At my bridal shower many years ago, those in attendance were asked to write
down one bit of advice for me on an index card for me to have. Most of the cards
centered around the subject of never going to bed angry or advising us to hang on
during the difficult times to get to the better ones. But one in particular said,
“communication is the key!” It stood out to me because it is true and yet, over
the years I’ve learned what a broad statement and concept that really is.
Communication can mean so many things… talking, listening, trusting/ accepting,
being supportive, teamwork, and compromising. And yet, somehow
communication breaks down between couples and often what used to be easy is
now difficult and the relationship becomes entrenched in bitterness and
resentment. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be like that. Even if your
marriage is filled with negative habits/ beliefs, it is possible that the marriage can
heal, get better, and be fulfilling, fun, and supportive.
It takes work to have a successful marriage. Many people think it should come
naturally and be organic and that is partly true, but not completely true. Many
things take work to be successful, such as a college degree, having a pretty yard,
maintaining a healthy body, and cultivating thriving friendships. Marriage is no
exception. If this is true, though, what does a satisfying marriage look like and
how do we mix the natural with working at it? Let’s look at some ideas that make
up healthy relationships. Although this is not an exhaustive list, it is a great start.
1. Talking- When stating a position on an issue where you might feel
misunderstood, “I” statements are a great way to share a position on a
particular issue. An “I” statement is done like this: I feel ____ because
_____ when _____ and what I need is ______. For example: “I feel hurt
and frustrated because we argue about the house cleaning schedule when
the topic is brought up and what I need is to be heard and understood. For
a conflict situation, no matter how small, “I” statements can be effective.
2. Listening- The Gottman Institute that studies couples says to “postpone
your own agenda.” To stay in my partner’s world, I might try taking notes
on what on what my partner says and ask open ended questions that are
designed to open the heart. Questions like, “tell me the story of that” or
“how does this situation affect you?” are helpful tools. By summarizing
what my partner has shared with me and placing special emphasis on
feelings/ emotions, it allows me to stay in my partner’s world and for my
partner to feel heard and understood. This is an important step that often
gets overlooked or missed and if done in a way where egos are put aside,
can immediately bring positive results.
3. Trusting/ accepting - It is easy to make our partner the dumping ground for
blame. In the book, Stepping Stones, More Daily Meditations for Men (this
applies to women, too!), one excerpt says: “In an intimate relationship, we
have the responsibility to be good stewards of the trust given to us. Looking
at our partner’s role is always so much easier than looking at our own, but
we need to resist that easy temptation. Our first questions should always
be: Do I make it safe for my partner to be open with me? Do I witness my
partner’s vulnerability as a trust that I do not abuse? Am I gentle and
respectful with the key my partner gave me?”
4. Be supportive/ offer empathy and understanding- After summarizing what
my partner said, offering statements of empathy and understanding brings
the tension down and improves the closeness. The Gottman Institute
recommends something saying this, “It makes sense to me how you saw
this and what your perceptions and needs were. I get it. I can see how this
upset you.” It does not mean I agree or found a solution, rather that I
understand my partner’s point of view. It’s amazing how powerful this step
5. Teamwork- Remember we are in this together and are on each other’s
team, not against one another. This is often a forgotten truth when
tensions run high and conflict is not managed in a healthy way. In other
words, I assume the positive about my partner, not negative.
6. Compromising- Some would say a compromise is a lose/ lose situation, but I
like to say it’s a win/ win. If we always get our way, it robs us of an
opportunity to learn and grow. If we compromise, we win a little and lose a
little. But knowing we’ve given to our partner can be a rewarding positive
feeling. Give it a try!
By applying and practicing the six tools listed above, it may be a step in the right
direction towards a healthier relationship and fulfilling life together. The tools are
the beginning of moving in the right direction and not a one and done situation.
Sometimes it will work and other times maybe not. Keep at it because undoing
bad habits and getting unstuck takes time to undo and redo better. If you’d like
to know more about how to have a marriage with healthy communication and
better conflict management, I recommend listening to a podcast called “Small
Things Often” by the Gottman Institute. They share tips and tools for successful
relationships and each podcast lasts 5 minutes or less.
Thank you and remember… communication is the key!