One of the biggest challenges my clients face in their
marriages is around the topic of communication. We all know how important good communication is in any relationship, yet it’s something so many of us struggle with, especially with our husbands.
Too often, my clients’ well-intentioned attempts at opening up a mature dialogue quickly descends into conflict and blame, with finger pointing on both sides, and neither party feeling heard.
When this pattern becomes the norm, our natural inclination can be to withdraw and shut down, stop asking for what we want and adopt a ‘whatever’ attitude to our spouse.
On the rare occasions we do decide to speak up, we falteringly wait to find just the ‘right’ moment when he’s not in a cranky mood or too tired/distracted with work/the kids, etc. The expression: ‘It feels like I’m walking on eggshells’ is one I hear all too often.
The result? Resentment, blame and a whole plethora of similarly negative emotions simmering beneath the surface. And the ultimate result – disconnection in the relationship. Not the ingredients for happy, healthy, connected partnerships.
Here are Five Steps to improving communication in your marriage that you can apply today:
1) Identify your thoughts and beliefs about having the conversation
What are you thinking before you even begin? For example: ‘This will be a waste of time; He’s not going to listen; It’s just going to end in an argument.’
When you think those kinds of thoughts, how do they make you feel? Defeated? Defensive? Resentful?
How do you act going into the conversation when you feel this way? Hint: Your actions are driven by your emotions – always.
Starting a conversation (or doing anything) from negative emotion is always going to create a negative result.
2) Decide how you want to feel and the outcome you want
Perhaps you want to feel calm, or compassionate, or confident beforehand?
What thoughts can you believe that will evoke these emotions for you? And what outcome do you want from the conversation – that is within your control?
For example, your desired outcome might be: I put my points across in a calm and compassionate way, I asked for what I wanted, suggested ways we could overcome obstacles to reaching agreement and openly listened to my husband’s side.
3) Let go of trying to predict or control how your husband is going to respond
It’s not your job to manage your husband’s side of the conversation – and it’s impossible. Ask yourself what you want and what you are willing to do to have the type of conversation you desire (as per the example outcome above.)
Once you are clear on this, you’re good to go. You are responsible only for your part in the conversation. Let go of taking responsibility for your husband’s thoughts and feelings and responses – that’s not your job.
4) Ask for what you want, make requests, tell him why it’s important to you – but DO NOT be attached to the outcome
Having expectations* and making requests of our husbands and other people is perfectly reasonable and part of life. Telling your husband WHY something is important to you can make all the difference to him accommodating your request.
However, the problems occur when we don’t get what we want, when he doesn’t meet our expectations or agree to our request. When this happens we attribute negative meaning to his response, along the lines of: ‘He’s so selfish, he doesn’t care, he obviously doesn’t love me enough, etc. etc.’
And then we feel upset, frustrated, disappointed and the rest. And those emotions drive how we respond to him – and the negative cycle of disconnection continues.
The truth is – your husband is his own person, with his own thoughts, beliefs, opinions, perspectives and free will. What you think is reasonable may be very different to what he believes.
Your requests are just that – requests. They are not demands or ultimatums (and if you frame them as such, he is very likely to resist because nobody likes to feel controlled or manipulated.)
And here’s the crux: It’s not your husband’s refusal to meet your expectations that is causing you emotional pain. It is your thoughts about it, it is what you are choosing to make it mean.
And it is those thoughts creating your negative emotions – and very likely driving behaviour that is causing further disconnection in your marriage. Although it may not sound like it, ultimately this is the best news. And it is the key to your freedom.
When you take responsibility for how YOU are CHOOSING to feel about your husband’s behaviour, you can change it. You can decide what you want to make his behaviour mean and how you want to feel.
You don’t need to wait for him to change his behaviour in order to feel the way you want to feel = FREEDOM.
5) Agree a time to have the conversation (Practical bonus tip!)
The reality is, we all lead busy lives juggling kids, work, home and everything else on our overflowing plates. We all feel tired at the end of a long day.
Instead of trying to find the ‘right’ time to approach your husband when he isn’t distracted or exhausted, let him know you’d like to have a conversation about X and that you want to find a time that is good for you both. Then schedule that time and make it non-negotiable.
By doing this, there is far more chance of you both being open and relaxed when you have the conversation and being able to give each other and the topic the attention it deserves.
*Communication and expectations in a marriage are just two of the many topics I support my clients with in my three month 1:1 coaching programme Empowered Choices, Empowered Woman.