(By Erika Krull, MSEd, LMHP)
Good communication is the foundation of a strong marriage. Many marriages could be saved if spouses improved the ways they communicate with each other. It’s often the simplest bad habits that get couples into trouble. Once a marriage gets on a rough track, negativity grows. Problems escalate as both spouses repeat their mistakes again and again. Take a look at the following communication mistakes and learn how they can be resolved.
1. Yelling at your spouse.
When you feel angry, you probably start raising your voice. Anger creates tension. As tension builds, you look for a way to release or express it. Yelling at your spouse becomes a quick and easy option, although it often causes more trouble than relief.
It may feel good to unleash your tension on your spouse when they upset you, but the sense of satisfaction is often short-lived. Whatever you say in your angry state is likely to add fuel to the fire.
Yelling unleashes lots of strong, negative emotion. No matter what you are trying to communicate at that point, the emotion is going to take center stage. That’s what captures the listener’s attention most. Unfortunately, your spoken message will be diminished or even misunderstood, because you set up your partner to be defensive and frustrated rather than responsive and understanding.
It’s not that you can’t express some strong emotion when you speak – you’re not a robot, after all. But yelling goes well beyond the line. It sets the stage for an exchange of heated emotions rather than clearly communicated words. Even if your emotion is the message you need to share, a purely emotional exchange can easily transform into an exhausting, destructive habit. At some point, emotions need to be communicated in a way that allows you to move past them, not fuel them.
When you can keep your emotion in check, your message can really shine through. This doesn’t mean you should try to shove your emotions out of the way. They may be a very important part of your situation. But remember – the whole point of communicating is to be clearly understood. To do that, your channel of communication must go two ways. Excessive emotion interferes with that. Take a little time alone to help you ride the wave of feelings and let them settle on their own.
Another option is to take a quick exercise break before you continue the conversation. Exercise is a terrific stress reducer and it can easily distract you from your intense feelings. It’s pretty tough to focus on your troubles when you are nearly out of breath … You may also find it helpful to write out the things you want to say so you take care to deliver your message more clearly.
It’s OK to take your time talking about something that makes you really emotional. You’ll get through the problem more easily if you can keep your spouse on your side instead of pushing them away.
Some competition is OK, but anything that isn’t mutual and playful could build a wall.
Competition is all around us. Football games on TV, soccer games at the high school, getting ahead at work, Christmas displays in the neighborhood — you name it and someone will try to win it. You may have to stay ahead of the game in some areas of your life, but your marriage is not one of them. When one person is always the winner, both spouses lose.
Maybe a little competition between the two of you at the racquetball court is OK. And perhaps you can rib each other with your basketball tournament predictions. But that’s about it. Anything that isn’t mutual and playful could build a wall between you.
If you find yourself building a “case” in the back of your mind with supporting bullet points for every disagreement, you may win the argument nearly every time. However, you may do more to exhaust and demoralize your spouse than anything else.
Think about Why You Need To Win
A person with emotional insecurities may overcompensate by trying to look superior to his or her spouse. When they stay on top, they feel stronger and more confident. They may have trouble being vulnerable, even with their spouse. To do so would expose their insecurities. This would clash with their belief that they are successful.
Does this sound like you? Does your spouse tire of your victory dance and your need to always have the upper hand? Maybe they just want you to come back to earth a little. They are probably far happier to be around you when you show some imperfections. You may not be used to your spouse showing tenderness toward you. If you married a great person, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You don’t have to win to feel satisfied.
3. Making Marriage about Me Instead of We.
Have you ever stopped to listen to the chatter going on in your mind? Most likely, it’s focused on you — what you look like, how you just messed something up, what you have on your schedule later, what you are looking forward to, etc.
Naturally, this chatter is somewhat biased because it’s from your perspective. But how about the chatter that relates to your spouse? Is it all about how much fun you will have later, what you expect from your husband or wife, and what kind of mood you are in?
Take Your Spouse’s Viewpoint and Make Their Day Better
Generosity and considerate behaviors can go a long way toward nurturing a great marriage. Instead of wondering if they’ll ever load the dishwasher right, do something you know your spouse will appreciate. Be forewarned: they may not throw you a ticker-tape parade because you did it. Don’t get caught up in the “what’s in it for me” trap again.
If you continue a pattern of being more generous and thoughtful toward your spouse, they’ll eventually say or do something as a response. They might hold their comments back at first because they don’t know if this trend will stick. They may be waiting to see if this generosity is a gimmick or a set of new, positive habits. When they see that you are genuine and consistent with your efforts over time, your message will be clear. Let those selfish thoughts pass by and keep doing loving things for your spouse.
Here’s another secret about making an effort like this: Feelings follow actions. In other words, you may not feel loving at first when you do these generous acts. If they don’t say anything at first, you may really wonder why you are bothering at all. Keep going anyway. The more you act with generosity, the more you’ll naturally feel generous and loving toward your spouse.
Change Marriage Communication Mistakes by Changing Habits
It takes some practice to change old marriage communication mistakes. It’s amazing how the energy between spouses can change so much with just a few changes. When you understand how it all fits together, you can make real progress in your relationship right away.