Most of the couples I see in therapy complain that their relationship is riddled with poor communication, and as a result they are not on the same page. Without clear expectations, boundaries, and understandings constantly being properly communicated, the potential for hurt and disappointment explodes exponentially. It is easy to forget the principles of good communication so here are a few reminders:
Here are a few ideas I like to share with couples that are seeking help in therapy: Being married, like many things in life, is at the same time both a tremendous blessing and a difficult challenge. Though we wish for sweet matrimony and perfect harmony, the truth is that we are joining together two individuals with their own perspectives, family backgrounds, and for lack of a better term baggage. Now as a couple there is an opportunity to create your own family paradigm. I recommend that many couples begin with a mission statement and identify what they want to create together. There is a great article by President Spencer W. Kimball that I often ask LDS couples to read in order to get a few ideas. (“Oneness in Marriage”, Ensign, March 1977 or October 2002).
Once the honeymoon is over, the next task at hand is figuring out how to live together. Many seasoned couples may feel they have accomplished this task, however, it is certain that this challenge will continue to come up at every phase of the marriage—newlyweds, becoming parents, dealing with teens, launching kids, becoming grandparents, retirement, old age; it also resurfaces with the trials and challenges of this life such as grief, sorrow, stress, economic struggles, etc. In order to navigate these transitions and challenges smoothly, it is important that the marital foundation is strong and united so that the couple’s “hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding” (Col. 2:2).
As the partner bringing a concern/problem/issue to the discussion, remember to recognize that this is a personal concern and does not represent absolute truth. Keep it simple. It is easier for the spouse to stay engaged and attentive in the conversation if they hear only 50 words versus 5,000. Along the same lines, sticking to one topic at a time focuses the conversation, increasing the likelihood of understanding and clarity. The purpose of sharing is to improve the relationship and be closer as a couple, not to blame or offend. And finally, be aware of the impact of your statement.
As the listener, remember to seek understanding by reviewing, restating, and reflecting back your partner’s statement. Be sure to acknowledge their right to have their own feelings by showing respect through nonverbal communication—volume and tone of voice, facial expressions, eye contact. As you listen to their statements, try to see the issue from their perspective. Beware of slipping into a mode of: defensiveness, interrogation, assumptions, and judgment. Remember that your partner is trying to improve the relationship, not tear you down, so extend that same courtesy back to them—restate and validate.
Communication is a skill that needs to be developed over time. It is important for couples to realize that just like learning any new skill or talent, they won’t be very good at it at first but through sticking to the aforementioned guidelines and lots of practice, they will become more talented at communicating effectively. The leading researchers in the field of couple’s communication are John and Julie Gottman. I recommend that many of my couples begin reading their book 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage.
This is just the beginning of a journey towards strengthening couples. Please try out these principles and if you need more help call a therapist to schedule an appointment so you can target the specific roadblocks and best fulfill the couple’s needs.