and How to Begin Improving It
What is the #1 reason for divorce? Based on a study done in 2013, 65% of divorces reported “communication problems” to be the reason for their divorce. 65% peeps!! Let’s let that sink in for a second. So if you would like to safeguard your marriage you better start practicing because this is an incredibly important skill!
“The key to positive communication is found in knowing and being known.”
So what is great communication? Great communication is understanding and feeling understood. Think of some of your friends, the ones that really rejuvenate you and make you want to be around them. They are most likely good communicators. They understand you, they make you feel heard, they discuss things with you, they pay attention when you are talking to them and they don’t interrupt.
We like friends like this (are you a friend like this?).
Bad communication and good communication
Imagine this scenario; you tell your husband about a party you are in charge of. There’s this other woman involved but she has begun to completely take over. This project means a lot to you so it is obviously distressing. After you explain the situation he gives a simple, “well have you tried this” type response. You feel annoyed because obviously he doesn’t understand how complicated the situation is.
Why do you feel annoyed? Is it because his advice isn’t sound? It could be, but I’d wager it’s most likely because you didn’t feel heard or understood.
Let’s replay that with some good communication tactics.
You explain about this pushy woman and the party, when you finish he says, “that’s super frustrating hun.” Then you say, “Yeah! She treats me like I have never done this before. Ugh.” Then he says, “That is a tough situation! What can you do about it?” You, “I have been trying to think of something but I can’t come up with a solution. Do you have any ideas?” He thinks for a bit, then offers a suggestion.
Doesn’t that feel so much better? What was the difference between the two scenarios? You felt heard and validated. Communication requires two people, if one half is missing. No communication takes place.
So, you might ask, how do we get good at it?
I’ll answer this question but first a story about how bad communication nearly broke my relationship with my hubby while we were dating. This is a super embarrassing story but I’m sharing it for the greater good. I hope it illustrates why communication is crucial to relationships.
The Tale of Avengers Night
There was a really terrible night which has claimed the title “Avenger’s Night” in our home. We laugh about it now but “Avenger’s Night” was one of the worst nights of my life at the time. That is the night I began to learn about communication, and its vital importance in creating, and more importantly keeping, a healthy relationship.
Before I met my hubby I didn’t communicate anything I felt was negative. Like, really…nothing. I had tried a few times before I met him but each time I did, I just ended up feeling like I was rude and should have kept it to myself in the first place (“conceal, don’t feel” anyone?). Then I met Neal *queue angels singing* 🙂 He was better than the man of my dreams and everything was going perfectly, until “Avengers Night”. Duh duh duh!!!
Let me backup and give some background to that occasion. The night before was Neal and my first kiss (sweet and perfect and my first). I couldn’t fall asleep that night and was up until 3:00am just floating and thinking of my Neal. The next day I had to wake up at 7:00am (side note, me and no sleep = super sensitive Aubrea) and was in such a rush to get out the door that I didn’t eat any breakfast.
That day I was scheduled to work a double shift. I was a birthday party hostess at the time, so imagine setting up a birthday party, entertaining a bunch of eight year olds for two hours then cleaning that party up, and then doing that all over again. After that I went to eat but was in such a rush to catch the train to meet up with Neal that I didn’t eat very much. Then I missed the train and had to wait at the station with a bunch of sketchy men and it was making me very anxious (read my post about anxiety here).
When I got to Provo I was so relieved to be with Neal, but as the evening went on I just wasn’t feeling like my normal self (I wonder why). And did I mention I started my period that day?! Can you say SU-HUPER sensitive Aubrea?!? Neal was being incredibly sweet and romantic, we walked to a park and he sang and played his guitar for me for the first time (which was very courageous for my Neal). But all I wanted to do was eat and get some sleep!!
Did I say this to Neal? Nope, not a word. I didn’t want to “inconvenience” him or ruin our plans. How on earth did that seem logical to me?!
Then we went and saw the new Avengers movie. The showing began at 11:00pm!! I summoned enough courage to ask for a Sprite before the movie began because I was starting to feel nauseous.
All during the movie Neal was being so sweet but my sicky-ness and anxiety were just building up the whole time. “Why am I feeling so sick?”, I thought “Is this not right?” “But I like him so much.” “Oh, what’s wrong with me?!”
When the movie finished I hurried to the bathroom because I felt like I was gonna puke. I dry heaved for a bit but thankfully didn’t throw up.
Neal was obviously concerned for me. He gently helped me out to the car but all of his kindness was just making me feel worse. I kept on apologizing and he kept reminding me that I didn’t need to and he would ask me questions to try to figure out what was wrong. I didn’t know what to tell him.
He was pretty quiet as he drove me to my friend’s house. He gave me a hug and a kiss on the forehead as he walked me to her door and said something nice as he walked away, so tender but a bit like a hurt puppy still trying to show affection to it’s abuser :’/
I was sure I had just ruined the best thing that had every happened to me! When I got inside I just cried a bit and crashed.
The next morning I got up around 11:00am. I had a yummy bowl of cereal and besides feeling cramps, I was quite happy and myself. Wait, what? How could I feel normal, I was like dying last night.
I started talking to my friend about the day before and one by one we began to connect the dots. No sleep, period, double shift, no food, a new relationship, exhaustion. Put ’em all together and what do ya get? A meltdown by yours truly 😀 Holy cow, why didn’t I just tell him what was going on?
Neal texted me and asked if he could pick me up for church, I was astonished! “He doesn’t hate me?!?” I expected that he’d never want to see me again (great relationship tip by Neal, give people a second chance).
After church Neal drove me home and we got to talk about the day before and what happened. He encouraged me to just open up. I did, I wasn’t very good at it but I tried to explain everything that had happened the day before and why I felt the way I did. He listened to me and validated what I said (please note why I felt so comfortable sharing my feelings. It was because Neal was hearing what I was saying and validating my feelings).
He told me his feelings too, that he had felt frustrated when he didn’t know what was going on and then thanked me for opening up and he encouraged me to always do that.
“Is this what it’s like to communicate?!“ I said, “This is amazing!!”
Since that point Neal has kept on helping me to be open and honest about my needs and wants. I even help him now too 🙂 He helped me see that not communicating is far more destructive than communicating (even when you’re not great at it). And look where we are now. We’re not professionals but we’re trying and the results are beautiful.
So how do you get good at communication?
Like all things my friends, it takes practice (oh poo) but here are 5 simple ways to begin:
1. Feedback sesh – So a little while after this experience we began giving each other feedback once a week. We’d start with something loved and appreciated about the other person. Then explain what is something the other person could do to strengthen the relationship (assume the best, spend less time on technology, be a little more patient, etc.) and we’d figure out a solution. Then we’d finish off by thanking the other person for something else and say, “I love you.” I put this one first because I really feel like us doing this weekly has been the biggest help to our relationship, having a consistent time where we get together and give feedback in a calm atmosphere. Repeat this out loud, “feedback is good. feedback is good. feedback is good.”
2. Talk about yourself and don’t point fingers – Let’s say your spouse said something that hurt you. Instead of saying, “That was really rude of you to say…” Talk about yourself like this, “I noticed that I felt defensive and hurt when you said… Is there something we can do to avoid that in the future?” Ya get what I am saying? Don’t be accusatory, be loving but don’t be afraid to be straightforward.
3. Absolutes are a big no no – “You never help take care of the dog!” “You’re always so sensitive!” Hmmm, there is something about the words never or always that seem to put every human on edge. I think if we were to really dig deep we would see that our spouse has (or hasn’t) done something at least a few times. Remember that one time when you were sick and she walked the dog? Or last week when someone made a rude comment and he totally kept his cool? Follow Justin Bieber’s advice and “never say never”… or always.
4. Don’t let it build up – If your spouse does something that hurts you, don’t let it sit there and gather resentment. Talk about it! For Neal and I what works best is to set aside a time each week to talk about those things (during feedback sesh). We try to handle any major things right when they happen but sometimes you don’t realize the problem in the moment or it’s still too fresh to talk about it calmly. So whatever doesn’t get taken care of in the moment we handle during feedback sesh.
5. Make sure you get what they are saying – Neal does the dishes at our house (bless him), that’s his chore. One day we were talking about his heavy school and work load and he annoyingly made a comment about how the dishes never get done. I thought he was getting mad at me for never helping with them, I felt hurt and embarrassed. For the rest of the day I felt so sad and inadequate imagining all that I wasn’t doing to be helpful. The next day in the car we were talking about it and I apologized for not being more helpful with the dishes. He stopped me mid-sentence, “I was talking about myself love. I was frustrated that I had been putting off my chore. You thought I was talking about you? Oh love, I’m so sorry. The dishes are my job, I wasn’t expecting you to do them for me.” I had completely misinterpreted what he meant and as a result I felt like a hurt puppy for two days. The lesson, always check and make sure you understand what they meant!
By the way you can apply this to any relationship. Who you’re dating, your mom, your best friend. Just modify it to your circumstance.
So what are you going to do about this information? I hope you’ll go and start practicing! If you are new to communication this is going to be super uncomfy at first (remember Avengers night story? I stunk!) but I promise you a few months or years of awkward learning is far better than years or decades of heartache and frustration. Keep your eyes on the prize (if you need help, consider counseling. These people are trained to help. I love counselors, they are the best!).
Communication has been the biggest difference maker in my relationship with Neal and it will be a game changer for you too!! Let me know tips you have or questions in the comments.
Ps. I also have a marriage board on Pinterest that is stocked with all kinds of goodies! Here is the link if you want to follow it.