Effective communication in marriage can be elusive. If you’ve already tried communicating the way a psychologist, YouTuber, or even your husband suggested, only to end up fighting anyway, it is so frustrating!
Whatever types of communication in marriage you’ve tried, if you’re still feeling unheard, that’s a pretty lonely place to be. It’s easy to feel hopeless–and baffled.
What are the keys to good communication? And what causes lack of communication in marriage in the first place?
These are questions I asked myself when I could not communicate in a way my husband could hear. Forget about the deep talks or appreciation I longed for–I couldn’t even get help with the trash!
After trying everything but nothing was working, I was amazed when I finally did find some solutions! I just didn’t have the right information back then.
If you’re looking for marriage communication exercises that work, you’re in the right place. Here are 5 keys to communication in marriage so you can finally feel heard and get the attention you deserve.
1) Beware of This Word
What’s the common denominator in these statements:
“You don’t hear me.”
“I feel hurt when you don’t listen.”
“We need to learn to communicate better.”
“I feel unheard.”
“Is something wrong?”
One way or another, they all contain a “you.” Whether it’s hidden in the “we” (you and I) or is unspoken (“I feel unheard [by you]” or “Is something wrong [with you]?”), these phrases all point over to his side of the street.
Around here, we call that being on his paper, even though we were all rightfully schooled to keep our eyes on our own paper.
Don’t we need to go there sometimes though?
That’s what I thought too.
“This time it will be different,” I’d tell myself. This time I’d get him to see my point of view, get the resolution and validation I craved, maybe show him the error of his ways while I was at it. Yet no matter how gently I’d point to his paper, I got the same result every time: loss of the very connection I was hoping to gain.
That’s because, no matter how nicely I tried to put it, I was criticizing or trying to control him.
It sounds obvious now but took me a while to figure out: Men don’t like to be criticized or controlled. No one does.
So, if you’re ready to change that old dance, the word to prune from your vocabulary is “you.”
2) Try This Sexy Phrase Instead
A great way to practice speaking from your own paper is to say what you want. That might be a huge stretch if you’ve been trying with all your might to be a good wife by doing everything he wants.
Or if, like so many of us, you’ve had the “I want” trained out of you, even as a child.
As both a good daughter and a good wife, I knew I shouldn’t talk about what I wanted.
I thought it was supposed to be my husband’s department to figure out what I wanted, even if I didn’t know what it was myself.
Turns out, my husband isn’t much of a mind reader.
And it left me feeling pretty resentful going without while he did whatever he darn well pleased, which usually did not involve me. No wonder since I was trying to control my way into getting what I wanted by getting all over his paper with phrases like “We should…” (renovate, go to counseling, go on vacation).
Telling my man what he should do, as if I were his mother, wasn’t very appealing (unfortunately for our sex life).
A phrase that turned out to be way sexier was: “I would love…”
As long as I filled in the blank with an end result on my paper. Not couples’ counseling, for example, which would be trying to get him to do something. Renovating, on the other hand, is completely on my paper.
I expressed that desire in a way that inspired, to the point that we’re now renovating inside and out, adding a pool and all.
There are two important exceptions to avoiding the word “you,” however…
3) Revive the Forgotten Side of Communication
When you hear the word “communication,” what comes to mind?
For many of us, it’s talking. Even though we know that communication is a two-way street, it’s easy to take the listening part for granted.
As The Better Health Channel points out, “we can say a lot without speaking.”
What is it that your listening skills are communicating?
If, while he’s talking, you’re preparing your rebuttal, this can come across loud and clear before you say a single word.
The word he’s reading on your face is “disrespect.”
And the one thing men need most in a relationship is respect.
If you’re ready to up your respect quotient and become a superstar listener, here’s a magical phrase for you: “I hear you.”
It can be challenging, even scary, to rely on this phrase if you’re anything like I was, used to giving your two cents, problem-solving, or making “helpful” suggestions.
But, once they get over the discomfort of leaving such controlling responses behind, most women feel relieved just being able to listen without agreeing or disagreeing.
Mirroring such listening skills is a great way to get your husband to listen too.
That was Lena’s experience, even though her husband had left her and their children. He became quiet and withdrawn for weeks, but she committed to staying off his paper. He then started opening up to her, when she had several opportunities to say simply “I hear you.”
She expressed her desire too: “I want to feel really safe.”
It seemed he was already on board as he explained: “That’s why I’ve been trying to get the farm and move us north and be self-sufficient.”
Lena said she saw walls come down that never had before.
She went a step further and expressed another desire: “I would love to be close to the men in our family.”
Now her magical listening words came out of her husband’s mouth: “I hear you–now is a good time to be around people you trust.”
There’s something about hearing the words “I hear you” back from your man that can make you feel truly heard.
As her husband went on to share intricate details about soil fertility and cost comparison per square acre, Lena just listened, again saying “I hear you” and “I trust you. You always do your research. I trust whatever decision you make.”
She then excitedly shared her vision of her being in gum boots on a truffle farm.
That’s when her supposedly separated husband went straight inside and skipped his work to spend the rest of the afternoon on the computer. Three hours later, he told her he’d found an acre with perfect growing conditions for truffles.
4) Get Grateful
Everyday communication can be a lot more mundane than truffle foraging. Like when the trash can is overflowing and he seems oblivious even though that’s supposed to be his department.
In the bad old days, I could not figure out how to get my husband to take out the trash or do anything else to help around the house, a major source of conflict. It was so frustrating!
I would say things just like, “I would really like it if you could take out the trash today, John.” He would resist mightily and I would be resentful, and he would be withdrawn and the trash would smell, or I’d take it out myself and be even more resentful. Then that would come out sideways and I’d have a full-on ugly rage at him and then the inevitable emotional hangover from that rage.
Instead of taking the direct route of asking him to take it out, it seems gentler to hint that the trash can is full. Sounds innocent enough, right?
Not if the goal is to have an empty trash can and a playful, passionate relationship.
That’s because if your husband is the primary trash taker outter, the subtext of hinting that the trash is full is: “You didn’t take out the trash again, Mr. Lazy Pants.” In other words, it’s a complaint.
The problem with complaining is that you have your manifester pointed to the thing you don’t want to be experiencing, like an overflowing trash can. Since what you focus on increases, complaining, even if it’s buttoned up and said in a nice tone of voice, just insures that you’re going to experience more of the same, which in this case is overflowing trash cans.
What if instead of observing that the trash can was full, you caught him doing something good?
So when the bin is empty you could say, “I notice the trash can is empty again! Thanks!” Wouldn’t that also be a true statement? The subtext here is “I see how you contributed to cleaning our house.”
These days, my husband takes out the trash so much that I rarely even notice it being full, not to mention him always cleaning the kitchen, charging the car, and lots of other stuff to lighten my load.
In fact, in thinking about this topic, I just told him, “I’m so happy and grateful you always take out the trash and I never even think about it.”
He replied, “I better check on it now to make sure it’s empty in case you want to throw something away.” So he did, but it was already three-quarters empty. So nothing to do there.
Even if I said “I would like it if you could take out the trash today, Mr. Lazy Pants,” I have a lot of emotional safety in the bank around here because I don’t usually say things like that. So maybe it would be okay and he’d take it out. I don’t know.
What I do know is that I feel better and happier focusing on how good I have it than I do focusing on what he didn’t do that I think he should have. And I like myself more when I hear gratitude coming out of my mouth than poorly disguised complaints.
He responds to me so much better too.
5) Baby Yourself
If you’re already feeling resentful or exhausted, depleted or overwhelmed, communication experiments like expressing gratitude may be too tall an order.
No matter how great your intentions, if you’re deeply irritated with your man, it’s only human that it’s eventually going to come across. At least, that’s how it is for me. I’m not Gandhi over here.
When the world starts to look dark, the best thing for my communication is to press the pause button. Sometimes the best way to communicate is not to communicate.
When I get exhausted or overwhelmed, it’s too hard to be my best self!
That’s when I think of my inner child. But not in the deep, spiritual way you might be thinking.
I’m actually thinking of a sleepy child within. I mean, everyone knows that naps are vital to a baby’s well-being. Missing a child’s sleep window strikes fear into any parent’s heart because it spells crankiness, guaranteed. Naps are so indispensable that sleep training is now a $325 million industry.
Sure, we’re older now but not always wiser. So try taking a cue from your cranky inner child: Take a nap or a time out.
Romp to marvel at the tallness of trees. Lie on the grass to gaze at the clouds.
However you choose to play, filling your self-care tank is the indispensable first step to intimacy. That’s why it’s way preferable to pick up the phone to vent to a like-minded girlfriend so you don’t have to spew onto your husband.
Showing up to a conversation happy is attractive. It signals that the water’s safe, so he can jump in, open up and share more with you.
Becoming responsible for your own happiness also fortifies you to swim right past any bait he may throw at you. After all, he’s a mere mortal too.
Now that you have these five communication keys in hand, which will you try first?