Marriage can be simultaneously the most rewarding and most challenging experience of your life. As elating as the highs are, that’s how devastating the lows are. For more highs and fewer lows, a healthy and lasting marriage requires consistent effort and commitment, and to get through the many trials a couple will inevitably encounter, healthy communication is a must.
It’s been said that communication in marriage is like oxygen in life—without it, the result is death. If one or both people shut down, that will lead to trouble. Couples have to talk to each other!
But it’s not enough just that you talk to each other. How you talk to each other is just as important, and maybe even more so.
Unhealthy and damaging communication patterns can poison a relationship, erode individual self-esteem, create fear and anxiety, and cause a couple to resent each other. Ultimately, they can lead to divorce. Beyond that, the tension and arguments that are often hallmarks of bad communication in a marriage can be extremely harmful to the children who are exposed to it.
In one recent study, communication problems were cited as the most common contributing factor to divorce with the inability to resolve conflict coming in as a close second. No one gets married with the plan of divorcing a few years down the road because they fight too much. The earlier a couple learns to communicate in healthy ways, the better.
Disagreements Are Unavoidable, But They Don’t Need Spiral Into Arguments
Conflict in a marriage is inevitable. No two people will ever agree completely on every topic. Tough conversations will have to be had around many issues in a marriage: money, childcare, division of responsibilities, intimacy, extended family, how to spend free time, just for starters. Even small, everyday decisions like what to have for dinner, what program to watch on TV, who will deal with a child having a meltdown, who will be available for the repairman, and so on can turn into big arguments if you and your partner don’t have good communication habits.
But disagreements don’t have to turn into fights, and you both should work hard to keep tempers calm if you want your marriage to succeed—and if you want to model healthy communication for your kids. Believe it or not, it is possible to create healthy communication norms even if you’ve already developed some bad habits. Countless studies show a direct correlation between poor communication and marital distress that leads to divorce. A good couples counselor can be very helpful in working with you to break destructive patterns and start new productive ones so you don’t head down the road to a split.
If you and your spouse aren’t ready or interested in getting professional help with learning better communication skills, perhaps you can start with this quick list of tips for talking to each other more effectively.
Keep Daily Communication Lines Open and Flowing
Engage in meaningful and positive exchanges as often as possible and avoid misunderstandings by implementing some of these ideas:
- Set time aside every day to connect and share with each other what you did, what went well, what you’re worried about, and what’s coming up in the next day or week.
- Have an agreed-upon system for sharing important information like appointments and upcoming events to avoid last-minute scheduling conflicts and frustration (especially important when you have busy kiddos!).
- Talk TO each other about things that are bothering you rather than talking ABOUT each other to friends or family members.
- When your partner says something that insults you or hurts your feelings, assume benign intent, resist the impulse to be offended, and address it right away—don’t let it fester.
- Express to your spouse how you want to be spoken to, and ask them how they would like to be spoken to (this may seem like an unnecessary step, but it’s actually quite important).
Don’t let busy schedules and the stresses of life keep you from connecting with your partner daily about the little things. Healthy communication isn’t just about how you talk through a conflict—it’s about inside jokes, paying each other compliments, flirting, and sharing stories from your day.
12 Communication Tips for Avoiding and Diffusing Conflict
When you find yourself getting into a tense conversation, be aware that your “fight or flight” instinct will be triggered, so be mindful of what you say and how you say it:
- DO stay calm, speak at a moderate volume level, and be aware of the pitch and tone of your voice.
- DO listen and allow your spouse time to complete their thoughts without interrupting.
- DO pause and reflect on what you’ve heard before speaking.
- DO ask for clarification when needed about what you heard your partner express, then rephrase it and say it back to them to check for understanding.
- DO be aware of your facial expressions while speaking and listening (much of our communication is non-verbal).
- DO aim for understanding and resolution instead of winning or being right.
- DO stay focused on the current topic without bringing up old issues.
- DO express your own feelings and experiences without making accusations, name-calling, or hitting below the belt.
- DO strive for a win-win outcome or compromise that allows both of you to feel good.
- DO discuss issues in a private setting where your children do not have to hear about adult problems.
- DO be willing to table the conversation if things get heated or if you need time to think and reflect before coming back to the discussion, and before returning to the conversation, consider writing down your feelings and what result you are requesting.
- DO remember that you love each other and that this is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship through cooperation, compassion, and empathy.
Practice speaking kindly and mindfully, with love and compassion for your spouse, even when you’re infuriated! Marriage has lots of ups and downs. Trust that the negative feelings will likely subside—so don’t throw fuel on the angry fire in the meantime.
What If It’s Too Late and Divorce Is Already on the Horizon?
Predictably, the bad communication patterns that may have ended a marriage are the same ones a couple brings with them into the divorce process. This is a time of much uncertainty, stress, fear, disappointment, or anger, and usually more than one of these.
If you have children, it’s particularly important that you be able to put your hurt and hostility aside and work together with your spouse to do what’s best for them physically, emotionally, and financially. Even if you’ve never had healthy and effective communication throughout your entire marriage, for the good of your kids (and for your own good as well), my advice is that you practice being a good listener and a calm speaker.
So how can you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse work through a divorce with good communication if you’ve never had good communication before?
My recommendation is that you seriously consider a no-court divorce process, namely either mediation or a collaborative divorce. In a recent blog post, I talked about the 10 best communication methods we use during mediation or a collaborative divorce, and these are methods you can also use while still in your marriage. I recommend you visit that post to learn more techniques for talking through difficult issues.
When I work with you as a mediator or as part of your collaborative divorce team, I bring with me decades of expertise in facilitating productive and cooperative conversation during a stressful and emotional time. My goal is for you and your partner to reach positive resolutions quickly and peacefully, for the good of both of you and your children.
—Announcing an Online Opportunity to Learn More—
If you’d like to learn more about collaborative divorce and get to know me better with zero pressure, please join me for a FREE, ONLINE DIVORCE OPTIONS WORKSHOP – SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 4.
I will be presenting with financial and mental health experts from Collaborative Practice North Bay. As a community of divorce professionals, we assist families in getting divorced through a supportive, cooperative, collaborative process. In our online workshops, we provide valuable information about the divorce process, including no-court options like mediation and collaborative divorce.
Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.
Please Note: Articles posted on this website are for general information purposes only and are not to be considered legal advice. Every situation is unique and we recommend you reach out for a private conversation about your specific circumstances and concerns by booking a consultation.