Keeping your cool when your other half is pushing your buttons may be aggravating. But it’s key to learning to communicate with your spouse better.
Be honest. There’s nothing like a heated adrenaline rush to make you feel liberated and justified when you’re angry. All those pent-up aggravations you’ve been stuffing behind a smile? All the times you’ve picked up the slack, covered for your spouse’s irresponsibility, been the bigger person?
Enough already! How are you ever going to make your self-centered partner finally get it if you don’t blow some steam?
We’ve all been there, and no doubt will be again. It’s really difficult to be nice when you’re upset. Throw in the nothing-is-going-right irritants that love to show up at the most inconvenient time, and letting-it-rip may be just one eye-roll away.
But if one of your relationship goals is to communicate with your spouse better, then brutal honesty is best left off the table. The midst of anger is actually one of the most important moments for kindness.
According to Dr. John Gottman, couples who start arguments gently are more likely to manage conflict effectively without harming the relationship. In those moments, he can actually predict the success or failure of the relationship with greater than 90% accuracy.
Kindness isn’t a panacea for anger and other negative feelings that need to be expressed. It’s a choice to handle those feelings maturely by expressing them in a constructive manner. It’s also an expression of prioritizing the long-term good of the relationship over your own feelings in the moment.
Anger has a way of trying to force change in behavior. But it’s always the other person it wants to change. So tactics go to war with each other — guilt trips, avoidance, shouting, distance….
At some point you have to decide what your goals are when it comes to expressing your anger. Is it to make your spouse feel as rotten as you feel? Is it to unload so you don’t have to spend your days fuming? Is it to punish your spouse or get revenge?
If it’s important to communicate with your spouse better, then your goals will be more about feeling heard. You will want mutual understanding, growth and deepened intimacy. You will want to believe that you can get your needs met.
And you will want to know that your marriage can come away stronger simply because of how you communicated.
Ironically, the urge to vent your anger by shouting and saying regretful things doesn’t get you heard. Kindness, however, does.
We all know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of someone’s wrath. Our energy gets directed toward self-protection or a counter-attack, and not toward genuine listening.
When you are kind, you allow your partner to really hear you. You inspire him or her to want to hear you and to respond with compassion.
And in the end, you get your needs met.
Learning to communicate with your spouse better is about changing the way you listen and express yourself. It starts with holding your marriage in the sacred top spot, and remembering that you and your spouse are on the same team. You need to have one another’s best interest at heart and stay in integrity.
Here are several tips to help you better communicate with your spouse, especially when you are angry.
- Think good thoughts about your spouse.
The time to begin this exercise obviously isn’t when you’re at wit’s end. By practicing kind thoughts and actions on a daily basis (even on the tough days), it’s easier to think, speak and behave positively.
Make note of your partner’s kind actions, no matter how small. Just keep them in the “notes to self” file and let them nourish your perspective of your spouse.
- Accept responsibility for your own emotions and feelings.It’s understandably challenging to slow down when anger has reached its tipping point. But by taking the time to sit with your feelings before expressing them, you may uncover some root feelings that will shape your own understanding.
Process your feelings by writing them and/or sharing them with a therapist. Think of it as listening to yourself before expecting your spouse to listen to you.
- Have compassion for your spouse’s point of view.The basis of conflict always comes down to an inability to see past one’s own experiences, perspectives and problems.
Think about your spouse’s perspective. Ask yourself, “How would I feel in his/her shoes? How does my behavior affect him/her?” Even if you still have something difficult to share, compassion will help to soften it.
- Think before you speak.Consider the consequences of your words, and never say anything that you will have to reel in later — because your spouse won’t forget. Be clear and honest, but not hurtful.
- Use mirroring.An effective way of showing you have listened and truly want to understand your spouse’s perspective is to use mirroring. Repeat your interpretation of what your spouse has said, and back it up with a validation of his/her feelings.
- Don’t push buttons.The magic of romantic/intimate love is that it has the unique ability to heal emotional wounds. But that requires vulnerability, and vulnerability also gives the person sworn to love you the power to hurt you. No matter how angry or hurt you are, don’t go near your spouse’s buttons. Just don’t.
- Use “I” statements.Nothing builds walls like a barrage of “you” statements — “you did/didn’t…you always/never…you make me feel….” Speak with responsibility for the only person you can control: yourself.
- Use relationship-affirming body language.Face one another. Sit close. Make eye contact. Use validating touch. Demonstrate that you are fully present and interested.
- Keep your team spirit.Remember what team you are on, and don’t approach communication as a competition. There are no winners if the relationship doesn’t win.
- Remember the power of a sincere apology.
There is nothing like the words “I’m sorry” being spoken softly and genuinely to assuage anger and engender goodwill. There is always something that each of you can express remorse for.
Committing to communicate with your spouse better is foundational to the success of your marriage. Anger may be an unpleasant feeling, but it doesn’t have to be expressed unpleasantly.
Communicating with kindness has transformative powers, especially when difficult emotions are involved. It allows both of you to come to the table as the best of yourselves. And in the process, you have the exclusive opportunity to hold one another’s heart in your hands.