Communication is the glue that holds a marriage together. But I can tell you that during our 25 years of marriage, there have been countless times when Mark and I have come a little unglued. Early in our marriage, I struggled to navigate the sticky communication situations we sometimes found ourselves in. I had to start by figuring out how to communicate…about communication!
As crazy as it sounds, I learned that to improve our communication, we had to talk about the way (conversations were getting ugly, at times) we talk to each other. Not in the heat of the moment, but sometime later when we had both cooled down and were relaxed. And in order for me to effectively express myself to Mark, there were three questions about his communication that I had to answer for myself.
What don’t I like?
Every person has communication preferences, and it’s so important to know what those are. There are certain things Mark can say or do when we are talking that wear me out or tear me down. Over the years, I have taken the time to analyze my feelings and reactions so I know exactly what I don’t like, and how my husband should not communicate with me.
Can I define and explain it?
Nothing frustrates my husband more than when I tell him that I don’t like the way his communication makes me feel, but then I can’t explain what exactly bothered me. After 25 years of marriage, I know and am able to explain to Mark five ways he should not communicate with me:
With attack intensity. As a mom, I sometimes feel like every day is a series of strategic battles. So if my husband approaches me in attack mode, he may get a warrior woman reaction. This is the fight or flight response taking over. I respond much better to a gentle approach.
With his mind already made up. Mark is a lawyer, so it is impossible to argue him out of something he’s already made up his mind about. I tend to not respond well when I feel like he’s just trying to persuade me to agree with a decision he’s already made on his own, especially when it’s a family matter.
Late at night. I am too tired late at night. That’s just me. After nine o’clock, it’s not a good idea to bring up any kind of complicated conversation with me.
With criticism. Criticism in communication takes my focus away from the topic and immediately puts me on the defensive. If I feel like I’m under attack, it can undermine the trust that is crucial to healthy relationships.
With thousands of words. If Mark starts pontificating in a conversation, I get worn out listening. I need him to get to the point, or I will get lost in all of the words.
How do I want to be spoken to?
Mark can be a great communicator, and encouraging that leads to better results—for both of us! I like to give Mark positive examples of how I want to be spoken to. It helps him understand what sounds good to me, and it affirms him. For example, “When you asked me what I thought about that idea before telling me why it’s great, it really freed me up to be honest about my concerns.” Or, “Thank you for noticing that I was exhausted and asking me how you could help even though you were also busy.” It’s so important to be able to point to concrete examples of good communication!
Neither of us has mastered marriage communication, but we both try hard. Learning how we should and should not communicate with each other has been key.
How do you talk about communication in your marriage? Let us know in the comments below!