Good communication skills are essential for a long and happy marriage. Thankfully, it’s easy to improve communication if you focus on it as a couple. The first step to healthy communication is managing your expectations. Often, newlyweds expect their husband or wife to be mind readers, who know exactly what they are thinking. No one can pull off such a trick. You have to tell people how you feel and what you need and want.
Also, your partner will not become a different person just because you got married. “People think that magically the person will be the way they want them to be and not how they are,” says Nora J. Baladerian, a psychologist in West Los Angeles.
Once you have accepted that your husband or wife will never read your mind and he or she probably won’t change much, then you can start discussing everything from the mundane (“I wish you would help me around the house more.”) to the serious (“I would like to start having children, but I’m not sure if you’re ready.”)
To have these discussions, you must arm yourself with strategies for talking about anythingwithout offending, hurting, or angering the person with whom you’re speaking. Honestly, good communication skills don’t just work for marriage. They can also come in handy in other relationships, including those with your extended family and co-workers.
Here are the skills you need to build your communication toolbox and help your marriage:
Eliminate all distractions.
Since there is no place for distractions when trying to communicate well, you should shut off all phones, TVs, etc.
Learn to listen.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that to be a good communicator, you must be a good talker. Actually, you should be listening more than talking.
And listening is more than just keeping your ears clean, so the noise comes through. You have to really pay attention to what the other person is saying.
An exercise that may help you improve your ability to listen, says Baladerian, is to allow your husband or wife to speak for five minutes without interruption and then repeat what he or she said.
Then, have him or her correct you if necessary – say, for instance, you are misinterpreting or getting facts wrong. He or she should keep saying what was said and having you repeat it until you get it right. Then, you can switch places, so that you take the place of the talker and he or she the repeater. Baladerian estimates that the exercise initially takes about 30 minutes.
Consider the other person’s feelings.
“You must put yourself in the other’s shoes,” says Sandra Levy Ceren, a psychologist in DelMar, Calif., who adds that any relationship should be looked at as a learning experience. You are constantly getting to know one another, and you each have different family backgrounds, experiences, values, and expectations that shape who you are. Instead of getting disappointed or angry when your spouse doesn’t automatically meet your needs, try to understand where he or she is coming from.
This is easier written than done. Ceren suggests finding an objective third party to help you break down your differences to better understand each other’s point of view. Objective people are not usually relatives. It’s best to consider professional counselors, religious leaders, psychologists, etc. If you feel like you need professional help to communicate better, make an appointment sooner rather than later. “It’s like a plumbing problem,” says Baladerian. “Don’t wait until the house is flooded.”
Create a plan for broaching difficult topics.
Marriage can get ugly. Sometimes you have to talk about difficult subjects, including infertility,in-laws, money, and death, just to name a few. Baladerian suggests prefacing conversations about tough issues with something like the following: “I have something to say, but it’s scary because I’m afraid you’re going to be upset. But I hope you’ll be proud of me for telling you.”
Take a time out in the heat of anger.
The truth is that there are times in everyone’s marriage when they are so steamed that they might feel like ripping the head off their husband or wife. But you must learn to control your anger and take time outs when necessary.
Walk away from a fight, says Ceren. She suggests taking a break from the conversation and spending some time alone thinking about the argument and then returning to it later.
“You can have a different point of view, but you should never have arguments,” she adds. “You should have discussions.” If a discussion is turning into an argument, you should take that as a cue to take a break.
Come to a resolution.
In a marriage, you have to be flexible. You might have heard that there is a lot of give and take in a marriage.
What that means is that you can’t always have your way like you could when you were single. “Compromise is the name of the game,” says Ceren.
For example, if a husband hates being bombarded by the kids when he comes from work, his wife, who is a stay-at-home mom, might get annoyed because she’s been with them all day. Ceren suggests that the husband find a way to unwind before coming home (that doesn’t mean going to a bar for drinks but could mean taking a walk or going to the gym for an hour after work). Then, when he comes home, says Ceren, he can handle the kids wanting to spend time with him, and he will make his wife feel more like she has a partner in parenting.
Carve out time for communication.
Everyone has a busy schedule these days, but maintaining your marriage must be a priority. You should try to find at least an hour a week to talk to each other face to face about things that are on your mind. Find a designated time when you both are free and tell each other about your week, what you’ve been doing when you’re not together, and long- and short-term goals you’d like to set as a couple.
Examples of long-term goals might be deciding to save money for a trip you’d both like to make within the next three years or how much money you’d like to save to buy a house in the next five years. Examples of short-term goals might be scheduling a time to have the carpets cleaned or negotiating when you’re going to have dinner with the in-laws.
Enjoy each other’s company.
Successful communication happens when people feel comfortable with one another. To feel comfortable with one another, you have to be able to be yourselves in the marriage. Letting loose and being able to relax is a necessity in any relationship. Couples should do something fun just for the two of them every week, says Baladerian. Plan a date night or an activity, other than watching TV or films, that will help you unwind and have some fun together. The bottom line and one that sometimes gets forgotten as people plan weddings and get started in married life is that marriage, while challenging, isn’t supposed to be a prison sentence. Says Baladerian, “You’re supposed to be happy.”