There is a good reason why experts often list communication as one of the most important ingredients for a successful marriage. It is like eggs or baking powder – without it, a cake will flop completely.
I recently had to bake a cake for a fundraising project at my child’s school. I got everything ready. First, the two chocolate-flavored box-cakes (because they are easy to make, pretty much flop-resistant and no one tastes the difference!). Then, the icing sugar, butter, cherries and golden glitter – because glitter makes everything beautiful!
So, I started baking, with some music in the background and the kitchen windows wide open. I was in a good mood and everything pointed to it being a raging success. I was reading the recipe when an incoming text message briefly interrupted me. An irrelevant, promotional message that tried to convince me that some company will lower my monthly car insurance premium…
I returned to my baking station but I have lost my place. Then I found it again, or at least I thought I did. What actually happened is that I had skipped a very necessary step: adding three eggs. Unfortunately, I only realized my mistake when I took out the pathetic brown pancake out of the oven and saw the three lousy eggs still lying on the counter… a flop that no amount of glitter could save.
In the same way, your marriage could be plain sailing. You went for premarital counselling and have put everything in place for a marriage that will last more than 50 years. But then you forget the eggs. Or you remembered to take them out, but forgot to add them in the mix…
15 Quick recipes for blunder-free communication:
- Make time to talk. From discussing trivial topics to debating tough issues. Some couples can talk non-stop from their wedding day until the day they die. But others have to work a bit harder. When you notice that your conversations are becoming less frequent, schedule time for communication, without allowing technology or the children to interrupt you. Chat over a cup of coffee. And if you have something important to discuss, do it when the kids are asleep.
- Choose the right time and place. When it comes to effective communication, timing is crucial. If you voice your disgruntlement about your financial situation while he/she is watching a movie or busy brushing teeth before bed time, a frustrating outcome is almost guaranteed. Neither should you confront your partner in a public setting or when you are between friends or family. It is unfair to the “spectators” and it will prevent you from speaking freely and honestly.
- Reconsider your words – again and again. When you and your partner talk to each other, carefully consider your words – as if you are handling glass. When a conversation becomes heated, it is easy to say something that you will regret later on. Remember, once it has been said, you can’t take it back. And if it so happens that you are arguing over text messages (never a good idea), avoid capital letters!
- Don’t interrupt your partner. Don’t stereotype your partner. Don’t generalize. These are three rules that, should you break them, will mean that you are playing dirty. When you interrupt someone, it makes that person feel angry and helpless. And to say something like: “You men are…” or “You always do this…” is unfair.
- Avoid misunderstandings by double-checking. Some of the biggest fights are the result of misunderstandings. Misunderstandings that arise from making assumptions. So, before you make your own conclusions, ask your partner: “Do I understand correctly if you say that I…”.
- Be aware of your body language and tone of voice. You might be saying the right words, but with so much sarcasm that no one can miss it. Or you might invite your partner to talk, but then challenge him or her with aggressive body language – arms folded.
- Remember that you are in control. Conflict is not escalated by the person initiating it, but by the person who responds. And yes, sometimes it seems unfair when your partner keeps taunting you, but you still have the ability to control the situation. Will you react and start a fight, or will you dismiss the challenge?
- Develop good listening skills. Listening properly, while paying attention, is one of the most important skills that you can learn to the benefit of your marriage. Look your partner in the eye, put your smartphone aside and make a conscious effort to understand what he/she is saying.
- Touch each other. When you and your partner tackle a serious topic, make sure that there is some intimacy between you. Do this by sitting next to your partner and holding his/her hand. There are several reasons for this: Firstly, it creates trust and makes your partner feel more comfortable to open up to you. Secondly, it is very difficult to have a bad fight while there is that kind of intimacy between you
- Be an attentive communicator. Whether you are simply communicating or arguing, read between the lines. People don’t only communicate with their words, but also with their eyes, body language and silences. You probably know your partner by now, so use your knowledge to the benefit of you both. When your spouse’s body language reveals that something is wrong, try to find out what it is. When your partner says one thing, but the body language shows something else, investigate further.
- Design a communication style that works for you both. When you’re not fighting, make some time to discuss your communication styles. You will soon realize why you rub each other the wrong way. Then talk about ways to avoid this. If you know your different love languages, it can also make things easier. If your love language is words of affirmation, you can explain to your partner that you need kind words to feel closer to him/her. If your love language is physical touch, point 9 will be extra important. Tell your partner which words (when you are fighting) really upsets you and where you think you can improve your conflict management skills.
- Don’t sweep things under the carpet. Sometimes you might just be too tired to argue or things are going so well that you don’t want to rock the marriage boat. But sweeping things that bother you under the carpet, has a negative effect on your marriage. If you continue to bury things to avoid a potential conflict situation, the tension will build until an explosion becomes inevitable. This doesn’t mean that you have to have a huge argument about every small disagreement, but rather that you should be open about the things that bother you in order to deal with it as soon as possible.
- Respect each other and sometimes agree to disagree. No couple can always agree on everything. They can also not solve every conceivable problem. Sometimes it better to just accept that you have different opinions and to respect each other’s views.
- Sometimes it is a good idea to ask help from a third party. There are times when it is beneficial to get the opinion of a close friend or a family member to help with an important decision. They can provide a new perspective. However, there are couples who don’t like it if someone chooses a side other than theirs so if you want to avoid getting angry at the person who are trying to help you solve the problem, rather get professional help from a person you don’t know at all – thereby ensuring that the person is completely impartial. An expert can also assist you with better conflict management techniques.
- Don’t try to win. You are not in competition with each other, instead, you are a team. Communicate with the goal to establish a connection between you, not to determine who is right and who is wrong. We often think that the purpose of communication is to let inform our partners of our needs and desires. But that is missing the point! The purpose of communication is to better understand each other…
Effective communication is essential for a healthy marriage – a marriage that “rises” as it should, just like a cake. So, gather as much information as you can about this topic and increase the chances for your marriage cake to be flop-resistant!