When communication works it’s a beautiful thing, and when it doesn’t, it can be very painful and frustrating. If you’re having problems communicating with your spouse, don’t despair. Here are four ways to make it better:
- Ask for what you want politely.
Screaming and yelling does not get your point across. It makes the other person shut down, stop listening to you, and start thinking about how to get away from you. (S)he may also start thinking of how to get back at you. Now everyone is just mad. That’s not communication. That’s throwing a fit. If this is your situation here are some pointers to get you started: Instead of yelling “Your friends are lame, and I’m sick of them coming over here and making a mess all day. We need some time together too!”– say “Sweetie, I’ve got a problem I need your help with. I know you like spending time with your friends, but it upsets me when I see the mess they have left. Also, I’d like to spend some time with you too! Do you think we could figure out a way to deal with this that will work for everybody?”
- Have at least part of the solution to present at the same time you present the problem.
So, instead of “You never clean up around here! I’m the only one who ever does anything, and I’m sick to death of it!”—try “I would like to talk with you about a way that we can deal with the housekeeping so it’s not such a problem for us. I know you’re fine with things a bit messier than I am, but when the mess gets to a certain point, I’m really not ok with it. Would you be willing to help me out by us sitting down together and dividing up the tasks?”
- Don’t start the conversation with something the other person will react defensively to.
So, instead of accusing him/her of being thoughtless, stupid, or something else, state the problem in such a way that both of you can work together on the solution. Consider the following example: “ I can’t believe you would go out and spend $200 on something stupid! You know we’re trying to pay off debt!” puts the other person on the defensive. “Hmmm. I guess I’m wondering if we’ll still be able to pay off debt since we spent $200 on _____ right now. I know sometimes things come up that you don’t plan for in a budget. Is this one of those times? What do you think?
Always realize when you make a request, the other person can say no.
That’s the reality of two different people and two different positions. You are not the same person and you are not going to see things in the same way. But no doesn’t mean the conversation is over. Remember that communication is about having a discussion – it’s not about issuing commands. You state your position, I state my position, and then we have an interesting conversation. We may come up with something better than we ever could have devised alone. In order for that to happen, we have to be civil, we have to respect the other person, we have to listen to the other person and ourselves, and we have to give communication as much time as it needs to work.