Lorraine Jaksic, a registered marriage and family therapist and co-owner of Abundant Living Counselling Group in Ottawa, shares some ways to improve communication in your marriage and start seeing positive results for yourself.
1. Be open with your partner
If you and your spouse are not used to being open with your feelings, there are some easy steps you can take toward becoming more vulnerable and honest with each other. "Speaking from an 'I' position allows you to establish boundaries with respect to the topic at hand," says Jaksic.
Don't be put off if this is difficult at first or if you have developed some flawed communication patterns over the course of your relationship. It takes time to shift your communication style and to build trust, but the results are well worth the effort. "The more you are in your own reality and speaking from your own point of view, the more open and honest you are likely to be," Jaksic explains.
2. Take time to pause
Although it can be difficult to do in the heat of the moment, taking the time to listen during a heated spousal showdown is key to communicating well. Fighting can often be automatic, but try to control your immediate knee-jerk response and pause before you respond.
"Reacting to a situation with anger is never helpful. When one person is yelling then at least one person is not listening, and when two people are yelling, no one is listening," says Jaksic. "Many times these behaviours are unconscious. The key here is to understand your own pattern of communication, which is something you might also consider seeking professional guidance on. The longer those issues are left unsettled, the more convoluted they become and the more difficult and time-consuming it is to sort things out."
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3. Make time for play time
Couples who have fun together are much more likely to stay together. "Playfulness and humour are vital to a marriage," says Jaksic. "Cultivating shared interests and hobbies, or socializing with other couples is very important in creating threads of connection and intimacy."
Some topics are serious and need to be treated seriously, but it is also important to make time for having fun. Evaluate the appropriate time and place for important discussions and balance those out with activities of mutual enjoyment.
4. Stay in the present moment
If a discussion turns into a disagreement, it is important to stick to the topic at hand. Do not bring up older unrelated issues or un-aired grievances. If you're feeling frustrated or tired, don't hesitate to suggest finishing the conversation after a good night's rest and the perspective of a fresh morning, depending on the morning, says Jaksic.
"For instance, it is not beneficial to begin a conversation about a 'hot topic' as people are going off to work or school. If the conversation is escalating, one or more parties may decide to take a time out and reconvene, even perhaps a few days later," she says. "It is important to discuss one topic at a time and to remain respectful of each other's ability to participate in and commit to the conversation."
5. Be prepared to give in
Although it is natural to become fixated on who is "right" or who is the "winner," Jaksic warns against this type of behaviour. "This kind of competition presents a one-upmanship stance instead of a mutually respectful process," she says. "This mode of communication does not bode well in the long term."
So before you wage an all-out war over the name of that actor from that movie you're sure you saw together in 2007, consider what's at stake. Sometimes being the bigger person and compromising once in a while will bring more significant rewards. "If being 'right' is more important than speaking in a loving, caring manner to your partner, then whatever the issue is will get lost in the power struggle," says Jaksic.
By applying these five tips in your relationship you're sure to bring a new approach to the way you communicate and start to see positive results, such as renewed friendship, increased intimacy and a stronger bond of trust with your spouse.
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