There is one thing that needs to be present before you can even begin having or improving communication with your spouse – honesty. And not only do you have to be honest, but you also have to be honest often. Do just one or the other, or none at all, and you risk constructing your communication on shaky ground. Let me explain.
Honesty is a must!
Honesty is very bottom rung on the communications ladder; it is the basis for all communication with your spouse. If you aren’t communicating honestly, you would be better off communicating nothing at all. The message you send provides the basis for the feedback you’ll get. If the original message is untrue, how can the feedback be of any value to the relationship?
If you aren’t communicating honestly, you would be better off communicating nothing at all.
This doesn’t just apply to dishonesty with the intention to deceive; this applies to openly communicating your thoughts, desires, and needs.
For example, one night my family was having one of those dinners where everyone was doing their own thing. My daughter wasn’t home, my husband was already sitting at the table eating something and listening to music on his laptop with headphones, when I got a plate for my son. I sat at the table, not eating because I wasn’t hungry yet. When we sat down, he continued to listen to music.
“What are you listening to?” I asked after about five minutes.
“Just a playlist I made. Do you want me to stop listening?”
“No. I was just asking,” I said, fully expecting him to take the headphones off.
He didn’t. He kept listening to music while I sat at the table in silence annoyed that he was being rude. Then I realized that he had given me exactly what I asked for. Which is not what I wanted. I didn’t ask for what I wanted because I didn’t feel like I should have to ask for something that in my mind should be obvious.
So I instead decided to be dishonest about communicating what I wanted. My message was untrue, and his feedback in response to my false message only left me angry at the end.
If you are honest about communicating your needs, you give your partner the option to be receptive to those needs. If you continue to ask for things you don’t want, you’ll probably keep getting them.
Now let’s be honest about honesty.
It’s not always easy to say what you mean. Sometimes it’s because you don’t want to hurt your spouse’s feelings. Other times it’s because you don’t want to deal with a negative consequence to an action or opinion. So how do you facilitate honesty in your relationship even when honesty is hard? Here are a few tips:
Minimize your blow-ups
If your spouse thinks every time he comes to you with honesty he’ll experience one of your meltdowns, honesty in your relationship becomes a scary thing. Every reaction won’t be positive, but try to keep calm enough so that your spouse won’t be afraid of coming to you again. Starting with a simple, “I appreciate your honesty…” can start positive communication off on the right foot.
Own up to the consequences of your actions
None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. But part of being an adult is recognizing those mistakes and owning up to them, even if we face an undesirable consequence. Remember that as angry or hurt as your spouse may be with the truth, she will be even more hurt when she finds out that she’s been the victim of a lie. Being dishonest is not only childish, it’s selfish. By not telling the truth you are telling your spouse, “I would rather hurt you and our marriage with a lie than face the consequences of my own actions.” Know that when you are dishonest, you are protecting yourself at the expense of your marriage.
Be honest in your behavior
Remember that “behavior” part of communication we talked about earlier? What you do communicates just as much, if not more, to your spouse than what you say. Following through on what you say you will do and staying away from activities that you know make you look untrustworthy communicates to your spouse that you are dependable and worthy of trust without you having to say a word.
How to keep the communication doors open
In addition to making sure your communication is honest, you also need to make sure you are exchanging intentional messages on a regular basis. We are communicating with our spouses constantly without thinking about it. Any time you are interacting with one another, you’re communicating back and forth, but you aren’t always communicating on purpose.
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To keep the flow of communication open, fluid and intentional you have to do it often. Not only does that help to ensure that you are communicating what needs to be conveyed on a regular basis, it also helps you to sharpen your communications skills. Like anything else, when it comes to communicating effectively, practice makes perfect…or at least much better.
Think about your place of employment. If your company is run well, likely there is regular communication between employees. Sometimes it is informal, like asking a colleague for help on a project you don’t understand or sending an email to a coworker to ask for something you need to finish a project. Sometimes it’s formal, like annual reviews or weekly staff meetings. Either way, you are transmitting and receiving information regularly throughout your day to stay on top of your job and to keep your place of employment running smoothly.
The same is true of marriage. You have to communicate frequently and on purpose to your spouse to ensure that life is running smoothly at home, and you have to have a regular system of doing it alongside the informal methods you use.
Finally, here are a few ways to keep the communication doors open in a positive way on a regular basis:
Give compliments every day
Yes, each and every day. You want to make sure that your positive communication outweighs the negative. Often we think of communicating only when we have an issue. But communication is at the basis of all of your interactions. If you can speak positivity and communicate to your spouse that he or she is loved and appreciated, when you do have to communicate about a conflict it won’t seem like all of your communication and feedback has a negative spin. It places optimism at the front of the communications cycle to make that flow of communication more positive each time.
Carve out time to spend with one another
Again, this goes back to behavior as communication. By making your spouse’s time a priority, you communicate that he or she is important enough to forego other life aspects in that moment, and takes precedence over the rest of your to-do list. In addition, unless you spend all of your time together staring at the wall in silence, it becomes natural to communicate during the quality time you spend.
Set up a regularly occurring time that you sit down together to discuss the larger issues
Some larger issues could be finances, health, household, and goal setting. This could be weekly or monthly, but making time to get on the same page with one another on a regular basis is essential.
Don’t let areas of conflict linger
You don’t need to discuss each and every issue immediately, but if there is an area of conflict, don’t keep sweeping it under the rug.
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