Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard how important it is to establish “good” communication with your spouse. However, if you didn’t grow up watching your parents speak to each other openly, honestly and with respect, you may not know precisely how to do that, as well as when you should speak up vs. when you should not. Especially if you’re fighting a lot or harboring negative feelings, you may want to consider brushing up on your relational skills. The good news is, whether you’ve been married for 50 years or are about to walk down the aisle, it’s never too late to improve how you talk with your partner. Here are five ways I recommend to open the lines of communication with the one you love and strengthen your relationship in the process.
1. Don’t accuse. If you’re having an issue, be conscious not to point blame at your partner by phrasing sentences that start with words such as “You make me... “ or “You didn’t…” Instead, begin by saying, “I feel hurt when…” or “I’m upset when…” Your partner will be less likely to be defensive if you don’t sound as though you’re in attack mode.
2. Listen. Once you voice what’s bothering you, be sure to hear how your partner responds. Give him or her a chance to speak and listen to what he or she says. It may be that you’re misinterpreting the behavior, he or she wasn’t conscious of how you feel, or you’re doing or saying something to influence them. Whatever the case may be, unless you hear your partner out, you’ll never know.
3. Be consistent. Healthy communication happens during the smallest of moments, not only at meals and when you’re on vacation. Speak nicely to your partner and try your best not to let stress or other distractions get the best of you. A devoted husband or wife will want to support you when you need it most, but not if you take your anxiety out on them or take his or her love for granted.
4. Touch often. Communication is not only verbal. Touch your husband or wife often and not only in a sexual way. Hold hands. Kiss him or her hello and goodbye. Let your partner know without words, which people can sometimes misconstrue, just how much he or she means to you. Touching coupled with the right language can add depth to your relationship that words cannot.
5. Ask questions. Not everyone is forthcoming with information, especially if something is bothering them. Make it a habit of asking your partner how he or she is doing and how his or her day was, even if your spouse is not always interested in speaking with you at length at that exact moment. Expressing that you’re interested will go a long way toward keeping the lines free when your partner does want to talk.
6. Remain open. Although it’s sometimes more comfortable to stay silent or put off a conversation until later, it’s important to resist that temptation. Problems tend to build as opposed to disappearing when we keep issues that are bothering us bottled up inside. If you’re having a problem, raise it with your partner, bearing in mind your delivery as I discussed earlier in number one.
7. Compliment your partner. Healthy communication is not only about airing your grievances. It’s also about showing your partner just how much you appreciate him or her on both a large and small scale and that you see them. If your husband cooked you a special dinner, acknowledge it. If your wife had her hair done, tell her how lovely she looks. Little acknowledgments here and there communicate to your partner that, yes, you notice him or her and are happy he or she is a part of your life. Don’t hesitate to tell your partner how you’re in love and how much he or she means to you. When you do so consistently, chances are, you’ll get back what you give and then some by way of the happy marriage you always wanted.
Vikki Ziegler is the star of Bravo TV’s Untying the Knot, the founder and CEO of DivorceDating, Author of The Pre-Marital Planner (to stay happily married) and The Pre-Marital Planner: Your Complete Legal Guide to a Perfect Marriage, and a co-founder of and partner at Ziegler & Zemsky, LLC. To learn more about Vikki, visit www.vikkiziegler.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.