We have gotten the same message from romantic comedies, Disney princess movies, and books that focus on falling in love and never on navigating living life together. The first two years of marriage is a challenge for most as we try to balance merging with our spouse while maintaining our sense of self. I didn’t know I squeezed the toothpaste wrong until I got married! Learning to communicate in marriage is the key to having a satisfactory marriage. Communication is how we learn about one another, define expectations, and find a compromise when we have different viewpoints.
When you need to share a complaint or talk about something that matters, it is important to choose a time when your spouse is more likely to be able to listen. Limit distractions such as phones, tablets, TVs, or even kids. Pick a time that allows for a conversation, such as after the kids go to bed.
Are you comfortable making eye contact and really listening when your spouse has a complaint? If not, are you willing to learn how to stay present even when you are uncomfortable? One of the ways you can stay present is to focus on listening to understand. This requires you to get out of your own thoughts and focus on what your spouse is saying. Focus on understanding what your spouse is feeling, what the feeling is about, and what they need you to do in response. What is the need behind their complaint? Do not go into problem-solving mode! Validate their feelings which makes them feel heard, cared for, and like you are on their side. Here are a few examples of validating statements:
It makes sense that you would feel that way.
I’d feel the same way in that situation.
I’m on your side.
I understand why you are sad about this.
That must have annoyed you.
Another thing that helps communication is asking curious, clarifying questions to gain understanding. It is important to use a loving and curious tone. When you ask questions with a curious mind, the other person feels you are interested and want to understand. Everyone wants to feel seen and understood, especially in marriage. When we are hurting or struggling, it helps to know we are not alone.
The last part of listening to understand is communicating what you plan to do in response to their complaint. It is important you follow through with what you say you will do so your spouse knows they can count on you and their needs matter to you. If your words and actions are not consistent, your spouse will feel hurt and resentful toward you.
Listening to understand builds emotional intimacy, connection, and a sense of security. It is one of the most important communication skills we can learn. Most of us do not know how to do this. However, you can start to tune into opportunities to practice this skill. Remember, the effort is the focus instead of perfection. Anytime we are trying something new, it can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Try to remember you are working toward learning how to have better communication in your marriage. With intentional effort, it will become easier and more natural, and you will see the difference in your marriage.