Learning to communicate together takes practice and time. You have to agree to work on it together and use several important steps. Understanding these important steps will help improve communication between you and your partner.
Allow for Alone Time
- Do not try to communicate with your mate immediately upon their coming home.
- Give each other some time and space initially.
- Don’t try to solve all your problems at one time.
- Know that it is fine for you and your mate to have time alone.
- Some time alone is necessary to wind down from work.
- This time alone though should not be overdone. Some time alone is fine, but too much time alone is known as withdrawal and causes more problems.
- In an argument, upset, etc., it is important to withdraw and be away for a time to let things cool down–don’t try to solve it then.
Listen, But Be Responsive
- This requires your suspending your judgement and reactions.
- It is not easy, because we are use to responding, especially when others push our emotional buttons.
- A sign, a look, etc., can be judgmental.
- You have to not be looking to find things that you can point out to your mate that are wrong–don’t’ find fault–or play who knows best.
- It requires that you check out what is being heard to make sure you receive the message your partner intended to send. Don’t jump to conclusions. Mirror back what you heard (I heard you saying…, is that right?)
- The sender of the message must not feel hurt that the message is being checked out, or maybe not heard the way you intended it.
- Listening is one of the most tangible ways to show another person we care about them.
- It requires learning the Value of Silence (also known as Keeping your mouth shut).
- We each must invite our partner to correct us if we have ‘misread their feelings.
- It is hard to do this if we have been hurt for a long time and then want to find a way to hurt back, or to justify our position/feelings.
Keep Each Others’ Problems Separate
- Make sure not to go into your partner’s problem area; keep it separate.
- Stop and ask where the problem lies before your respond.
- Try and see it as separate from your problem area. You only work on your area, not on their problem area.
- Remember, it takes awareness, work and time to learn to separate issues.
- When vulnerable & needy we try to change others to feel more secure.
- Your value as a person is not dependent on how much you can change them, or keep them as dependent persons.
Talking Without Blame
If you find yourself becoming upset with your mate, blaming them for “their problems,” then you both have to step back and decide that each of you have to do things differently. Most couples become upset and angry at times, but they do it only with the focus on trying to talk out and resolve issues.
What has to happen is that you start to make sure that you have time to sit down and talk on a daily basis about the relationship, without blame. Take time to talk of the day, what happened, and other issues in the house that both of you need to be focusing on. Avoid saying that “it is all your fault.” Make working together a top priority for both of you regardless of what you mates does, or does not, do!
If you mate is depressed, not functioning well, stop and say “how can we work on this together to make sure we get through this in a positive manner.” Don’t get angry at them for having a depressive disorder. It is not easy to get over it by “willing it away.” This is a serious problem which takes a united approach to handle over time.
Remember the following concepts:
- The use of I-statements rather than blaming You-statements.
- This can help to resolve problems and conflicts.
- Know that you cannot force communication.
- Know that 80% of communications are non-verbal; tone of voice, body movements, eyes, etc.
- Your changing can be resisted by your spouse who feels threatened.
- They fear losing you.
- They may fear losing control of you.
- They may worry that you will leave them if you become assertive.
- They probably do not have the skills to respond and need to learn.
- You need to learn how to express your feelings in an assertive, non-aggressive, or self-denying manner.
- Men have to learn how they can grow with their spouse without feeling threatened.
- To communicate effectively we must be honest and open about our fears and our expectations and desires.
- We need to be able to feel free to talk about our feelings, needs, sexual desires, –about each other.
- No two people are the same. We cannot make each other the same.
- We have to give each other the freedom to develop one’s full potential as a person–this requires free choice.
- Choice, freedom actually can strengthen a relationships. It is not a threat.
- Have the courage to be imperfect.
- Remember, we tend to move toward what we expect, and become what we fear.
Withdrawal is a Critical Warning Sign
When one, or the other, member of the relationship withdrawn from the other, the marriage/family, this is a sign that the relationship is in trouble. The signs of withdrawal relate to how much time is devoted to other activities outside of the family; things that one member does on their own that takes valuable interaction time away from the family. Withdrawal is the first sign that the couple is heading for a divorce, separation, or more problems. Withdrawal is usually responded to in the family by other members becoming more upset, depressed, anxious and feeling lost and confused. When you hear others complaining about the amount of time you spend away from them doing things, then this is a sign that you are not doing your part for whatever reason.
Responding in a Crisis
When we are in a crisis, we tend to “look sicker than we really are.” A crisis affects everyone in the family and is something that everyone has to work on. You cannot leave it up to the one who is experiencing the crisis. Ask yourself what you have to actively do to help to stabilize the situation. Don’t get defensive and worry what others may think about you. Commit that you will work on this together no matter what happens.
Healthy families, and couples, know that everyone, and every family, has problems. We want to live in a society that tries to force us to believe that only bad people have problems. The reality is that we all have issues that we have to deal with and solve if we are to be functional and healthy. When one member of the family has a problem, it is critical to know that it is something that affects the entire family. If you really want to solve things it is going to take a joint effort by everyone concerned to resolve things.
Make the decision that you are going to work on this together. Marriage is a “joint business venture” that both of you are in together and should focus on making it work. If things are not going well go to therapy and counseling, and other appointments, together to make sure that you as a couple, and family, are going to insure positive solutions. Do this no matter what happens. Let go of your pride. It is not always easy and you will not want to return. However, keep going, return for appointments, and don’t give up on it if you really want to make it work.
Know that it is going to take time and work if it is to happen. Realize that other tasks, duties, and desires may have to be set aside for a while in order to resolve things in the now. Be honest with yourself about your resistance, blocking of progress, and denial of your part in the process. Each person has to look at themselves in a non-defensive manner if solutions are to be found.
Work the solutions each day as a couple. It cannot be left up to one or the other to do all the work. Know that the one in the crisis may not have the ability to handle things like they did in the past and that is just fine for now. They may need you to be more involved and active for a while if real solutions are to be found!
The more upset, and impatient you get, with the one who is “suffering,” the more difficult you make it for them to recover and improve. Develop joint plan on how you both are going to help to work on things. The “suffering one” need to seek the treatment and work on alternatives. The “supporting one” need to go with them as much as possible. Further, withdrawal by the supporting one will only make things worse.
Working on Solutions Together
Marriage is when two people come together because of a mutual attraction and desire to spend their lives together. The problem is that situation is not always as easy as it is portrayed on TV and in romance novels. The marital relationship is much more difficult than we can ever imagine for a number of reasons. It is helpful many times to helps “reframe” some of the ideas about marriage if we are to make it work.
When we first meet someone, we find that we have a physical attraction to that person which “pulls us” toward them. We find that this physical attraction is very important in the “initial bonding” that happens in any relationship. What we are looking for is someone that we feel will “enhance” our sense of self along with attracting us to them. This physical attraction also creates a “certain feeling” of comfort and excitement in being with this person. As important as initial physical attraction is to a relationship, it is on the surface level of any “real” relationship.
We are also attracted to other people for many unconscious emotional reasons. Sometimes, however, we find ourselves in similar relationships over and over again wondering why we are “picking the same type of person” when we know that they may not be good for us. At other times, we are aware that we are looking for a “particular type of person” who will meet what we feel is something deep inside of us.
What happens is that when couples meet, there in an unspoken interchange of “one’s unconscious needs speaking to the unconscious needs of the other.” These needs are shaped early in our lives though our relationships in our families, the people we look up to, those we have been close to, and many times in the image of the opposite sex parent. Sometimes we tend to “create” similar relationships (either functional or dysfunctional) depending on these past relationships. Sadly, those who do not know history are bound to repeat it. We repeat what we know in hopes of “making it better”… all the while making the same mistakes over and over again!
We also have our dreams of what we hope someday we can have in life and for our relationship. We dream that we will be adults and able to control our own lives. We know that we are going to do things differently than our parents did in their lives. We hope, dream, want, desire, and push to make it different. So why, then, do we find ourselves trapped in old patterns that “ruin our dreams?”
Fears That Interfere
Many times our fears get in the way of our being able to relate appropriately to others. We set up “approach-avoidance safety relationships” where we desire, yet fear, getting close to others. We also find ourselves thinking that we did all the work to get the relationship and then we forget that we have to continue working on it. We get into the relationship and then “shut down” in order to continue to protect us from the very thing that we want. We set up arguments, disagreements, focus on other problems, and do anything to avoid just working together and making it work.
Business partners develop a legal document known as the partnership agreement before they start into business together. This agreement defines the partnership, the reasons for the partnership, how each person is to be compensated, what the expectations are of each partner, how disagreements are to be handled, and what they are to do if either, or both, decide to dissolve the partnership and separate.
Marriage contracts are legal documents that also have this “force of law” about how they relate to each other as “equal partners.” The problem is that marital partners rarely sit down and write out how they are developing this partnership and what needs to be considered as they “go into business together.” The lack of a written agreement is what causes many interpersonal arguments because the couple has no defined way of relating to each other! They only have vague expectations of what each person wants of their partner and what we want in the relationship.
- It might help to write out goals and directions even if they are not as formal as a business agreement.
- It also might help to spell out how each of you are to handle monies, disagreements, goal setting, children, household duties, etc.
- While seemingly boring, this simple step effectively stops, or at least leverages against, future arguments and disagreements.
What helps is to see the relationship as a “joint business partnership” that two people are entering for the purpose of “creating a dream and future” that both of them are working on together (and spending time together) to make it happen. It is having mutual respect for each other and treating each other with respect. Partners in business come together in order to use the different skills and approaches of each person in order to insure that the business “really takes off and is successful.”
With this approach, each partner realizes that they each contribute something different and special to the relationship. They take the time to talk out and plan the future and where they want the business to go. They also take time to have meetings to see that they are attaining their goals. Each member serves different functions in the partnership because of their different skills and what has to be done in the business. They each respect each other and do not expect that they should have the same skills, strengths or weaknesses. They are committed to making sure that the business goes because it is to the benefit of each individual. They become a team that works together; sharing a focus toward a common goal.
Good business partners sit down and write out a business plan that says what they want to create and the goals that they have for the business. These goals have a future focus and are focused on how the partners can make it work.
Partners in a marriage have the same interests as do those in a business except that marital partners rarely take the time to sit down and plan the steps and the future. In marriage, we frequently live for the moment and forget about the future and what needs to be done to make it successful. Just like a business plan, marital couples would be wise to sit down and develop the strategies for the future in writing so that they can track their progress toward their mutual goals of what it is that they are creating together.
Failed Marital Partnerships
Some people form partnerships with people that they never fully intend to get that close to or work cooperatively with in the relationship. There is a sense that we will “live together” but we are each responsible for our own stuff! Nothing is shared except the living area. They seem to be together but they are not partners because they have not developed a
“vision” of how the partnership is developing a “joint venture for the future.” Such arrangements provides “safety and distance” so that no one gets hurt or controlled by another.
It is though one of the couple is the “hired hand” and is the one to handle things while the other does their thing separately except when it is convenient to do things together. This is usually the result of past hurts and bringing unresolved issues and fears from the past into the present relationship.
These are the “marital business ventures” that are destined toward failure, frustration and anger. There is a lack of focus on a “team partnership.” They are relationships of selfishness, distance, and “living marginal existences” because there is nothing better to do for the moment. A lack of awareness of the needs of the other person. They are “fuzzy relationships” that have little clarity and leave each person frustrated and resentful. They happen because one, or both, feel that they are above the rules and that they are “special” and they do not have to do anything that anyone wants.The only hope is one of making a decision to sit down and let go of fears and old issues and start to focus more on competency, trust, and developing a joint venture plan that has a future focus for both of the partners.