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Communication in Marriage, 3 Secret Tips to Better Connect With Your Spouse

It’s not Verbal, it’s Emotional

 

By far, the biggest complaint I hear from couples that come to me for help is, “we don’t talk anymore.” When I hear that, I know that the TRUE cause is so hidden that it is hard to know what they mean. The truth of the matter is that communication isn’t so much about how much we verbally acknowledge each other but how we connect emotionally.

 

Most people communicate just fine with co-workers, friends, etc. So what makes it so much more difficult when it comes to communicating with your partner? Emotions. When emotion comes into communication we can say things we don’t mean, or say things with an edge to it.

 

It’s very common for concerns about “communication” to come to stand for concerns over emotions or intimacy. This is best summed up by the phrase “we’re not close, we never talk.” To deal with these concerns I often utilize my training in Ester Perel’s approach to intimacy in marriage. As she states in her book Mating in Captivity, “we think of intimacy primarily as a discursive process, one that involves self-disclosure, and trustful sharing of our most personal and private material – our feelings.” (Perel, pg. 41)  We often place emphasis on this view that we become part of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The odds of any given couple being on the exact same level of emotional intimacy sharing level is very unlikely.

 

Two Realities, Both Valid and True

 

There has been a mountain of research showing how a woman’s verbal ability in the emotional area is better than men’s (the reasons why this is so vary). Instead of sharing emotions verbally, one outlet for men is through sex, according to Perel, “Through sex, men can recapture, the pure pleasure of connection without having to compress their hard-to-articulate needs into the prison of words.” (Perel, pg. 43)

 

This division (while especially true for men) can happen in any relationship where one partner is not comfortable with emotional sharing, while the other is. “I’m sharing with him my deepest emotional feelings and he won’t return the favor, therefore we can’t be intimate.” You can also see differences between couples in how love is displayed with the concept of the 5 Love Languages. For example, where one partner may prefer words of affirmation (verbal connection) the other may prefer physical touch. The first step to developing better intimacy and communication is by understanding how the other communicates.

 

Tip #1: Understand how your partner shows love, and understand the many different ways to communicate the same feeling.

 

It’s common that though intimacy may be expressed by both couples, the more verbal partner feels cheated, “why won’t you talk to me?” they ask. In this way we have normalized the pressure to be on the non-talker to change rather than the talker to be more versatile. (Perel, pg. 43) I’ve seen it many times where couples are on the same page emotionally, but they are just communicating it differently, causing unnecessary hurt. Intimate and fulfilling communication is a balance that has to be learned, where each mode of love should be understood and balanced with the other.

 

Just in the same way, too much verbal communication can destroy intimacy. I’ve seen many couples that see constant questioning about the little details of their partner’s day as their attempt to restore intimacy, while a deeper conversation is much more valuable. A barrage of questions not only pushes the other partner away, but reduces a bit of the enigma of your partner and reduces their personal space. A good relationship is a balance between the “me” and the “us”.

 

Tip #2 Improving communication in your marriage will help, but it won’t work long-term if you don’t do this…

 

As I’ve made clear above, at the root of communication is emotion, so if you are changing how you communicate without changing your emotional understanding, any changes in communication will probably not help. That’s why my SAIL technique to couples communication has such an emphasis on emotionality, making it a much more useful intervention for most couples. You can have free access to an explanation and guided exercise to SAIL if you sign up through this link. Once the emotionality of relationships is understood most couples see benefit, but remember this is just the start.

 

Tip #3 Marriage takes work, and this is just a start.

As John Gottman (whose method I use quite often) has said, “There are some people who can remain magnanimous in the face of such criticism – the Dalai Lama comes to mind. But it is unlikely that you or your spouse is married to one of them… Active listening [alone] asks couples to perform Olympic level emotional gymnastics when their relationships can barely walk.” (Gottman, pg. 11)

 

Better communication is an important start, but successful conflict resolution alone is not what makes marriages succeed. (Gottman, pg. 11) Saving a marriage is difficult, it takes a lot of work and can mean unlearning decades of poor behavior and relearning new ways to be together.

 

For many couples, it requires a radical transformation from what they were doing, but is that such a surprise? We get more required reading when opening a credit card than signing our marriage documents. Getting two distinct people to interact in love constructively is a huge task, but with proper guidance any progress is possible if both couples are open to change.

 

That’s why I offer an intensive marriage retreat for couples to begin questioning their patterns of communication, and building new avenues of mutual support that can sustain a relationship long term. This means diving deep into our emotional connections and intimacies, and it’s this intensive strategy to marital therapy that leads to most success. That’s why in my practice it is these interventions that leave 75% of couples satisfied.

 

A New Path Forward for Communication in Marriage

 

In conclusion, understand that marriage is challenging…but also incredibly rewarding! Each of our communication styles is bound to conflict at some point, it just takes some education to learn to “decode” these hidden interactions that we have been oblivious to. A fulfilling and intimate relationship isn’t a given, but with proper tools and guidance it is possible. Where should you start on this path? I know that many aren’t ready to commit to an intensive retreat to find these deeper meanings, so you can start with my free resources. Start with the “Arguing without starting conflict” exercises, register here:

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Then you can move onto learning my Sail Technique for couples communication.

 

 

Sources

Perel, Esther. Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic + the Domestic. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Print.

Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.

 

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