WRITTEN BY Felicia Kashevaroff

Why Don’t We Talk Anymore? Tips for Improving Communication in Marriage

Every marriage or relationship expert on the planet will tell you that the key to improving your relationship is improving communication. But what does that even mean? 

Is communication talking? Is communication listening? What kind of communication are we talking about? It can become totally overwhelming. When that happens, one or both partners can just shut down and it feels like you’re not talking to each other anymore.

Improving Communication in Marriage
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So let’s break communication down into small, digestible components and then put them together so that it all makes sense.

Roles:

Every conversation is comprised of a speaker and a listener. That role shifts back and forth between participants as the conversation unfolds. Here is exactly what you need to do to for improving communication in marriage by playing each role effectively.

Speaker 

  1. Start with the facts: When sharing information, start by making factual observations. Try to avoid value judgments and jumping to conclusions. For example: “I notice that you came home late from work every night this week,” NOT “You don’t care about me! You never come home from work on time!” See the difference
  2. Share how YOU feel – It’s important when developing an emotionally connected relationship to share your feelings and take ownership of them, instead of placing blame on the other person. For example: “I feel lonely when you’re not home and I have dinner by myself. I need our time together at the end of the day because I miss you when we’re apart.” NOT “You’re so selfish when you come home late from work!”
  3. Make a reasonable request – If you want something different, be clear about what you’re asking for. Sometimes when we’re angry or even just busy we forget to state what we want to change. In the case of the example above, you might say, “Can we please carve out two nights per week when we will reliably have dinner together?” Be open to alternative solutions.

Listener

  1. Stay focused: Avoid all other distractions like phones and devices. If your mind wanders, notice and come back to what your partner is saying.
  2. Show interest: Maintain eye contact and give your partner signs that you’re listening, like nodding or the occasional mmmhmmm. If you’re unclear, restate what you’ve heard and ask your partner if you’ve gotten it right. 
  3. Be curious: So many people start to formulate their responses while their partner is still talking. This causes you to miss important information about what your partner is sharing with you. Notice what comes up as your partner is sharing information, even if it’s annoyance, boredom, or frustration. Acknowledge the feeling and remind yourself to be curious and open-minded. If you’re really struggling to do that, share that with your partner. “I notice I’m getting aggravated and I want to move past that and really listen to you. Can we pause for just a moment so I can recenter and listen actively?”

Types of Conversation:

Improving communication in marriage means understanding what type of communication you’re having at the moment or identifying what type of communication you need to have.

Improving Communication in Marriage
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Here is a list of the most common types we engage in on a regular basis.

  1. Small talk – How was your day? What’s the weather like tomorrow? 
  2. Logistics – What is going on in our lives and how does it affect us both?
  3. Disagreement – I’m upset about something, and I need to share it with you
  4. Feedback – I want to comment on something that I want done differently
  5. Get to know each other – Sharing a story about your past or feelings about something important to you, asking questions about your partner.
  6. Share information/experiences – Let’s talk about this important/funny/interesting/sad thing happening in the world.

Timing:

This is an element of good communication that so many people get wrong! You can have all the skills in the world, but if your timing is off the conversation will NOT go well. Here are some important timing elements to consider for improving communication in marriage.

  1. What is your partner’s frame of mind? Are they tired? Hungry? Sick? Check in on how your partner is feeling before you try to initiate conversation.
  2. What else is going on? Are you rushing to get to an event? Maybe that’s not the best time to bring up a lengthy story. Are you on a romantic date night? Don’t try to discuss household logistics. Have you carved out a 30 minute calendar? Now is not the time for an unrelated anecdote about your co-worker. 
  3. If you’re unsure, ask your partner! Is now a good time to talk about x,y,z? If not, what would work for you? When your partner is on board, you’re already setting yourself up for success.
Improving Communication in Marriage
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Formula for Success:

Timing + Type of Conversation + Roles = Successful Communication

To sum up, make sure your timing works for your partner and is aligned with the type of conversation you want to have. Ensure each of you are being good speakers and active listeners and that you are moving back and forth between each role so that the conversation is balanced.

Advanced Communication Terms:

Once you’re done improving communication in marriage sufficiently, use these advanced relationship terms to take your communication to the next level.

Bids: 

Relationship researchers and experts, John and Julie Gottman name bids as an attempt by one partner to get the attention of the other. This might show up as sharing a story about your day, sharing a social media post, or asking a question. There are three ways people respond to a bid.

  1. Turn toward: Respond positively
  2. Turn away: Ignore
  3. Turn against: Become angry

Research shows that happy couples turn toward their partner’s bids for attention 86% of the time so pay attention when your partner tries to connect with you.

Repair: 

Repair attempts are the positive moves we make after an argument or disagreement. If you and your partner have had a fight, a repair attempt looks like an apology, or it could be more subtle like bringing your partner a cup of coffee, touching their arm, or reaching out to hold their hand. Repair attempts are like an extra important bid for attention, so even if you’re still angry, acknowledge when your partner attempts to repair and let them know that you see them, but need a little more time to calm your nervous system and process your feelings. Try to be specific about when you will be ready to receive their repair more openly.

Improving Communication in Marriage
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FAQs: 

What causes poor communication in marriage?

The biggest cause of poor communication in marriage is a lack of relationship skills. Most people aren’t great communicators, especially when the stakes are high like they are in our marriage. We get defensive and reactive, or we stop listening. Communication skills require practice and patience, but improving communication skills will help you in every facet of your life, not just in improving communication in marriage, but in your relationships with friends, family and co-workers.

How do I communicate with a difficult spouse?

If you’ve tried all of the tips above and your spouse refuses to engage back with good communication skills, it may be time to bring in an expert. At Tend Task, we know that communication is foundational to a healthy relationship. We offer coaching packages and courses that prioritize healthy communication. 

Can a marriage survive poor communication?Honestly, no. If you can’t communicate effectively with your partner, you won’t be able to build a shared life together, function as a team, or stay connected and intimate. A relationship without communication is no relationship at all. We can help, even if it seems hopeless. Schedule a free 20 minute communication check-in with a certified relationship coach today.