Here are some ground rules that Vickie and I try to use to make sure we communicate well. We freely admit up front that, like most married couples, there are times when we don’t communicate very well at all! Usually it is because we are forgetting one or more of these tips. When our conversation starts heading in a direction in which we seem to have disagreements, it’s very easy to forget this stuff. But if we can remember, we always have a much more fruitful discussion!
So we offer these tips to you in hope that they might make your marriage stronger than ever! You may want to print them out and re-read them aloud together whenever you have to have a difficult discussion!
- Don’t Shut Down the Conversation
- If either of us feels that the other is trying to “get me to shut up” then we will immediately apologize and give the one feeling cut off an opportunity to fully be heard.
- If one of us wants to continue the conversation by asking questions, the other will continue to try to give answers (instead of communicating, essentially, that “this conversation is over”).
- Be Careful about Apologies
- Some apologies sound insincere and seem to be merely a device to shut up the other spouse.
- An apology made too quickly may not give the other spouse a chance to finish making his/her point.
- One possible way to preclude this is to quickly say, “I really am sorry I did that, said that, etc… so please forgive me… but I don’t want to quit talking about this until we both feel like we’re finished.”
- Be Willing to Agree to Disagree
- We will not try to force our spouse into agreement.
- Once we have aired the issue completely (to the satisfaction of both of us), we will be ready to say, “OK, we can agree to disagree about that one.”
- Be Sensitive about Emotions
- Knowing that disagreements, almost by definition, involve emotion as well as facts, we will allow each other room to be emotional, BUT…
- We will try to be sensitive to the other when he/she feels that we are becoming too loud or too intense. We will seek the balance of allowing emotion, but controlling it so that it does not seem manipulative, too aggressive, or too insistent.
- When one spouse feels that the other has done something to hurt, disregard, or ignore him/her, or feels that the other has violated an agreement, the communication should be, “I need to tell you how I’m feeling. I know that these feelings may not have much to do with what you’ve actually done. I may have some misunderstandings. But this is how I’m feeling right now…” (i.e., we reveal our feelings, acknowledging that they may be unjustified, and hopefully not sounding too accusatory!)
- Interrupt Graciously
- We will allow our spouse to finish his/her thought without interrupting to give our own perspective, BUT…
- If one of us engages in a monologue with many points (e.g., stopping to get a breath, but only after such words as “and…” or “but…” or “so…” which show an intention to continue on, we will give a hand signal that asks for permission to interrupt in order to react to a point before the conversation gets away from it. (Our memory may be able to retain only a couple of points at a time!)
- Another option would be to ask for “time out” to get a pen and paper to jot down notes for comments later.
- Reflect Back for Improved Listening
- If either of us feels that the other might not be hearing us well, for whatever reason, it’s ok to say, “I want to make sure you are hearing what I’m trying to say. Would you please tell me in your own words what you think I’m trying to tell you?”
- If either of us feels that we might not be understanding what the other is trying to say, it’s ok to say, “Wait a minute, let me see if I’m hearing you right. Are you saying…?”
- Don’t Misuse the “Accusation” Accusation.
- We will recognize that anytime that we disagree, the disagreement can be interpreted to be an “accusation.” So we will try to be slow to accuse each other of making accusations.
- We will also recognize that there may be times when we really do sound like we are making an ugly accusation. At those times we will accept the accusation of accusation and try to “tone it down.”
And remember both of you are on the same side! So stay in the battle… together, on the same side!