Effective communication in marriage can be challenging, particularly when someone feels like they aren’t being heard.
There’s no such thing as a marriage without arguments. Whether it’s over small things like whose turn it is to do the dishes, or big topics like whether to have kids, conflicts arise.
It’s how we communicate about these conflicts that defines a marriage. But even if your communication skills aren’t perfect, you can always improve them.
Do you ever feel like you’re having the same argument with your spouse over and over? Like, no matter how many times you bicker about it, you know you’ll have to revisit it in the future.
“Communication issues are extremely common in relationships,” says Marina Krugolets, a licensed mental health counselor in Lake Grove, New York. “Couples often have difficulty communicating about finances, chores, trust and jealousy, parenting, intimacy, spending time together, and tidiness.”
If these issues are not fully resolved, there’s a good chance it will keep coming back up until both partners feel it’s been fairly put to rest.
But, what happens if — as many arguments often do — it does not get resolved and drags on for weeks or months at a time?
“Often, the communication rut leads to breakdown when criticism, contempt, stonewalling, or defensiveness becomes frequent in their communication,” says Jennie Marie Battistin, a licensed marriage and family therapist located in Burbank, California.
“Criticism and contempt can lead to a shutdown of communication and an unwillingness to find a path forward,” Battistin says.
How to communicate effectively in a marriage
The key to effectively communicating in a marriage is listening.
Factors of active listening can include:
- your tone
- avoiding misinterpretations of tone with written communication (through text, for instance)
- body language
“I find it’s so important for couples to learn how to do reflective listening, which helps to clarify their partner’s feelings, needs, and expectations,” says Battistin. “Once they start utilizing the skill, they feel understood, heard, and valued.”
It’s natural for a marriage to have conflicts and the occasional breakdown of communication.
What makes marital conflicts unique, however, is how well you know the person you’re arguing with. You know how they act during a fight, what can really set them off, and what you can do to calm them down.
So if we know what can end a fight with our partners, why don’t we just end it before it gets too heated?
“We have the capacity to learn new behaviors if we have a willingness to put in the time and effort,” says Battistin. “If we lower our ego and our pride, we can improve our communication with our partner.”
There are many communication skills to learn in a marriage, and making improvements can take time.
One of the first things you can try to improve your communication is to take a neutral approach — neither offense nor defense — to hear and evaluate your partner’s point of view.
If you want to improve communication in your marriage, both partners need to be committed to making improvements.
If one partner refused to make any changes or believes it’s too late, healthy communication may drift further out of reach.
If you do see your spouse making an effort, consider telling them that you see it and appreciate their commitment.
“Don’t just focus on the problems,” says Krugolets. “Focus on what they are doing that is working and let them know.”
Making these kinds of improvements is not easy, but even a quick acknowledgment of your partner’s commitment can make it easier for you both to want to keep working at it.
“Have a weekly feedback meeting,” says Battistin. “Take 1 hour to discuss what went well this week and what maybe didn’t work well… Seek to truly understand your partner’s experience in this meeting.”
Like learning any type of new skill, you’re likely going to make mistakes, lose your cool, or misjudge a situation.
It’s important to remember that you aren’t always going to know exactly what to say, or what the right choice is every time.
Krugolets says that a common mistake is, “feeling like you need to resolve a disagreement right away and pushing for a conversation even if the other person is too upset or otherwise unwilling to talk.”
“Sometimes a partner will assume they know what their partner is thinking or feeling and act accordingly without asking them,” she adds. “Remember, you can’t read your partner’s mind.”
Another mistake is not closing the loop on communication, which can lead to misunderstandings.
One way to do this is through
- you (the communicator) convey what you want to say, using your partner’s name whenever possible
- your partner (the listener) gives you verbal affirmation that they understand, asking any clarifying questions if needed
- you confirm that your partner understood you correctly, effectively closing the loop of communication
If you feel like your communication skills aren’t improving, or conflicts are intensifying, it may be time to reach out to a professional.
A mental health professional who specializes in couples and marriage counseling can give you and your spouse a very valuable outside perspective.
If you feel like your communication skills aren’t improving, or you feel as though your conflicts are intensifying, it may be time to consider talking with a professional. A mental health professional specializing in couples and marriage counseling can give you and your spouse a very valuable outside perspective.
Consider finding a counselor here:
Improving communication in your marriage will not happen overnight. It will take time to prove to your spouse (and yourself) that you’re committed to trying new techniques to communicate better.
Communication is not a one-way street — your partner is not meant to just absorb your viewpoint and agree all the time. Taking the time to listen means that you might hear something you didn’t before.
If you want to build your communication skills, or need outside advice and perspective, choosing to seek counseling is one way you can invest in your marriage and prioritize your relationship.
If your spouse doesn’t agree to therapy at first, that’s OK. But when they’re ready to take that step, you can be there to support them and follow through on that decision.