Q. My husband and I never quite understand each other. Our communication always adds to the tension between us instead of making things better. When I try to explain my reasons for something he gets upset. He gets testy when I give my opinion or when I give him advice about something. We get along fine in many ways. Why is communication in marriage so difficult? What can I do to improve our communication?
A. Most of us have difficulty understanding our spouses and accepting them as they are. Instead we often reject our spouse’s ideas and feelings. We’re not doing this purposely or maliciously. We do it unwittingly because we are wrapped up in ourselves and in our own perspective. In order to truly connect we must see things from the other person’s point of view. This is not easy because it involves letting go of our own perceptions and letting go of our belief that we know what’s best for our spouse or our belief that they can’t figure out their problems without our advice or our correction.
Ineffective Communication in Marriage
There are a number of ways in which you may be rejecting your husband’s ideas - without realizing it. From his view point you are dismissing his comments whenever you jump right in to explain, defend, apologize, attack, give advice, question or correct.
Notice your responses and learn to recognize which tactics you use most often with your husband. You may say,
“What I meant was...” (Explaining or Defending),
“But you did such and such...” (Attacking),
“Why don’t you...?” (Advising),
“Why do you think that?” (Questioning),
“What you really mean is...” (Correcting)
All of these responses negate or reject your husband’s feelings or ideas. They don’t accept him as he is. They don’t validate his ideas or feelings. Instead of these habitual responses you will need to learn to listen to him from his point of view. Then your responses will be ones in which you reflect, clarify, explore or extend what his thoughts are. These responses will feel supportive to him even though you aren’t necessarily agreeing with him.
Effective Communication in Marriage
Suppose for example your husband describes a problem he is having at work. To reflect or mirror his communication you would respond by summarizing what you heard him say. This will encourage your husband to express his feelings about the work problem. If your husband doesn't continue you might say, "I wonder if you're angry and disappointed (or whatever you think he is feeling) about that." Identifying with what your husband has experienced and empathizing with him will help you establish contact.
You can also say,
“Are you saying...?” (Clarifying),
“Tell me more about that.” (Exploring) and
“I can see that you feel...do you also feel...?” (Extending).
When someone catches our meaning we feel understood. This helps us feel connected to the other person. It’s essential to mirror, empathize and validate our spouses. When this type of communication occurs we feel safe because we are accepted and loved just as we are.
Learning to do this will take practice, persistence and some humility.
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2