I often feel behind when it comes to communication skills. After moving around a lot as a child, I never had the time to make close friendships. Having a helicopter-style parent for a mother didn’t help with this either.
However, now that I am an adult (and married), I have taken on the challenge of learning the communication skills I missed out on as a child.
Here are 7 of the best communication skills I have uncovered through communication in marriage resources.
React Less, Respond More
Tip 1 is to work on Reacting Less, and Responding More. This skill is equally applicable to communication with a spouse and with kids.
When we react, we respond to something our spouse or child says/does with our gut emotional reaction. For example, after you spend the day tidying and cleaning the house, your spouse comes home and says “I can’t find my bag. Do you know where it is?” Your reaction might be something like If you put it away in the first place finding it wouldn’t be a problem. I just spent all day tidying and cleaning the house because your mother is coming over tomorrow and this is all the thanks I get! But, when you respond instead of react, it might go something like this: Hmm, I feel really frustrated that I spent all day working on getting the house in order. Also, it looks like my spouse is frazzled from a long stressful day at work. How can I respond calmly and intelligently to this situation.“Hey N. I understand it is frustrating not being able to find your bag. However, the way you just asked me about it makes me feel like you don’t appreciate the effort I spent cleaning the house today. I didn’t see your bag while tidying up. Is it maybe still in the car?”
H.A.L.T. Before Starting A Major Discussion
Communication can be difficult even in the best circumstances. This is why I have learned not to start a major conversation if I am not in a good headspace. Or if I am already in a discussion, I pause and realise that I am not in a good place and explain to the other person that I am hungry (or whatever that distracting feeling is), and that the feeling is getting in the way of us having a good conversation.
The acronym to follow before starting a big conversation is HALT.
If you are feeling one of these things, it is better to resolve the feeling before experiencing a major communication breakdown because of it.
We have started doing a Love Language check-up right when my husband comes home from work. It takes us two minutes to think about how our day has been, and whether or not we are feeling loved and supported by each other. If one of us answers a low number, the other spouse knows to pay extra attention in the coming hours to filling the spouse’s lovetank and alleviating stressful moments for them.
And if we both have low numbers, we know the priority that evening is having a positive relaxing time together. Not finishing up a load of laundry or working on a backlog of emails.
If you haven’t already heard of the 5 Languages of Love, now is the time to check that out. The Popcaks talk about something similar in this short communication video on love styles, which you can check out here: Love Styles – Communication in Marriage
Never Ever Assume
Except to assume your spouse has good intentions when communicating with you.
Men and women communicate differently. Families communicate differently. Individuals communicate differently. And none of us can actually read minds. This is why it is important to check that we have understood what another person is trying to say to us. What the other person hears does not always (or even usually) match up with what you are trying to communicate.
There are a couple ways to do this. You could say “Is what you are trying to say to me: ___.” Or, “When I heard you say: ___, ___ is what I understood.” Or even, “I think you are trying to tell me you feel ____ about _____. Did I understand you correctly?”
And it is amazing the number of times you can be trying to say one thing and your spouse hears something totally different from what you have said.
The #1 Communication Question
“Do you just want me to understand how you are feeling about this, or are you asking me to help problem-solve in this situation?”
Asking this question can save a lot of frustration for both people. My husband is a melancholic, and often he’ll describe to me just how bad or difficult something is. And I, the choleric, come up with a million ideas on how I would do things differently. But my husband isn’t looking for suggestions, he is looking for affirmation about his feelings. This goes the other way too. If I am complaining about how hard it is to cook supper when the children are trying to get my attention, I am not asking for ideas to make it easier, I just want to be understood.
So to fix this communication conundrum, we need to ask if this conversation is about problem solving or not. You can stop and ask this before your spouse gets going on their feelings, if it is going to help you be a more attentive listener. Otherwise, when your spouse is done talking, ask before giving your input on the situation.
Watch Your Words
Always talk about the behaviour that is the problem. And never make it sound like the person is the problem. This is another one that is good for both spouses and for kids!
Here are some examples so you can see the difference:
- It bothers me when you ____. vs You are so inconsiderate and selfish.
- I don’t like when you leave things on the floor. vs You are so messy!
- It annoys me when you call my name 100 times to get my attention. vs You are really annoying.
Again, you want to be clear in your words that it is the behaviour that is the problem. Otherwise your spouse will feel defensive about their character, and your kids might start to believe that they are the character that is being applied to them rather than striving to build virtue.
Communication 101: Room to Improve
Tip number 7 is to remember you always have room to improve your communication skills. Just as there is always room for us to grow as individuals.
Try and look for little ways to make your spouse’s life easier every day. Even when you are tired, stressed, or even sick. These small actions can help your communication by reminding your spouse that you always have good intentions.
Finally, the Popcaks introduce this acronym for how to talk to your spouse: Problem Solve with LOVE.
Look for a positive intention
Omit harsh words and personal criticism (#watchyourwords)
Verify you understand what the other person said (#neverassume)
Encourage each other during difficult discussions.