A guest post from Gemma Hartley
One of the greatest lessons we learn as adults is how to communicate effectively. It is the key to strong and lasting relationships in both our personal and professional lives. Good communicators are more successful, likeable and have happier marriages.
Learning to openly and effectively communicate with my husband has been a long and difficult journey (one which I am still navigating). While young marriages have their perks, the evolution from a self-centered, young romance to a solid, loving, understanding marriage takes some hard work.
I met my husband when I was 16, an age when I would sometimes dramatically narrate my own life in my head and lament the fact that my life did not have its own soundtrack. At the onset of our relationship I would push the limits with my insecurities and jealousy, pick fights when I was in a bad mood, and often shut him out and stew in resentment because he just “didn’t understand."
I still allowed myself some theatrics when we were first married, but after having a baby and hitting a serious rough patch, I realized we needed to do better. If we were going to be the model of love for another person, I was going to have to learn to ditch the drama.
While it’s still a learning process for me, the way I communicate with my husband now as opposed to five years ago is a huge improvement.
Here are seven keys I’ve used to improve communication in my marriage, that I hope you can use too:
Express Your Expectations
Earlier in our marriage, I figured my exasperation would lead my husband to understand I wanted him to change the next diaper, or do the damn dishes, or offer to take over the kids while I shower. Then when he didn’t instinctively pick up on my needs, I would resent him for not doing what I wanted…even though I wasn’t telling him what I wanted.
It’s such a simple concept, just use your words. Your spouse is not a mind-reader, and your “hints” are a lot more work than just spelling out your expectations in simple terms. If you want him to do something, tell him so. Just be straightforward and don’t let it lead to nagging.
My husband is an amazing man. He has worked full-time at a job I know he’s not in love with so I can stay home with our kids and pursue my dream of becoming a writer. He’s done this while piling on college courses in an incredibly difficult and competitive field to better our family and give us the best life possible. Then he comes home with what little time he has left and gives his all to being a great father and loving husband – some mornings he even gets up early and does those damn dishes.
Yet sometimes I would look past all those wonderful things and get annoyed by the little things: the socks that never make it to the hamper, the lawn that was overdue to be mowed, the half empty coffee mugs left all over the house and garage.
Learning to express gratitude has changed the way I approach my husband in the day-to-day grind of marriage. Now I make sure to tell him I’m grateful for something he does every day, whether it’s thanking him for pitching in on a chore or reminding him how much I appreciate the long hours he puts in at work. Making a conscious effort to be grateful helps keep the small stuff in perspective and reminds me how lucky I am to have my husband.
Level The Field
For our whole lives we’ve been fed this lie that women and men communicate in significantly different ways. We see the sitcom exaggeration of the bumbling husband who just doesn’t get what his wife wants — like, ever. We’ve heard the many variations of the Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus stereotype, and we’ve convinced ourselves that effective communication between the sexes is just not meant to be.
It’s time to get over those old stereotypes and own up to our faults when it comes to communicating. I have a tendency to shut down and try to work things out in my head without talking. My husband lets problems build for a long time. Chalking up our problems with the easy out of “he/she just can’t understand” won’t solve anything. We’ve come to realize that we need to recognize our weak points and work together to achieve effective communication in our marriage.
Sleep On It
We’ve all heard the age-old advice that you should never go to bed angry. Most of us have also probably heard advice to the contrary, and speaking from experience I must suggest the latter.
There is no time I am more apt to start a fight than when I’m overtired. And I will drag these useless fights (over what? I couldn’t tell you) until I’m about ready to fall asleep standing up.
When my husband says I need to sleep on it, I listen to him. Even if I’m seething as I drift off to sleep, in the morning I have gained some perspective or forgotten what I was mad about entirely.
Reveal Your Desires
I’m not one to kiss and tell, but needless to say, keeping the passion alive was easy in the early years of our relationship. It wasn’t something we ever really talked about. I was ready for love anytime, anywhere.
Having a baby changes all that. Your body is different, your hormones are different – everything is different. Your sexual needs change. Vocalizing your needs and desires in the bedroom might be uncomfortable at first, but it will be worth it (in many ways). And trust me, your husband will not mind the guidance.
Sometimes I’m guilty of bringing up an issue for discussion, in parenting or finance or scheduling, when I’ve already decided on the solution. For the most part, my husband leaves the decision making up to me, but my need to be right can easily overshadow his need to be heard if I’m not careful.
Really listening to my husband, not waiting for my turn to speak or planning my counter argument while he’s speaking, makes a huge difference in the way we communicate. Active listening is the key to understanding.
Keep It Between You
Learning to communicate effectively takes a long time and you’ll never have it down to a science. Annoying habits are going to continue. Fights are still going to happen. You live and learn and adjust accordingly.
But if you really want to make it work, keep the not-so-great stuff between the two of you. If something’s bothering you, bring it straight to your spouse. Don’t go complaining to your girlfriends or crying to your mother.
Gossiping about your relationship, complaining about flaws, saying mean things, or even just mentioning things your spouse wouldn’t discuss in public – all these things are poisonous to a relationship. It decreases trust and makes you focus on the negative, not to mention it paints a terrible picture of your man to your peers.
Do YOU have any communication tips to share?