Getting married...that's easy! Staying married...well, that takes some work. And patience. And a whole lot of positive communication.
After 10 years of marriage, I'd love to tell you that Josh and I have this communication thing down. But...then I'd be lying to you.
What I can tell you is this: Communication is the #1 most effective way to have a healthy marriage. I know of so many couples who are getting married in the next couple of months and several of them have asked me, "As a marriage coach, what is your best piece of marital advice." Simple. LEARN TO COMMUNICATE in a healthy, positive, loving, and gracious manner.
This is my advice to any couple. Recently engaged, newlywed, married for 10 years, 25 years, 50 years...communication is key.
Interestingly enough, I have learned that most people have NO idea how to communicate with others (such as their spouse!) well. I used to think because I made the "I" Statements when communicating with Josh over my feelings or needs, that I was a good communicator. Later, when we REALLY learned how to communicate more effectively, I learned that when I used those "I feel...when you...and that makes me..." just set Josh off into Fight or Flight, usually more of the Fight, Defensive mode! I didn't quite understand that. I mean, I was telling him how I felt! As a result, I would get frustrated and angry. And, when one is defensive and the other turns angry, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that NO communication is going to take place! (No constructive or healthy communication, that is!)
So, what to do???
1. Be an ACTIVE listener!
Sit facing your partner. Smile, or at least try to relax your face so you don't look angry. You want to allow for your spouse to speak to you in a comfortable manner! Then, maintain an open posture- remember, body language speaks loudly, so crossing your arms over your body appears to be hostile. Lean into the conversation, showing interest in what is being said. Maintain EYE CONTACT! I can't say that enough! And nod or say encouraging words like "Go on", "Oh, tell me more". When you are an active listener, you are, well, ACTIVE!
Probably should do that BEFORE becoming an active listener! You know, put away your cell phone, ipad, computer, TV...whatever technology that is distracting to you. And speaking of the phone, while you are truly communicating with your partner, put the phone OUT OF SIGHT. I know that even when I set the phone on the table, even if it is turned over, I know I can still pick it up. That phone is still a distraction.
*Note: Ok, sometimes, Josh and I communicate much better via text. It allows us to say the things we need to say with the time needed to say it. Neither of us use sarcasm while texting since you don't know how the words will be taken. When we are upset with one another, we have learned to use text as a way to convey our message with the most fact based wording since we KNOW we DON'T KNOW how the other person may deliver the words. Does that make sense??? But we always follow us our texting with a real, face to face conversation to ensure we have communicated with one another and are back on the same page.
3. Be Understanding.
I have said to Josh, "You're upset, I get it" and he has responded with "No, you DON'T get it. You've never been in that same situation!" And that is correct. But as you ask for clarification, you can begin to UNDERSTAND how your partner has felt. It is important to empathize when communicating...trying to put yourself in your partners shoes, and then you can say, "Gosh, that must have been (fill in the blank) for you!"
4. Just say NO to giving advice!
No one likes unsolicited advice. I know that, especially if I don't really know how Josh feels because I haven't been in the same situation, then I know that offering advice or telling him what I think he should do will just create more stress for him. Here's the thing, we all desire that opportunity to talk and get stuff off our chest and just hear "Yeah, I agree, that stinks!" and then be done with it. So often, when we are communicating, it's not even to get advice or solve a problem, it's just to simply have that word vomit and feel better once it's out! My husband has gotten really good at listening and then asking, "What do you need from me?" Sometimes I say "nothing, just listen" and he does while other times I say, "I don't know what to do? What are your thoughts?" Thus, constantly listening to one another.
5. Give Grace
Communicating well isn't learned overnight. Shoot, ten years later and I still have to think about all the tools, tips, and techniques that I know and consciously apply them when having deep or heated conversations with my husband! It's hard. And we are not perfect. So, we have got to be loving and kind to one another, forgiving one another if we get a bit derailed when trying to communicate in a positive manner, and if we mess up, try again! Know when to be gracious, and when to speak the words that need spoken. But always do so with love in your heart!
Colossians 4:6 ESV
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
In the next coming weeks, I will be offering many blogs using the Gottman method of making relationships work, and yes, communication is a huge piece to that! I hope you could draw from today a few useful tips from my experience of learning to communicate better during my 10 years of marriage.
During the early years, I thought I had married a fool who didn't listen to me! Turns out, I was also a fool for not knowing how to better listen and speak in a manner of trust, love, and grace.
If you're interested in learning more or seeing me for marriage or relationship coaching, please email me here or visit my website, www.staciestoneycoaching.com