A lack of consistent and meaningful communication leads to misunderstanding. More accurately, misinterpreted communication.
“What’s for dinner?” becomes “Why is dinner not on the table yet?”
“What time are you going to be home?” becomes “Don’t be late again, I have been here all day with the kids and could use some help.”
Why does this happen? Often, it is because one spouse is on edge for some reason and feels the other spouse is intentionally picking a fight. Only the receiver of a comment can start a fight. No matter the intention of the speaker, even if the intention is to start an argument, the receiver’s response dictates how the conversation goes. If a calm response is given, it is hard for a disagreement to start. However, if a sharp reply is given, it is like throwing down the gauntlet. The fight is on.
We all make mistakes, and we all have bad days. It is important that we do not let those things damage the effective communication with our spouse.
When I see tension in Melissa, or sense that the conversation is not as easy and relaxed as normal, I ask myself, “Did I do anything that would have upset her?” “Did I forget to do something?” “Have I done anything to let her down?”
Many times, I come up with my own answers and can apologize to ease the tension. Other times the issue has nothing to do with me. After all, I am not the only person in the world my wife cares about and that can affect her mood. There are several other influences.
Communication is key to a healthy relationship, and it is therefore important to talk about issues in each others lives regardless of if it directly impacts us directly or not. We have tried to carve out time together, where we can sit and talk in a relaxed and comfortable environment. Often, this happens when we are sitting next to each other on the couch. When we are sitting close enough together that there is casual (shoulders touching) and/or intentional contact (holding hands) it is difficult to fight.
Being in physical contact with someone tends to diffuse the tension. That is often why when you see “tough discussions” between adults on a television program they are often facing each other holding hands. It keeps the mood of the discussion less tenuous. The same goes for therapy sessions on TV or in movies.
We also try not to head to bed mad. Neither of us gets very good sleep and the issue that caused the argument is still present when we get up the next morning. Then we spend the next day stewing on it before we have a chance to talk it through. It only makes the discussion more tense when it finally does happen.
We time our important discussions, and those with family ramifications, for moments when there are few other distractions. Nothing derails a conversation and causes miscommunication like outside distractions. If there is a discussion we need to have about changes at work or home, we do not start it when the kids are playing next to us in the living room.
At the end of an important discussion we repeat and summarize what was determined. This reduces the chance of confusion. We have found in the past that one of us might mishear what was said, much like the childhood game, telephone. Summarizing the outcome of the discussion makes sure we are both on the same page before we move forward.
When there are very tough decisions to be made and discussions to be had we pray about it. We are not very good about praying together, but we individually pray about the situation before we discuss it. It focuses us on what is important, and often gives us better insight on how to communicate our thoughts more effectively to each other.
Successful communication is not a static thing; it needs constant work and maintaining. Marriages, or at least not ours, are not perfect all the time. Effective communication ensures that we can minimize the hard times by addressing them as they come up.
I do not say thank you enough, and I am often not as patient and kind as I should be. I tend to stick to the analytical side and that often comes across as having insufficient feelings. Melissa is raising and teaching three girls, so she is sometimes emotionally exhausted when I get home. This is unfortunate since many of her decisions are fueled by emotion.
Melissa read a book a while back called Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti. The quick summary is that men compartmentalize their life, like a waffle. Women tend to spill one aspect of life into the next so everything in intertwined, like a plate full of spaghetti noodles. How true that is in our house.
Since a marriage is a union of two humans, there are bound to be communication issues. Our relationship is no exception. Knowing this, we work hard on keeping a clear line of communication open. When we are on the same page things always seem to go smoother.
And when things go smoother, an inquiry about “What’s for dinner?” is simply a question asked because something in the kitchen smells really good.
How do you keep communication lines open with your spouse? Email me or comment below!