Good communication is a vital ingredient for every type of interpersonal relationship we have. It allows us to create and maintain healthy relationships, especially with your spouse/partner. Have you ever been frustrated with your partner because they don’t do something you expect them to do, only to realize you never actually asked them to do it or discussed it with them? No? Only me? This can become a bigger issue the more in sync you get with your partner as it becomes easier to assume they know exactly what you are thinking or what you mean by your words. In reality, they may get an entirely different message than what you intended.
Don’t worry. You’re not alone. This issue regularly rears its ugly head in all marriages and intercultural relationships (especially when English is not your partner’s native language). To be honest, Abhi and I still struggle with communication from time to time, despite being together for 9+ years. No matter how long you have been together, it is important to intentionally use methods that foster good communication. We have compiled a list of 11 tips for good communication that we use to help us get back on track.
1. Make Sure You’re Really Listening
So many times when we start discussing with our partner we get so focused on the next point that we are going to bring up that we fail to concentrate on what our partner is actually saying. We get so caught up in our own head that we don’t even realize we are doing this. Next time you are talking with your partner, try your best to fully clear your mind and hear what your partner is saying. If you truly have too much going on then be open and honest with your partner that now is not the best time to talk as you cannot give them your best and set a time to talk later.
Getting rid of distractions can also help make sure you are really listening. Put the phones away, turn off the tv, set the kids up with another activity and minimize anything that may pull your thoughts away from what your partner is saying. This is a two-way street. If you are both able to reduce distractions, then you can have a more productive discussion with one another.
2. Communicate with Love and Respect
In a relationship there are many topics that may engender heated and passionate feelings (money, dealing with other family members, etc.). Having a productive conversation on such topics requires communication that is done with both love and respect. Name calling or speaking in a demeaning manner is never good communication. This means being aware of what is motivating you to say what you are saying to your partner. Good communication requires speaking from a position that is supportive and understanding. Speaking from resentment, frustration, or anger will only lead to a negative conversation. You don’t want to break down or belittle your partner.
Communicating with love and respect does not mean ignoring these very real emotions, but instead focuses on how you can get back to understanding and support in the conversation. This means, even if you are feeling these negative emotions, try your best to not yell at your partner, keeping an environment of respect and calm that you can both maintain. If this can’t be done, then take a step back and revisit the issue when you are able to discuss with love and respect.
3. Get Perspective
When we have an issue, it can seem like the biggest thing in the world. Reality check- what we often think is really important other people do not. One thing to stop and ask yourself is if it really is a big deal. Is the issue going to have a major impact on your life in 5 to 10 years? If not, is it something you should just let go? Pick your battles
Still too difficult? Think about it from your partner’s perspective. Are you nagging? Could it be that they did not hear you or did not understand how important it was to you? Or maybe your partner felt that there was something more important on their list of priorities? Empathy is a key component to good communication. Try your best to put yourself in their shoes and see the issue from their perspective. Then discuss calmly with them and establish how to communicate when something is truly important to both of you.
4. Cool Off & Check Your Attitude
Girl, I get it. Sometimes your partner can be SO frustrating and just get under your skin like anything. First things first, take a step back and cool off. Taking some time to reflect on the issue or situation can help put things in perspective and prevent things from being said that we wish we could take back. Secondly, if you go into a conversation with high emotions and the wrong mindset, the conversation is NOT going to be productive.
You should be able to communicate with your spouse with your walls down. Going into a conversation with an aggressive or affronted attitude will only lead your partner to put up their walls and the conversation will essentially go nowhere (at least not anywhere good). Take a walk, take a shower, go to the other room, put on some headphones and music. Just get yourself into the mindset needed to have a useful conversation with your partner so that the best outcomes can be realized.
5. Communication Tools
Sometimes we just can’t communicate our feelings. I know personally when I am trying to talk to Abhi about something emotional I just feel all jumbled up and unable to get my points across in a manner that allows me to feel understood. In such times I often turn to good old letter writing or emailing. Using these different communication tools allows me to sort out my thoughts and convey my points clearly. This is also helpful when I’m annoyed about something or mad, as it gives me the time to cool off and keeps me from saying something I may later regret.
Letter writing and email aren’t the only communication tools to be used. Maybe you would be able to better communicate with your spouse on certain topics with tools such as instant messaging, text messaging, drawings, or analogies. Communication does not only have to be words spoken to one another. Make use of the tools available to you so that you both understand the issue and points can be clearly made.
6. Get Clarification
One of the easiest ways to work towards good communication with your spouse is to simply get clarification during your discussions. Ask your spouse if they understand the point you are making or why the issue is important to you. At the same time, I encourage you both to ask each other questions to better understand the points of the discussion. If something is unclear or you don’t follow, ask your partner to further explain or repeat the point. This helps eliminate misunderstandings and makes sure you are both on the same page at the end of a discussion.
7. Think about How You Say It
We can say a lot without actually saying anything at all. Be conscious of your body language. Are you discussing with your arms crossed? This physically shows that you have barriers up or that you feel the need to protect yourself. Are you sending a message with your actions? Are you banging things, slamming doors, or generally acting in a rougher manner than you normally do? If your actions cannot convey love and understanding, it may be advised to take a break until you calm down.
Want to know the fastest way to make someone defensive and to make them stop listening to you? Start accusing them of something. This is another thing that falls under thinking how you say it. The use of “I” statements are much more productive than accusing your partner of doing something, or implying that they are guilty of something. Example: Instead of saying “You never pick up after yourself,” replace it with “I feel unappreciated for my contributions of keeping our space neat and tidy and it would mean a lot if we made a greater effort to share this responsibility.”Using “I” statements won’t magically fix your communication, but it will help in starting a discussion that is productive and doesn’t lead to feeling attacked by your partner.
8. Schedule Time Together Regularly
Don’t let life get in the way. Just as you made the time to date each other when you first met, make the time to continue getting to know one another and to spend time with each other. Many people suggest having a date night once a week or once a month without the kids. For us, that’s unrealistic. Instead, we have scheduled time with each other each morning. Each morning before the kids are up we discuss whatever issues need to be discussed that day and then spend time going over the newspaper headlines together. This allows us to see which stories interest each other and we can discuss. It’s just a quick little practice (maybe 15-20 min) but it just gives us a little bit of time to reconnect with one another. Every couple is different. Maybe date night is right for you, or maybe there is some other activity that you enjoy doing together. Whatever it may be, make sure you connect with your partner regularly to keep the good communication channels open so that you can easily discuss issues as they arise.
9. Be Direct with One Another
Let me get something out of the way–no one is a mind reader. In any marriage you should be able to open and honest with your partner. Expecting your partner to magically know what you need will only lead to disappointment. Speaking directly means you say what you think and feel. This is a two-way street. Just as you should be direct with your partner they should also be direct with you. This means no hidden messages.
Do not say everything is “fine” when it is not. This may be more difficult for some as a result of the culture in which they were raised. To overcome this, maintain a calm, comfortable environment when talking and encourage each other to freely speak your mind. Also, make sure to avoid mixed messages. Try to avoid saying one thing and expressing something else non-verbally.
Being direct with one another is also especially important in multicultural relationships. Be direct with your partner about family expectations and such so your partner knows what to expect and how to act. If you are not direct with your partner about these expectations they may end up being unknowingly offensive, which may have an impact on their relationship with your family. Be direct and avoid this.
10.Patience is Key
Patience is a virtue. It is a skill that must be cultivated. Impatience leads to frustration, which in turn hinders our ability to be able to converse productively. However, when we practice patience we are able to stay in control of our feelings, make better decisions, and nurture a closer relationship and understanding with our partner. We are also more optimistic and courageous when we practice patience. Patience can be especially important when partners hail from different cultures or where a partner’s first language is different from our own. I know without patience Abhi and I would have had way more disagreements throughout our relationship. Practice patience in your communication not only with your partner, but with everyone around you.
11.Be Open to “Do Overs”
This is a practice that I do with my kids and is applicable to relationships as well. Be willing to have a “do over.” We use this practice when we are having an especially difficult day. I have a chat with my kids and we agree to have a “do over.” This allows you to reset the day and move forward in a positive direction. Approach communication with your spouse with grace. Allow each other to re-phrase things, further clarify and even re-address entire conversations. Maybe you have had an exceptionally bad day at work and have taken it out on your spouse. Don’t be afraid to ask for a “do over.” Explain to your spouse why you would like to reset the conversation and then have a productive conversation on the issue if it still needs to be addressed. If your partner is not ready for a “do over” respect that and let them know that you would like one and that you are ready when they are to have the conversation again.
Strong relationships take both commitment and hard work. Communication is just one of the tools in our relationship toolbox that needs to be sharpened from time to time. Some of us are naturally good communicators while others of us need some work. Good communication will not happen overnight. It is going to take time, patience, and practice to change the quality of communication in your relationship. The next time you find a communication gap with your partner keep these tips in mind and intentionally work on building this skill together. It’s like watering a plant—a little bit of effort will allow your relationship to flourish and grow. What are your thoughts? Has communication been a problem in your relationship? What did you do about it? Let us know in the comments below.