After the wedding comes the hard stuff. The stuff that no one really talks about until you’re in the thick of it. Learning ways to communicate better with your spouse shouldn’t be left to your therapist, or couples counseling after years of struggling. Why not talk about it more, so we can prevent it from happening in the first place?
You see, my husband and I learned the hard way just how important communication was. After nine years of what I thought was a failed marriage, I was ready to give up. It obviously wasn’t working. What more was left for us to do other than divorce and move on? Thankfully that’s not the route we took.
Communication, it sounds so easy, right? Who doesn’t know how to talk? But there’s so much more to it than that.
12 Ways to Communicate Effectively with Your Spouse
The goal is to figure out how to communicate better in a relationship, even if you think you already know how. Because that was me. I didn’t need anyone telling me how to talk. Shoot, I was an oversharer. I loved to talk. So there’s no way I wasn’t communicating correctly. It had to be all him. Or so I thought.
1. Keep the Line of Communication Open at All Times
Being someone who prided themselves on being vulnerable I felt like my husband knew he could come to me about anything, at any time. But when we sat in therapy for the first time and he said he felt like he couldn’t talk to me I was left confused.
What had I done that made him feel that way? I was constantly asking him how he felt about things. If there was anything he wanted to share, etc. And surprisingly enough it was just that that was the problem. My oversharer, among other things, often left him feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. To him, I shared so much that he could never get a word in. My excessively talkative nature shut him down. I guess he said I did enough talking for the both of us, lol.
Learning to shut up and actively listen, not just to his words but his body language improved our relationship tremendously. While I couldn’t force him to talk to me, I could let him know I was there, and ready to truly listen whenever he felt comfortable.
2. Don’t Try to Hide Your Feelings
One of the first things our therapist told my husband was “If you want to learn how to communicate better with your spouse, one of the first steps is to be open and honest, not bottling up your emotions.” And it rang so true, for the both of us.
While I’d like to blame it all on him, the truth is neither of us was being completely honest with the other. Something would upset me and instead of speaking on it, I’d say the infamous “it’s fine.” Knowing full well that it wasn’t. As for him, he’d just ignore situations all together. Pretending as if everything was great, until it finally wasn’t.
We were both ticking time bombs. We knew when the other had had enough, but still wouldn’t address the issue. Instead we’d blow up about something as small as leaving a cup in the sink. From there the arguments would spiral out of control about only God knows what.
I can’t stress to you enough how important it is to speak when something is bothering you. This doesn’t mean, allowing your anger to fuel the conversation. But learning to effectively communicate when your spouse has wronged you is healthy communication, and a blessing.
3. Understand & Practice the Difference Between Fighting and Communicating
As I mentioned above, learning to effectively communicate with your husband or wife without fighting is hands down the best thing married couples can do. Conflict does not have to be avoided. Using the following techniques has the potential to improve most conversations.
4. Use “We” More Than “You”
No one likes to feel like they’re being attacked. And the same is true for your spouse. Using “We” in place of you can help bring their guard down and potentially prevent them from jumping on the defense.
For example, “I think we’re spending too much money. Let’s look at ways we can save.” instead of “I think you’re spending too much money. You need to stop.”
When saying the issue using the word we it’s less accusatory and sounds more like a goal both parties can work on. After all, marriage is a partnership. There is no “I” in “team.”
5. Realize You’re Not a Mind Reader (& Don’t Try to Be)
Healthy communication does not include assuming. And this is something our therapist taught us early on. Clarify everything. If you think your husband was trying to be funny when he asked what you’d done all day, clarify what he meant. You never know, he could truly just be curious and looking to make conversation.
- If you think your wife is downing your cleaning when she asks if you’ve cleaned the kitchen, clarify why she’s asking. Maybe she didn’t notice you had cleaned it. Or maybe (if you’re like us) your five children completely destroyed the kitchen in the short amount of time since it’s been clean.
The point is, clarifying what someone means, no matter how obvious their words may seem to be, can help alleviate a lot of issues. Not only that, but it can also help couples learn each other better. For us, we had spent so much time assuming we knew what the other meant, that we had created this “idea” of who we were, who our spouse was, and what our marriage was. When in actuality, it was nothing like it.
6. Avoid “Never” and “Always” Statements
This is one I am so guilty of. Similar to using you all the time, saying never and always almost always makes the other feel some negative emotions. It may seem like they never do xy or z, but more than likely that just isn’t true.
For example, “you never help with chores around the house” when really he/she does, just maybe not often enough.
This is not to say that one shouldn’t communicate when they feel someone else is not helping enough, showing up when they said they would or just overall not holding up their end of the bargain. Of course you should, but its all about the way you choose to do so.
Your communication style can dictate the outcome. The saying is true, you get more bees with honey. We like to use phrases such as, “ The chores in the house are becoming overwhelming. Is there something we can both do to ensure they are getting done in a timely manner?” Or “I remember last week when you mentioned you’d help with the dishes more, is there something I can do to help support you with that? Would reminding you help? Or do you have any other suggestions?”
7. Be Specific and Stick to the Topic/Issue at Hand
At the moment, you may want to bring up every grievance once things get going, but having effective communication in marriage does not translate to throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. If the issue is how the dishes aren’t being done, then that’s the topic. Including how you felt last week when your spouse forgot to bring dinner home is not a topic up for discussion.
My husband and I set aside time to chat. Depending on the issue, will set the tone for when and how we do so. If there’s something that needs to be talked about / handled sooner than later we do just that. I can’t stress enough how important it is to make sure both parties are open to talking at that time.
If there is something that can wait, or maybe we have a few things we need to address (smaller things that aren’t particularly important) we use our weekly check-ins to do so. This gives us the opportunity to check in with one another, express not only our concerns but also praise / gratitude as well. Ensuring we both walk away feeling productive versus being beaten down by our spouse.
8. Ask, Don’t Accuse
Part of learning how to communicate better in a marriage is by believing what your spouse tells you. Going back to earlier in this post, clarifying what is meant is key. A person’s tone of voice or facial expression may make you think they mean one thing, when in truth they are thinking about a million other things while trying to deliver a piece of information to you. Thus not even realizing how they are being perceived.
9. Keep Your Voice Calm and Controlled
One of my biggest questions for my therapist was how to communicate with your spouse when angry? As a child my parents did more yelling and screaming when angry then anything, so that’s what I thought was normal. Doing so, and evening saying some hurtful statements was all fair as long as you apologized after. Saying sorry made it okay, right?
Not at all, and that was something I had to learn. Remaining calm in a stressful situation is no easy feat, but for the sake of others emotions, it is worth it. Taking a breath before speaking (or evening counting to ten) can help you remain calm thus controlling your temper better. Speaking from a place of anger is never the right answer, and will always end in destruction. The question is, how long can it last?
10. Avoid Sarcasm
Let me be the one to tell you, sarcasm is never the answer. Truly. In our ten years of marriage I have yet to find a situation where sarcasm was welcomed with open arms. This is a form of broken communication and something you do not want to have in your arsenal. But especially when learning how to communicate better with your spouse.
Sarcasm often leaves others feeling degraded or less then. As if the one speaking feels superior to them. Even if you don’t see it that way, I’m sure they might. Leading with truth in a loving way will lead to a healthy relationship faster than sprinkles of sarcasm will any day.
11. Listen Intently
Don’t think about what your response should be while they are still talking. Be intentional about listening carefully. I promise you, they know when you are actively listening versus just listening to respond. Effective communication skills include listening, which you can’t truly do if you’re waiting for the perfect moment to respond.
12. Praise Your Spouse Regularly
We’re quick to communicate our negative feelings. We need to be just as quick and ready to express our positive emotions. Boy was this a hard one for me. As a mother, I am constantly trying to remember to praise my children. So adding my spouse seemed like yet another chore for me. Why does an adult need praise? Shouldn’t that be something they can do for themselves?
Well, those questions are only half true. Here’s the thing, while it is never our job to make someone else happy. That simply is not a cup we can fill. It is our job to let others know when we are pleased with them. Or at least it should be. How is your wife going to know you appreciated her bringing you that extra snack to bed if you don’t tell her? Is your husband just going to know that doing laundry makes you happy?
Communicating means telling the bad and the good. Speaking up when things bother us but also acknowledging the positive as well.
Honestly, there are so many things that could be written about communication, especially when it comes to marriage. So while I don’t want you to think this is all that it takes, I am hoping this is a comprehensive enough list that helps you communicate better with your spouse.
Marriage isn’t like what you see in fairy tales. It takes hard work and dedication. But with a little bit of both, you can have your happily ever after.