Effective communication is critical in marriage. To communicate effectively you must express yourself clearly, and you must listen deeply.
Effective Communication Requires Clear Expression
Use “I Statements.”
Avoid being critical (attacking character instead of describing behavior), and avoid showing contempt (no name calling or put downs). Do your best to use “I Statements.”
I statements look like this: “I feel [name and measure your emotions], when you [describe your partner’s behavior], because [describe your thoughts]. I want/need [make your request].”
Critical statement: You’re always late, you don’t care.
Contempt statement: I hate that you’re always late.
I statement: I feel angry when you are late because it seems like you don’t care. I need you to be on time.
Name and Measure your Emotions
Any time you say “I feel like…” or “I feel that…” You are actually describing a thought, not an emotion. Do your best to name specific emotions. Sad, Mad, Glad, Afraid, Frustrated, Hungry, Tired, Horny.
Also, do your best to measure your emotions. Use phrases like, somewhat, a little, very, or extremely to indicate how intense the emotion is. You can also rate the emotional intensity with numbers.
For example, I feel somewhat mad (0 to 1). I feel a little mad (2 to 3). I feel a mad (4 to 5). I feel very mad (6 to 7). I feel extremely mad (8 to 9).
Describe Your Partner’s Behavior
Unless you can read minds, do not describe your partner’s thoughts. Unless you can see their heart, do not describe their emotions or intentions. Describe only their behavior. Avoid using the words “always” or “never.”
Describe Your Thoughts
What did you think when the behavior happened? When you were describing your emotions, you may have started with “I feel like” or “I feel that.” Now it is okay to finish that sentence. Describe your thought process and reaction that led to the emotion you used earlier. This is what will help your partner to understand the relationship between their behavior and your emotions.
Make your Request
Whatever you are describing, do you want more of it? Do you want less of it? Is it a need that goes down deep in your bones? Is it a “need” that is more like a duty or an obligation? Is it a want that is selfish? Or is it a want rooted in a deep-in-your-bones need? Whatever you want or need as far as that behavior is concerned, ask for it. Your partner cannot read your mind. They do not know you want it or need it until you ask for it.
Effective Communication Requires Deep Listening
Avoid Stonewalling and Defensiveness
Pay attention to your emotional intensity. On a 0 to 9 scale, try to stay between a 3 and 6. If you are lower than a 3, you might not be trying hard enough. If you are higher than a 6, the conversation will not go well. If you get above a 6, tell your partner you need to slow down, then take 1 to 2 minutes to pause, breathe deeply, and smile (even if you have to force it). Then go back to the conversation.
As you listen to your partner share their requests, avoid withdrawing from the conversation unnecessarily or for too long, also avoid being defensive or blame shifting.
If you need to take longer than 2 minutes, try a 20-minute break. If that doesn’t work, try sleeping on it. Regardless, commit to returning to the conversation. If you don’t, you might be stonewalling.
Observe Nonverbal Communication
Pay attention to their tone of voice. Pay attention to their volume. Pay attention to the pace of their speech. Pay attention to their facial expressions. Pay attention to their body language. Pay attention to how close they sit to you (proximity). Pay attention to their eye contact. Listen to their words.
What does their tone of voice tell you about what their words mean to them? What does their volume tell you about what their words mean to them? What does their pace of speech tell you about what their words mean to them? What do their facial expressions tell you about what their words mean to them? What does their proximity tell you about what their words mean to them? What does their eye contact tell you about what their words mean to them?
Each time it is your turn to speak, do not judge, do not correct. Just say, “I think I heard you say…” and ask, “is that correct?” Fill in that blank not only with their words but with the meaning of their words that you picked up from their nonverbal communication. If their nonverbal communication is stronger than their words, point it out and ask them to tell you more. If their words are stronger than their nonverbal communication, point it out and ask them to tell you more.
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