zen habits : breathe

Listen Up: How Honest Communication Can Save Your Marriage

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Corey of The Simple Marriage Project.

Throughout my career as a marriage coach and a marriage and family therapist, the number one issue voiced by most couples is “we have trouble communicating.” It’s a common complaint. And many couples think they would benefit from communication training.

Many seem to think if they could better express themselves or if their spouse would only listen and understand what they mean then things in the marriage would dramatically improve. “Maybe if I learned to be more assertive and use more ‘I’ statements we’d have less problems.” While the thought may be genuine and the results of actually implementing some of these techniques may improve the marriage a bit, in my experience the improvements won’t be lasting.

When you get right down to it, communication in marriage is not about being understood by each other, communication is about handling what another person thinks and feels. You see, married couples don’t have trouble communicating. They communicate all too well.

In a committed relationship, you can not not communicate (pardon the double negative).

Communication problems happen because you don’t like what the other person has to say. For instance, you may want your spouse to be more emotionally open and share their feelings, but you interrupt them when they say things you find unpleasant or disagree with (in your view, you may just want to keep the conversation “accurate”). You want a more expressive spouse, but want to control what they express.

Even if you are not talking to each other, you’re still communicating. You each know you don’t want to hear what the other has to say.

Communication break downs occur because you don’t like what the other person is saying, or not saying, not because you can’t communicate. Communicating in marriage is all about being able to handle the message.

When two people are able to handle the message, honesty increases. And when honesty in a relationship increases, you grow more as an individual and closer together. Through this growth you are capable of reaching new levels of passion and intimacy.

So in an effort to grow closer to you loyal Zen Habits readers, I’ll be honest. I’m writing this guest post in the hopes that Simple Marriage’s message will spread and more people will discover ways to get more out of marriage and life. I also hope you’ll benefit from this post and the passion level in your relationships and life will increase… I feel closer to you already.

But being honest with you is not the same as being honest with a spouse. It’s more and more difficult to be honest in each relationship up the hierarchy of importance. As the importance of the person increases, often the level of deep honesty decreases. Largely because their reactions to what you truly think mean more to you and involve more risk.

So my wife calls me up and asks how my morning was. I respond with “good, just writing away.” When in reality, I wasted the entire morning reading other blogs and searching for the latest gadget that will change my life forever. I don’t want to admit to her that I’m lazy. That means I’m admitting it to myself as well.

Or you’re sitting on the beach with your spouse as an attractive member of the opposite sex walks by. At that moment your spouse asks you what you’re thinking, do you tell them?

Being honest brings about growth in yourself and your spouse. If your thoughts are totally inappropriate in the beach scenario, you probably don’t share them with your spouse. But what does your honesty, or lack of honesty, say about you?

So how do you increase the honesty in marriage?

1. Speak up. By speaking up I’m not saying that you remove the filter between your brain and mouth, but speak up more. How often do you avoid replying or bringing something up out of fear of your partner’s reaction? There are times when you need to speak up in order to help your marriage and each other grow.

Many couples fall victim to thinking “if my spouse really cared about me, they’d be able to figure out what I’m feeling or thinking.” What part of your vows stated you’d read each other’s minds for as long as you both shall live? I’m guessing that wasn’t part of the ceremony.

Stop sitting back waiting for your spouse to pick up on the fact that you’re frustrated, pissed, hurt, or lonely and speak up. Two things will happen. One, you will grow up a bit more because you’ve taken charge of your thoughts and emotions and two, your partner will grow up because you’re treating them like an adult who’s capable of handling your thoughts and emotions.

2. Make the obvious, obvious. If you’ve had a stressful day at work, when you come home you know it’s likely to be stressful there as well, right? So rather than letting the elephant in the room (the stress level in your life) walk around freely, point it out before you and your spouse get in to it.

A simple “hey honey, good to see you, (kiss), I’d like about 5 minutes to decompress from my day before I hear about your day, alright?”

Another way to make the obvious obvious is when the discussion starts to get heated, point it out. When you raise your voice in a conversation, it’s no longer about what’s best for all the people involved, it’s about your power and your pride.

3. Grow up. Many people go kicking and screaming into adulthood. I was one of them. I wanted things my way! Still do at times. I used to think that life was all about me. And problems occurred when other people didn’t know this.

Marriage grows you up. Living with another person forces you to grow up. And just when it seems your spouse is done growing you up, your kids take over. That’s a simple fact of marriage.

Recognize this and harness the energy it creates. Rather than seeing your spouse as someone who doesn’t get you, see them as someone who may want more from you. They may be looking for an erotic lover, a passionate friend, a warrior, a true supporter, or simply a partner in life’s adventure.

Read more from Corey at The Simple Marriage Project (or subscribe to his feed).

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