Dr. Yvette Stupart is a clinical counselor and educator. She gives insights on how to experience emotional health and relational well-being.
A healthy marriage enhances your well-being, and good communication is an essential component of healthy and satisfying relationships. For it is through the communication process that you share information, ideas, and feelings.
The success of your marriage depends to a large degree on how well you communicate with your spouse. Your communication is not just verbal, but also includes nonverbal behaviors such as your facial expressions and body language.
Open and honest communication encourages spouses to express themselves. Such communication patterns assist you to verbalize your hopes, and your expectations of one another. Also, it is through communicating that you can work through the areas of potential conflicts that you identify.
If you read this article on improving communication in your marriage, you will get a better understanding of what communication is and how you can improve your communication patterns. Then you could build trust in your marriage and begin to see positive changes.
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply."
— Roy T. Bennett
What Is Communication?
We use communication as a medium to share information, needs, concerns, and feelings with each other. Communication begins with what the sender wishes to convey, and only the sender knows his or her intentions, and this must be communicated to the listener.
Various factors could affect the communication process including the sender’s mood, or noise in the environment. Thus the person receiving the message must decode what the person is saying. According to relationship expert John Gottman, it creates an interpersonal gap, when the sender’s intentions differ from the effect on the receiver.
What is more, such gaps could result in dissatisfaction in close relationships, such as marriage, and hinder a rewarding partnership from the onset. It is important, then, that you try to reduce these interpersonal gaps and rebuild your marriage relationship.
An Argument-Free Marriage?
Verbal communication is essential to close relationships such as marriage, and helps to develop intimacy in your relationship. For example, as you and your spouse reveal personal information about yourselves, self-disclosure, the intimacy in your relationship improves.
Miller and Perlman (2008) explains that self-disclosure that fits the situation could lead to liking and contentment in close relationship. They also point out that this reciprocal self- disclosure builds trust in the relationship.
Along with your spoken words, are a range of nonverbal actions that convey messages. Your nonverbal behavior gives information about your moods and what you mean by what you say. For example, if you are upset with your husband or wife, your facial expression is likely to show it.
Also, your nonverbal behaviors towards your spouse show when you are interested in what he or she is saying, and give cues to continue the conversation. Nonverbal communication consists of many components, such as facial expressions, body movement, and touch. You can tell when your spouse is happy, for example, when they are smiling.
As a couple, you share an intimate relationship, and so you act differently toward each other than you would towards a stranger or one of your acquaintances. Body movement goes with and supports your verbal communication, and helps you to convey what you mean. Also, physical contact with your spouse can have meaning, for example, your touch shows closeness and affection.
6 Steps to Improve Your Communication
If you and your spouse find it difficult to say what you mean to each other, this could have an adverse effect on your marriage. Make your relationship a priority, and practice communicating effectively with your spouse. It doesn't just happen, and so it is going to take effort on the part of both of you.
1. Practice Active Listening
Effective listening is a key ingredient in healthy communication. Set aside uninterrupted time each day to listen to each other. As you actively listen to each other, this increases understanding and rapport between you.
Pay attention when your spouse is speaking, and make a conscious effort to hear the complete message he or she is sending. For example, turn off the television or radio when your spouse is speaking to you.
2. Use "I" Statements to Make Requests
Instead of using “you” statements which could come across to your spouse as demanding or judgmental, try using “I” statements to communicate your needs.
Be sure to communicate your thoughts and feelings clearly and directly. When you do, you are likely to get a more positive response from your spouse.
3. Practice Empathy
Empathy is accurately identifying the feelings and experiences of your spouse. You demonstrate empathy when you communicate an understanding of your partner’s feelings in a particular situation.
Try to understand your spouse’s viewpoint. He or she wants to be heard and understood. When you and your spouse meet these needs, the result is more healthy communication patterns, greater intimacy, and a higher level of marital satisfaction.
Learn Skills to Improve Your Communication
4. Show Respect and Affirm Your Spouse
It is important to express appreciation for your spouse’s strengths and always remember the qualities that attracted you to him or her earlier in your relationship. For example, relationship expert John Gottman, and his colleague, Nan Silver, in their book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, encourage couples to select one hour a week to talk about their relationship. Couples should begin by talking about the things which went right and express appreciation in specific ways.
Be careful what you say, and use the right tone to convey your message. Use thoughtful words and affirm your spouse, and give him or her the respect he or she deserves. It is important that you accept your spouse, and don’t try to change him or her. Of course, this will be reflected in how you speak with your partner.
5. Pay Attention to Your Nonverbal Behavior
Make sure that your facial expressions, body language, and the tone of your voice reflect what you are saying. Research conducted by Professor Albert Mehrabian indicates that people communicate through tone of voice and body language more than they do through words.
As you develop an awareness of the signs and symbols of body language, you can better understand your spouse, and communicate more effectively with him or her. At the same time, your body language reveals your feelings and meanings to your spouse.
6. Spend Quality Time Together
Spend time together, as quality time is important to nurture your relationship. For example, when you have shared hobbies, this gives you more time together. So take interest in what your spouse does, and take the opportunity to spend enjoyable time together.
On another level, you also need time to discuss issues or problems in the relationship. But this should not be a time for blaming, but to find common solutions to enhance your marriage. relationships.
John Gottman Answers Questions on Making Relationships Work
Summary of Steps to Build Positive Communication Patterns
- Practice active listening
- Focus on your spouse, avoid distraction
- Use "I' messages
- Show compassion
- Demonstrate respect and affirm your spouse
- Give empathetic responses
- Recognize nonverbal messages
- Practice attending skills
- Avoid the blame game
- Be willing to say, "I'm sorry,"
- Spend time together
Communication is an essential ingredient to happy marriages. It improves the intimacy which holds your marriage through good and challenging times. Effective communication skills do not come naturally, and so you will need to take steps to develop them.
While couples communicate with each other differently, there are some important features of healthy communication that includes active listening, empathy, and even humor. What is important is that you and your spouse are committed to improve your communication as your marriage progresses through different stages and phases.
If you want to share your love for a lifetime, then healthy communication is an essential ingredient.
References and Further Reading
Federal Occupational Health (2004). Life Care Guide: Tips to a healthy marriage. Accessed July 13, 2013.
Miller, R.S. & Perlman, D. (2008) Intimate relationships (5th ed.). New YorK, NY: MacGraw-Hill.
Saisan, J., Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2013). Relationship help. Accessed November 5, 2013
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Yvette Stupart PhD