How To Learn How To Communicate With Your Spouse
You would think that love would be sufficient for good communication. I love you, you love me, we’ll always be able to talk about anything. But what a myth! Learning how to communicate with your spouse is first an education in yourself. Master that, and you can move on to the real communication of your marriage.
The word education has a thought-provoking, even lovely etymology. Educare means to bring up; educere to bring forth.
The comparison is often made to the midwife who brings forth and the nurse who brings up. The tutor trains, the master teaches.
Obviously there must be knowledge “put in” in order to draw it out. But the significance of the philosophical, etymological debate is that education is more than just the acquisition of knowledge. It’s also the development of attitudes and skills.
Could anything possibly be more relevant to communication and relationships?
In other words, learning how to communicate with your spouse – without fighting, without doing more harm than good – isn’t only about “knowing what to do.” It’s also about knowing how to think, how to speak, and how to be.
So let’s begin with the starting point for every change you want to make in your life: self-awareness.
How will self-awareness help me learn to communicate with my spouse?
While we’re dabbling in etymology, let’s look at the word communicate (communicare): to impart (information, etc.); to give or transmit (a quality, feeling, etc.) to another; to share; to make common.
Before you can share anything with another person, you have to have an objective understanding of what you intend to give.
And, within the intimacy of marriage, that means knowing/understanding yourself.
Communication – spoken, unspoken, written – is a calling to accountability, vulnerability, trust, and growth. In short, it is a calling to our higher selves en route to being our highest selves.
Working on self-awareness will result in the ability to view yourself objectively and even from the vantage point of your spouse.
It will connect you to those deep feelings and needs that otherwise sit on your tongue and springboard off without forethought.
Self-awareness will also make you a better listener, accountable to all those essential components of healthy communication like eye contact, body language, and mirroring.
And listening – in the present moment, between the lines, without anticipating a comeback – is the space in which true, vulnerable communication happens.
Before you can learn communication skills for communicating with your spouse, you need to learn the difference between thoughts and feelings.
You know how the conversation goes. Both of you are on your last nerves, and you’re shooting from the hip with long-rehearsed scripts instead of thinking, reflecting, pausing…and caring.
I FEEL LIKE YOU do/don’t (whatever).
And there it is. The interpretation. The thought. The cognitive, predictive analysis of your spouse’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions, buried underneath the cushion of “I feel like.”
And none of what fills in the blank is actually a feeling because feelings are “I” statements, not accusations or assumptions cleverly trailing an “I” statement.
Emotions are feelings like happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, surprise. They can stand alone or in combination. Some sources divide those into primary (e.g. sadness) and secondary (e.g. anger) emotions.
Feelings belong to you. And, when shared responsibly, they can be non-threatening messages about your internal world. They can also be bids to your partner for understanding and change.
I feel like you don’t care isn’t a feeling. It’s a thought. It may or may not be a true statement, but it’s not a feeling. It puts the listener on the defensive instead of inspiring him/her to hear from the heart, understand, and seek a mutually beneficial remedy.
Notice the difference:
I feel like you don’t care.
When you walk away when I’m talking, I feel very sad. I make up in my mind that you don’t value me or what I have to say, and that scares me.
Understanding this difference between thoughts and feelings is foundational to building your communication skills and specifically to learning how to communicate with your spouse.
This will be especially important in learning how to better communicate with your spouse when you’re angry.
Obviously you and your spouse need to be able to communicate about both good and bad, positive and negative, desires and needs.
Shifting your focus to an expression of what you do want can also shift the tone of an entire conversation.
See the difference:
We never have sex anymore, and I don’t like feeling rejected.
I miss our physical closeness. I miss you. I miss us. I would love to work together to get that closeness back.
I don’t want to keep working seven days a week.
I really want to find a solution to working all the time so we can spend more time together.
This shift to positive expression is one of John Gottman’s steps to renewing conversation. And it can help you learn to communicate with your spouse in a whole new way.
Finally, let’s come full circle by returning to where we started: education, educare, educere.
If you are going to “draw forth,” “bring up,” and “share,” you have to have knowledge on the inside with which to work.
As we all know, what goes in eventually comes out, even in disguise.
So learning to communicate in a healthy, sustainable way with your spouse relies, in part, on exposing yourself to good knowledge.
Even (especially) if you didn’t have good relationship role models growing up, the time to find them is now.
And that’s what a couples counseling retreat is all about: being a participatory audience to good knowledge and healthy communication skills…
…and realizing that learning how to better communicate is a lifetime endeavor brought forth from your commitment to love.
Mary Ellen Goggin offers relationship coaching for individuals and collaborates with her partner Dr. Jerry Duberstein to offer private couples retreats. To learn more about working with Mary Ellen, contact her here.