It really doesn't matter what book or article you read, what stats you pay attention to, or which counselor you ask—if you want to know what one of the leading causes of divorce is, all sources are going to put poor communication at the top of the list.
That makes perfect sense, right? Something that I tend to say often (because it's something that I think a lot of us typically overlook) is, in order to be in a healthy relationship with another individual, you need to pay attention to the root word of relationship. And that is "relate". To relate is to "to bring into or establish association, connection, or relation" and "to establish a social or sympathetic relationship with a person or thing". There's no way you can do that if you're not able to, well, communicate.
Communicate: to impart knowledge of; make known; to give or interchange thoughts, feelings, information, or the like, by writing, speaking, etc.; to express thoughts, feelings, or information easily or effectively; to be joined or connected.
As a marriage life coach, I think a main reason why a lot of people end up divorcing is because, making sure that they both are effective communicators, is something that is not focused on nearly enough prior to jumping the broom. There aren't enough conversations that start off with, "Wait? Can we both impart knowledge in a way that the other is able to receive it? Are we able to interchange and express our thoughts and feelings in a respectable way? After we're done talking, do we both feel more joined and connected than we did prior to having the conversation that we just did?" So if you're single—and to me, it's best to consider yourself single until your tax documents say otherwise; you can spare yourself a lot of unnecessary potential drama if you choose to look at it this way—I encourage you to check this article out along with the married folks.
There are a lot of couples who love each other. Still, they can't seem to make their marriage work or last because they haven't been able to figure out how to effectively communicate. And that's due to some of the communication missteps that I've listed below.
OK, so which do y'all want first? The Word or a crazy article that's centered around this very topic? My gut says go with the Bible Scripture first so, here it is—"It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop [on the flat oriental roof, exposed to all kinds of weather] than in a house shared with a nagging, quarrelsome, and faultfinding woman." (Proverbs 21:9—AMPC) Listen, the only way to be triggered by a verse like this is if it somehow applies. I don't know about you, but I've been around nagging women; I've also had times when I've been one. Both sides of the coin are exhausting, so I get where King Solomon was coming from. Now the article. Ready for the title? "I was arrested and locked up for NAGGING my husband: Her marriage became national news when she was thrown in a cell after demanding her other half vacuum the house."
If there's one thing that husbands constantly tell me tops the list of irritants in their marriage, it's being nagged by their wife. I can see why too. Being nagged feels patronizing, condescending and low-key controlling. It's what makes someone feel like a child rather than an adult. And if what you're about to say in response to that is, "Well, when he acts like a child, I treat him like one", in the words of Dr. Phil, "So, how is that working for you?"
If you know nagging is something you could stand to do less of, gift your marriage with a copy of Love & Respect: The Love She Most Desires; The Respect He Desperately Needs by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs and/or check out this episode of the podcast How Married Are You? that touches on ways to show your husband respect. Although I get why nagging can sometimes be a temptation (like when your man doesn't do something in the time frame that you would like him to), if you stop and pay attention to yourself when you do it, it really is like a verbal version of Chinese water torture. Plus, it tends to breed resentment within your husband more than anything else. Trust me, I've heard that, from many men, more than once.
2. Making Assumptions
A wise person once said, "Don't assume your partner knows about everything you expect in a relationship. Let him know. A relationship should be based on communication, not on assumption." Something that I respect a lot about healthy marriages is the daily surrender that couples make to not try and turn their spouse into a version of themselves. A quote that I say often is by a professional drag racer (among others) by the name of Larry Dixon—"If two people were exactly alike, one of them would be unnecessary." Translation—you didn't get married to be with a carbon copy of yourself; you got married to someone who will help you to mature and grow. Sometimes, that requires a complete opposite of you (if you're a Christian, some pastors speak pretty eloquently on that very point here).
What does all of this even remotely have to do with making assumptions? Well, when it comes to the assumptions that a lot of couples make, what is it oftentimes rooted in? Assuming that your spouse thinks in the same way that you do or that they will operate in the fashion that you do. They are not you. The only way to be sure that you and yours are on the same page is to voice your needs or concerns—and then to get clarity they agree with you.
A lot of marriages suffer due to one or two people who are constantly making assumptions rather than openly communicating. If you make a point to break this one habit alone, you'll be doing your relationship a world of good.
3. Giving the Silent Treatment
It's one thing to need some time to cool off after an argument or to even request a day or two to process a request or some information that you received. But if the silent treatment is all about pouting or grudge-holding, hopefully you just read that line and saw how childish that counterproductive approach can be.
Personally, I think one of the things that I hate the most about this "strategy" is 1) it wastes time and 2) it's also based upon a lot of assumption. While you're out here not speaking to your spouse for 3-4 days at a time, you're assuming that tomorrow is promised. Not only that but the silent treatment is a weird form of crying wolf because, if your partner gets used to you handling issues that way, sooner or later, your silence won't be jarring; it might actually become welcomed and preferred.
Using silence like it's a tug of war in a battle tends to be ineffective, for the most part. So, after cooling down, try and initiate conversation. The sooner things can be worked through, the better off your marriage will be.
4. Talking over the Other Person
I recently watched an episode of T.I./Tip's podcast ExpediTIously featuring his wife Tameka "Tiny" Harris. Let me just say that the comments were about as interesting as the podcast itself. Although there were definitely moments in the episode that were entertaining, I've got to agree with the commenters—T.I. needed to let his wife talk more. He was cutting her off…a lot. My objective opinion is that he wasn't doing it intentionally or maliciously; he just seemed to really enjoy listening to his own self speak. A lot of us are like that—thinking we're out here having dialogues when they are really monologues.
When it comes to this particular communication faux pas, I'll be the first one to raise my hand in this class and say that God has been looking out for my future husband. How? By making sure that I remained single until I stopped being so eager to get out what I want to say that I also end up cutting off people in the process. I have learned—oh, how I have learned—that one of the best ways to be a good communicator is to listen to what others are saying and then allow them to complete their thoughts. It's even better to take listening up a notch by choosing to process what they shared before responding; if a response is needed/required at all.
When we cut someone off, it's pretty rude. We're basically conveying, "Shut up. What I have to say is far more important." Does that sound like the kind of approach you should take in order for your marriage to flourish?
5. Throwing the Past Up in Each Other’s Face
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece on here entitled "Are You A 'Bad Forgiver'? Read This And See." One sign that you are bad at forgiving is if you continue to live in the past. One way of living in the past is constantly referring to something your spouse did; something that you both already talked through and you've claimed to let go. When it comes to the couples that I have worked with, if there is something that has created quite the wedge between several of them, it's when one of them does something wrong (or even just irritating), their partner claims that all is forgiven, only to throw it up in their face the very next time they do something wrong (or irritating).
When you profess to forgive someone, a part of what you're saying is you're willing to release what happened so that trust can be restored. When you bring it back up, that means you didn't tell the truth and that can make your spouse feel uncomfortable and on edge around you. Why? Because all of us do things that we're not proud of. And, none of us can really heal and move forward, when someone keeps throwing that we've done back at us like it's ammo or something.
This is why I always say that if you're single and you suck at forgiveness, you've got absolutely no business getting married. Because if there is something that you will have to learn to master, almost on a daily basis, it's how to pardon offenses and let ish go. For real, for real go.
6. Being a Know-It-All
One of my friend's husbands. Ugh. He is such a know-it-all. He's that kind of guy who, when you tell him something that he doesn't agree with, he'll email you a long list of stats to disprove your point. Or, when she makes a decision that he doesn't agree with, he'll go behind her to see if she could've done it another way. She just recently told me that they had an argument about postage because he didn't believe what the post office told her. Know-it-alls come off as being mad arrogant. But if you scratch beneath the surface, more times than not, they couldn't be more insecure. They are out here trying to be a walking dictionary, encyclopedia, spiritual book, search engine and sensei, all rolled into one, basically because they need the validation that they are esteemed and valued.
It takes a lot of insight into another person to be able to pick that up, though. And since know-it-alls are so exhausting, they require tons of tolerance too. Before long, folks stop listening and don't really want to hear anything that a know-it-all has to say. Hmph. Talk about a serious breakdown in communication. Besides, what kind of award is given out for being right all of the time? Wouldn't you prefer that your partner actually like being around you than you "winning" all of the time? If you don't, make an appointment with a therapist, quick fast and in a hurry. Your marriage is in a lot more trouble than you probably think that it is. Because it's hard to like a know-it-all; no matter how much you might love them.
7. Having Horrific Timing
Really. When does bad timing ever work? You know that your spouse is in a bad mood, but for some strange reason, you think that then is the time to talk about the problems in your relationship. Or, you know that your spouse has a big project coming up, but while they are working, you want to gripe about your in-laws. There really is no telling how many arguments could be spared if husbands and wives were simply more sensitive when it comes to timing. All timing requires is paying attention to your spouse's words and body language, and then applying patience when it comes to deciding when it is a good time to bring something up…or not.
Speaking of timing, something that I think men and women, in general, could stand to work on, is how they approach each other at the end of the work day. A husband once told me that a man has to mentally "shift gears" from work to home. I believe the same thing applies to wives. So, rather than hitting your spouse at the door with all that needs to be done, how about giving them 20-30 minutes of space in order to "recalibrate" from what was going on at the office to what is needed in the house? This is one tip that can be really effective when it comes to applying good timing in communication.
8. Not Being “Tone Sensitive”
Hey, take it how you wanna, but there are plenty of articles out in cyberspace that co-sign on the fact that men are quite sensitive to tone. Two that immediately come to mind are "No, Women's Voices Are Not Easier to Understand Than Men's Voices" and "Healthy Living: Study says guys naturally can't hear women's voices". If you're curious about why this is the case, according to science, due to our higher register and the more melodic tones in our voice (speaking and otherwise), men have to tap into a different part of their brain in order to fully decipher what we are saying. So, if while you're talking, your man asks you to repeat himself, there's a good chance that he's not ignoring you; he literally didn't pick up on all that you were saying.
Which makes this a good public service reminder that, when it comes to healthy communication, indeed, it is not just about what we say but how we say it. Yelling or screaming not only raises the tension in a conversation but it can cause an even further breakdown in relaying thoughts, ideas and needs. Like it or not, science says so.
9. Talking to Others Before Each Other
I know it's such a controversial topic. "It" being if your spouse should be your best friend or not. But let me offer up a perspective for why my vote is "yes". Do you remember that scene in the movie Brown Sugar when Dre quit his job and he told Sidney about it first? Not his wife Reese; his best friend Sidney. Do you also recall how offended Reese was about that? Remember how, when she finally confronted Sidney about her and Dre's intimacy that she said that she had to fight for all of the information that Sidney already knew? Reese didn't imply she thought that Dre and Sidney were having sex. No, she was threatened by something else—emotional intimacy.
Now, please hear me when I say that I am not the person who thinks that, once you get married, your spouse should be your all and everything. That's not a partner; that is an idol. Of course, you should have friends (if there are healthy boundaries and mutual respect, this includes friends of the opposite sex). But when you signed up for marriage, you signed up for your spouse to be a true partner and confidante. This means that, unless you are going to someone else first about a marital issue so that you can get a clear and healthy perspective, you really should talk to your spouse before anyone else when it pertains to things that are about them or things that will directly impact y'all's relationship.
No one gets married in order for their spouse's friends to be all up in their business. Anyone who believes otherwise is setting themselves up to either have a partner who doesn't share everything or ends up building up walls due to a lack of trust. Neither of these are good outcomes.
10. Hitting Below the Belt
To me, one of the most beautiful things about marriage is you've committed your life to someone who knows the good, bad and ugly about you. The challenge in marriage is being mature enough to not weaponize the bad and ugly, just to prove a point or "win" an argument. Bottom line, whoever came up with that "sticks and stones" statement is a liar. Words do hurt, and sometimes the wounds last much longer than we think that they will.
So, no matter how much your spouse gets on your nerves or totally pisses you off, never go so low that it attacks their vulnerabilities, self-image or fears. You are supposed to be a safe place for them. You are supposed to be the one who they can communicate any and everything without getting damaged in the process. Always remember that.
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