Articles About Love and Marriage
How To Talk Serious With Your Mate
Over the many years we have been conducting research about love and marriage, we are continually reminded of the important role effective communication between couples plays in the overall health and well being of their relationship.
The “heart of the matter” is this – successfully married couples report a high level of satisfaction with the way they communicate with each other, and they attribute their marital success first and foremost to the fact that they have honed their communication skills over time. Oh sure, in the early years even successfully married couples report that they struggled with all this, but over time they got better and better at it because they kept working at it.
So, what are the lessons we have learned from those couples that communicate really well – that communicate effectively on just about every level. As we poured over our many interview notes, seven important themes began to emerge and we are pleased to share them with you.
1. Effective marital communication always begins with proper engagement and in a proper context. There is a time and place for everything and communicating effectively with each other is no exception. Talking about serious matters cannot occur effectively when dealing with chaos – children who need to be fed, a blaring television in the background, when both of you have iPods plugged into your ears, or when you are in different rooms of the house engaging in different activities, where shouting is the only alternative!
2. There is proper etiquette to follow in effective communication. Remember, you can’t communicate effectively with each other when you are both talking at the same time. It’s hard to listen when one or the other is doing all of the talking! You can’t hear effectively if you both are shouting at each other. It is always better to lower your voices and speak in a calm manner. Remember, it is never a good idea to blame, accuse, call names, or make nasty remarks. Being ready to communicate and follow these basic rules of engagement will get you off to a good start.
3. Discussions about serious issues must always begin with agreement about what the issues really are. Until you work to identify the issue, establish the parameters of the discussion, and agree to solve the problem or issue together, it is hard, if not impossible, to get your communication with each other up to the level required for proper resolution of the challenge you are confronting. Sometimes the debates and discussions with each other become like two ships passing in the night – they never see, listen, or learn from each other – they are just two ships passing in the night.
4. A fruitful conversation about important matters always begins with the brainstorming of ideas. It is important to get your respective ideas out on the table. Talk about the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. Agree on ideas worth exploring. When you agree on a plan, stick to it. When the two of you share the responsibility for the direction or directions you take, you will both feel much more buy-in and commitment, and you will be much more willing to share responsibility for the outcome, good or bad.
5. The precursor to successful marital communication is confidence. Developing the ability to communicate effectively allows for an open and honest expression of opinions and ideas. Being allowed to express a contrary opinion without shouting it out is one of the first signs that you are becoming a confident communicator with your mate. Having you or your spouse disagree with each other’s opinions without either getting defensive or unnecessarily argumentative is a clear sign of maturity in your communicative relationship. Successfully married couples tell us they learned these lessons early on and worked on being confident in their expressions everyday. It may start slow early in your relationship but daily practice builds momentum. When either or both mates lack confidence in their ability to communicate with their spouse, effective communication is greatly hindered.
6. Never, we repeat, never be judgmental when debating issues with your mate. Passing judgment on an idea at the drop of a hat is usually the death of open and honest debate between two people. When you say something like, “That is a stupid idea” or “That is about the dumbest thing I have ever heard,” you are putting an arrow through your spouse, and it hurts! When they close down and refuse to further discuss the issue(s) you were debating, then all exchanges end. No solutions are found. And the truth is, the wounds caused by this action further erode the ability of the two of you to engage in healthy exchanges – in healthy debate in the future.
7. Simple things matter when it comes to discussions about tough or challenging issues. When serious issues arise and the two of you need to deal with them, there are some simple things that you can do to insure that your exchanges become part of a rational discussion rather than an argument or an endless diatribe about why your mate is wrong. Learn these simple lessons – listen intently to what your spouse is saying; make eye contact with them; turn off all electronic appliances (TV, radio, music, iPod, etc.) so as not to be distracted during your conversation; seek clarification when you don’t understand or comprehend something; hold hands when you debate; and never make disagreements personal. Lessons to live by, for sure! The successfully married couples we have interviewed over the years report to us that they never felt invalidated by their spouse, that they always felt their arguments were heard, and that their opinions always mattered. Having a successful marriage is not all that complicated. Learn the simple lessons of communication that these wonderful couples have taught us – and have now taught you! Simple things matter in love and marriage. Love well.
By Dr. Charles D. Schmitz and Dr. Elizabeth A. Schmitz
Authors of Building a Love that Lasts: The Seven Surprising Secrets of Successful Marriage
Winner of the INDIE Book Awards GOLD Medal for Best Relationship Book
Winner of the 2009 Mom’s Choice Awards GOLD Medal for Most Outstanding Relationships and Marriage Book 2009 Nautilus Book Awards
(Jossey-Bass/Wiley 2010) Available wherever books are sold.
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