Sadly too many marriages slide down the slippery slope of neglect. Couples get lost in their hectic lives, lose track of what is happening in their partner’s life, and slowly drift apart. Reestablishing a safe and open channel for communication can be a life-line for the relationship.
Acknowledge there’s a problem. Pretending it doesn’t exist makes it impossible to do something about it. It is important not to make the problem anyone’s fault. It took both of you to get to where you are now and it will take you working together to get to a better place. Marriages go through seasons—much like the weather. Even if you find your relationship in the midst of winter, it’s not too late to strive for spring together.
The primary reason couples drift apart is that they don’t spend time with each other. It’s true that our lives are overflowing with demands on our time. Even the urgent things on the list don’t always get done. How often do you find that it’s the end of the day, you are bone tired, and you have not spent even five minutes talking to your partner about anything other than tomorrow’s logistics?
It’s easy to make your relationship a lower priority than many of the other important things going on. But the truth is your relationship is the most important thing on your list—or at least it should be if you want it to last.
The best way to make sure you spend at least a little time every day focused on each other is to agree on a time that you will do it. During those few minutes, talk about what happened in your day. You may not have time for all of the details, but at least share how you feel and whether you want some support from your partner. Sharing the little everyday things is how couples stay connected.
When you are talking to someone and they are distracted, it feels like they aren’t listening to you. In fact, you probably even feel that the text message or TV is more important than you are. During your time together, put the cell phones aside and pay attention to each other—to what is being said and to how your partner is feeling.
You show that you are paying attention by your body language: sit facing her, nod your head in agreement, watch the expression on his face. Asking questions to probe for more information is another way to show you are engaged.
Listening is more than just hearing what is said. Sometimes we can hear the words and miss the message. Really listening means trying to understand the message and the feelings behind it. The best way to be sure you understand what your partner said is to mirror back what you heard. You might say, “I think you are saying…” That gives your partner the opportunity to clarify if the message didn’t get through, and it tells her that what she is saying is important to you.
After you have heard and understood your partner’s message, telling her that you get how she feels will make her feel validated. We all want to know that the important people in our lives think we are making sense.
The best way to show you care is to empathize with what he is going through. Saying something like “wow, that must have made you feel really good” or “that must have been tough to do” shows you are tuned into to what is going on for him.
Showing your partner that you care about what is going on in her life creates an emotionally safe place where you both can share what you are thinking and feeling.
You might have heard the saying that having two ears and one mouth means we should listen twice as much as we speak. There’s truth to that. When you both try to tell your story without listening to the other person, you are just taking turns talking. Both of you are focused on what you are saying and not listening to the other. That is almost worse than not talking at all because you feel like you have not been heard and that what you just said didn’t matter at all.
Instead take turns telling and exploring your stories. One day you go first and after you have talked about what you want to say, and he has interacted and expressed that he understood you, then it is his turn. Take turns going first.
So often we say something that is intended to make someone feel better, but it has the opposite effect. Many of us have, at one point, said that someone shouldn’t feel the way she feels. The intention may be to make her feel better, but when our feelings are not validated, we feel like we have been criticized rather than consoled.
Same thing is true when we tell someone that they shouldn’t be upset about or concerned about something. The intention may be to try to make the concern go away but the impact is just the opposite. Acknowledging your partner’s feelings or concerns helps them process the situation and move on.
Criticism is one of the most damaging behaviors to communication and to the relationship. Criticism is attacking your partner’s personality or character. It is trying to make him or her look bad so you appear to be the right one.
When someone criticizes you it feels like you’re being attacked. The natural reaction is to either become defensive or attack back. Both ways the conversation goes into a downward spiral and no one feels good. It also makes you feel like it is not emotionally safe to share your thoughts and feelings with the other person.
If you disagree with a point your partner is making, focus on the logic of the situation rather than attacking on the merits of the argument or the other person with derogatory statements like, “That is a stupid thing to say.’ Instead, offer another way to look at it without being critical.
Your relationship depends on you and your partner staying connected. Carving out time to talk everyday is an important ingredient in building a bond between you and keeping it strong.
Even if your relationship is on a rocky road at the moment, smoother sailing can be just ahead. Strengthening your communication skills and making time to connect every day will go a long way to improving your marriage.
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