By Julie Baumgardner
Communication is a funny thing. You may think you are clearly communicating a message only to be misunderstood.
Recently, my husband and I were out with friends. My friend and I were talking about hairstyles. I asked if her husband loved her long hair, and she said, “I think so, but you should ask him.” I turned to her husband and asked, “Do you like her long hair?” He replied, “I love her lawn care. She does a fantastic job with all of that.” His wife and I busted out laughing. In his defense, I interrupted their conversation. The room was noisy, and the question was out of the blue. But it’s a great example of how easy it is to misunderstand someone.
Distractions make it easier to be misunderstood when communicating with someone. You know that moment when your spouse tells you something while you are watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram? You are half-listening and reply, “Uh-huh,” not really knowing what you just responded to.
The latest studies indicate couples talk with each other about topics other than the children, work, or chores anywhere from 17 to 20 minutes a week. If we roll with the high number, that’s exactly 2.8 minutes a day. It’s not surprising we feel disconnected.
If your marriage could benefit from a communication tune-up, here are five tips to help you out.
1. Create intentional connecting times during the day.
If you both happen to be morning people, this could be the new start to your day: coffee and 15 minutes of check-in time. If mornings aren’t the best time, try after dinner. Tell children, if you have them, that the next 15 minutes belong to you and your spouse, so they need to find a book, work on homework, or play together. Before bed is another good option for conversation. Intentionality is the key.
When you do connect, focus on your relationship. Avoid conversation about kids, money, work, your parents, or anything else. If that leaves you with nothing to discuss, try dreaming about the future together or making plans for a romantic getaway – even if it’s only for a day or a weekend.
2. Put date night on the calendar.
Treat it like any other appointment. Playing together increases intimacy and keeps the lines of communication open when life gets crazy (and it will).
3. Believe the best about your spouse.
Most spouses don’t intentionally try to get under your skin. In chaotic moments though, little things often irritate us the most. Negativity breeds negativity – and that is a communication-killer.
4. Don’t let it fester.
This is a powerful piece of advice for keeping the lines of communication open. The temptation is often to let it stew, especially if you hate conflict. But the longer you let a sensitive topic smolder, the bigger the chasm grows.
One of the most valuable conversations you can have is to talk about how you want to handle tense moments together. How would you like to be approached? Are there times when you’re more alert that would allow for a more productive conversation? If one of you needs time to think about your response, how much time will you take before coming back together? Thirty minutes is a good starting point.
5. How we relate isn’t up for debate.
Ground rules about communication can be huge for your marriage. Agreeing on how to show value, honor, and respect to each other helps guide your conversations and guards against negative talk. Nobody does this perfectly, but if you create parameters, it is clear when the line has been crossed.
After 30 years of marriage and an entire career immersed in teaching healthy communication skills, I know one thing for certain: Healthy communication in my marriage requires daily attention. And I’ve decided, my marriage is worth it. HS