I best love my spouse in this situation?
How can ‘we’ resolve this so that we both know we are loved, appreciated and admired?
These 19 tips will help you move your marriage forward, communicate better, and resolve conflicts faster.
>>> Free Download: Get the 19 Communication Tips for Couples PDF <<<
In this article we’ve seen the difference in communication styles. And how communicating for conflict resolution is different than romantic communication.
In answering the questions, ‘How to communicate better with my spouse,’ I’ve given you a list of 19 communication tips for couples that will help you connect better with your spouse.
These principles will help you build a solid foundation for your relationship.
I would love to hear your feedback.
Leave a comment and let me know if this article helps you.
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