Do’s & Don’ts of Communicating with Your Spouse
Are your neighbors keeping their windows and doors shut more often, despite gorgeous weather? Do your kids tell you, “OMG! All you two do is yell at each other.”? Do you feel your spouse would be sexier if he/she was mute? Have you had the urge to take your shoe off and huck it at your partner’s head to get him/her to just stop talking? Is any of the above fit your situation PLEASE, for the sake of everyone around you, read on…
Arguing in relationships is inevitable but it doesn’t need to escalate into a full blown screaming competition every time. This cheat sheet will give you simple tips on what to be aware of and lead you to realizing that your partner can actually be attractive when he or she does talk.
Criticism: This may be the quickest way to ruin a relationship. It often starts small; then, over time, escalates. The criticized person feels controlled, which leads to resentment. The truth of the matter is a person who feels valued will be more open to change; whereas a person who is degraded will resist submitting to the criticizer’s wants.
Avoid attacking your partner’s character. Use ‘I’ statements or constructive feedback. Constructive feedback focuses on how to improve the situation. An example of this is stating, “You’ve done a great job raising our kids. I think it will be a huge benefit to them that we get them to school on time, every day.” (Actual statement from my husband regarding my consistent ineptness at being timely. Since he said it prefaced with a positive and followed by constructive suggestion, I actually listened and worked on limiting my tardiness.)
“Now imagine he said this instead, “Did you skip clock reading in school because you suck at being on time! Our kids are going to grow up being as irresponsible as you.” Guess what my response would be to that? The shoe-hucking idea would be very tempting!
Disrespect: Are you a name-caller or do you roll your eyes at your partner’s comments? What about ignoring your partner? Are you known for your sharp tongue, aka sarcasm? If so, it’s likely harvesting negative feelings and resentment. Once your partner starts disrespecting back, it becomes a vicious cycle. I’ll admit I’m a professional eye-roller. Once I became aware of the harmful implications of my eye-rolls, I realized it was time to shelf it and find a new expertise!
Defensiveness: Listen, hear, and think before responding. It’s important to take responsibility for your actions. If your partner makes a statement that he’s tired of the car being messy, take ownership of it. You might say, “I agree. I will make sure the kids and I take all our belongings out after school every day.”
Here’s another situation that happens in many households: Your partner may comment that she needs more help with the kids. Instead of being defensive by saying, “I already work 50 hours a week and volunteer. I have nothing left!” Responding with something like, “I agree that I could do more. Will it help if I take them to breakfast on Sundays so you can have a break or get other things done?” In the second scenario, you acknowledge her pain and show respect by offering to alleviate her. This goes a long way because this act shows support, love, and giving. Wow, points in the bank!
Stonewalling: The definition of stonewalling is the refusal to communicate or cooperate. Examples of stonewalling include: giving short, vague responses, refusing to answer questions, mumbling, and the silent treatment. I think shoe throwing may fit in this category too.
Here are typical stonewalling phrases:
“Leave me alone…”
“I’m done talking about it!”
“End of discussion.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
So, What to Do?
The stonewalling tactic, according to Dr. John Gottman, well-known relationship psychologist, is a huge indicator of predicting divorce. The only solution to this is to communicate. Sorry, permanent avoidance won’t work long! Note that I said permanent avoidance. Time-outs are okay and suggested when things get too heated, though.
Calm Down: When your heart is beating 90 beats-per-minute, it makes it difficult to think logically. This is the dangerous territory when we say things we regret later. Take a break when you notice things are getting too heated. If you know this is a problem in your relationship, discuss it when things are relaxed. I suggest having a safety term, which indicates you need to separate for a time and revisit the issue later. An example of a safety term can be “I need 20 minutes,” or “CD break” (CD = calm down).
TIP: This technique works every time for me. Take a deep breath in. When exhaling, say your first and last name. Repeat ten times. This acts as an interrupter for your brain and diffuses the angry feelings.
Complain: Deal with the issue – don’t be a doormat. Being complacent to “keep the peace” will result in one person becoming incredibly dominating and the other filled with resentment and a feeling of no control. A way to start a discussion is, “(This action) bothers me because it makes me feel (_____).”
Don’t be afraid to use a strong, powerful voice. It’s important to set limits and establish respect for each other. This is much different than yelling. A powerful voice is one with control. Yelling and screaming are indicators of lack of control.
Speak Non-Defensively: Don’t yell. Start sentences with “I” statements versus “you” statements. “I feel…” “We” statements are also effective. Example: “We should have date nights twice a month.” Even better: “I would love to spend more quality time with you. To help make our relationship even stronger, let’s go on date nights twice a month.” Do you see what the second example did? It expressed desire to be with the other; thinking of the future together (“…make our relationship even stronger…”); and a solution. More points in the bank!
Validate: Validation is done by fully listening. This is expressed through our body language, and sharing a reflection of their comment. Listen to what your partner is truly saying – what needs or emotions are they expressing? Is there an underlying message? Ask questions, such as, “Are you saying that it would make your life easier if I help you more with household chores, instead of sitting on my ass and watching TV all day long?”
An example of reflection is: “If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that if I chipped in more with the chores, it would make your life easier.”
Reflection is often referred to as mirroring. If your reflection is on target, follow your statement with your promise, “Now that I’m aware of how much this has been a problem, I will absolutely help more.” This shows that you are listening and that their message is important to you. Boom, more points in the bank.
Practice: I’m not going to lie and tell you that you will never have the profound desire to chuck a shoe at their head again BUT with practice of the above tips, positive communication will become more of a habit.
For information on Midori visit