Marriage challenges us to learn about the ways our most reflexive communicative patterns and habits might be getting in the way of relationship harmony. And nothing is more consistently challenging than communicating responsibly in the face of intense emotions. If you are married, the stakes are high for you to learn how to communicate with your spouse in a more compassionate way. And at no time is that calling more difficult than when you are feeling anything but compassionate.
Communication is more about listening than talking.
The thing about communication is that it’s not only about what you say or even how you say it. It’s also, and perhaps most importantly, about how you listen and what you choose to hear.
And because marriage can feel like being locked inside a carnival’s hall of mirrors, learning how to communicate with your spouse inevitably involves learning how to communicate with yourself. Honestly. Compassionately.
Intention drives effective communication.
Effective communication is rooted in intention. And the integrity of your communication will reflect the nature of that intention, both in what you choose to say and what you choose to leave out. If compassion is your intention, then discernment will inform the words you use, the way you say them, and whether expressing certain thoughts is necessary to your message.
How you talk to others signals how you talk to yourself.
Fearlessness and kindness in your self-examination will inspire more compassionate communication with your spouse. For instance, by learning to be less critical of yourself, you will also learn how to communicate with your spouse with more empathy and less criticism. People often talk to others, in the same way, they talk to themselves. If you are a highly-critical person, you might savage yourself with criticism, and not even know it. Becoming aware of your negative self-talk opens the door to self-compassion, which in turn is a pre-requisite for compassion for others.
Communicating with compassion strengthens your marriage.
Compassionate communication is also called non-violent communication. The anticipation isn’t that people will become violent otherwise, but that angry, tense situations often lead to blame, shame, and negativity. Non-violent communication can help couples navigate those inevitable difficult conversations without fighting and hurting one another’s feelings or harming the relationship.
When you know how to communicate with your spouse in a more compassionate way, you increase your chances of being heard and getting what you want. Interacting in a compassionate way enriches your relationship by demonstrating the value you place on one another and your marriage as a whole. It brings you closer.
How can you deepen your communication with your spouse?
Here are our 7 tips for how to communicate with your spouse in a more compassionate way.
You will notice that most of these tips apply to communication with people, in general, not just your spouse. Because, across the board, compassion in communication increases its effectiveness.
Select a neutral location.
Not every place is conducive to every conversation. If you know you are going to be discussing a problematic topic, choose a neutral location that allows you both to be comfortable and on equal footing.
Listen with intention.
The discipline of listening with a specific intention is at the core of training for therapists. It is essential that a therapist knows how to do active listening, but why it is so important. Only then can a therapist help individuals and couples create more harmonious, satisfying relationships.
How do you actively listen with intention?
In a nutshell, you listen with your heart. Your heart leads you to look for the message underneath the words. Your heart is the filter that recognizes the underlying feelings in your spouse’s words and tone.
Do the words and tone convey fear, hurt, disappointment, insecurity, shame, guilt, or confusion? Your heart can recognize and hold space for these feelings, and discern whether to coax your spouse to talk about them.
Lean in. Make eye contact. Don’t judge. Don’t interrupt.
Remember, you are practicing how to communicate with your spouse more compassionately.
You are looking for the treasure buried in your spouse’s heart.
You want to know them at a deeper level.
Your intention is to create safety and deepen intimacy.
Give your partner your full attention.
Show your spouse that you value your time together. Be present. Listen with focus and full attention.
Think about how it feels when you sit with a friend at a restaurant he keeps glancing down at his phone. Compare that with the feeling you get when someone turns off his phone, puts it in his pocket, and then leans in to listen to you with undivided attention. It feels good, doesn’t it?
The trickle-down benefit of that kind of focused attention is the perception of compassion and empathy, which, in turn, fosters feelings of emotional safety. When you give your full attention, your partner will be more open to hearing you when you are the one speaking or making a request.
Take the pressure off your spouse.
You have the power to set the tone for a discussion in the way you begin a difficult conversation. As the speaker, setting the intention to understand more about your spouse helps you to avoid sharp edges and keep a consistently even and measured tone.
By making an “I” statement and owning your part in a problem, you make it clear that you intend to be accountable and aren’t interested in blaming your spouse.
When you lead with self-accountability, it is less likely that your spouse will get defensive and/or go on the offensive.
Mutual good will naturally finds a home in a conversation framed positively and openly. It is the door to an eventual resolution of problems in a blame-free way.
Show your spouse you’re listening.
Listening with intention is about more than keeping your mouth shut and staring blankly at your spouse until you get to speak. It is active, in the same way, that love itself is dynamic.
Periodically checking in with your spouse to make sure you accurately understand what he/she is saying and feeling is a powerful expression of compassion. It shows that you care and think it is essential to “get it right” as you listen.
6. Curb your criticism.
Compassionate communication isn’t just about what you express and how you express it. It’s also about what you choose to withhold.
We all know the power of a snide remark, look or gesture. It’s imperative that we learn to resist the temptation of taking the cheap shot despite its promise of a momentary, twisted kind of satisfaction during a heated discussion. Because what we learn through experience is that one unguarded moment can dismantle the trust and emotional safety you want to build and then make it more challenging to re-build in the future. Too many of these moments can eventually result in an erosion of trust that is irreparable.
If you feel a criticism or sarcasm rising from within, take a deep breath and try to re-focus on your intention of listening for the more profound truth. You can always return to your critical reaction later and discuss your feelings in a neutralized way rather than risk being unable to undo hurtful critical or sarcastic remarks you let slip out carelessly. Criticism can be the death knell of marriage.
7. Use collaborative language.
In difficult conversations, it is easy to retreat to your respective corners and go in for the win. At these times, it is critical to remember your mutual goal of maintaining a harmonic relationship. You are a team committed to protecting your relationship.
One of the most effective tools we use and teach in a couples therapy and marriage retreat is the importance of collaborative language: we, us, our, the relationship, the marriage.
Practicing this language will remind you to keep your eye on the prize of a lasting and satisfying relationship.
The fact that you are even asking how to communicate with your spouse more compassionately is itself a gift of compassion. It shows that you care enough to be curious, attentive, and willing to learn.
And isn’t it a fundamental human need to known and accepted by our spouse despite our flaws and imperfections? This kind of acceptance is the foundation of real and lasting love.
If you’re interested in learning more about communicating with your spouse, visit our Blog or get a copy of our book. Curious about our services? Contact us to schedule a complimentary phone call, no strings attached.