The art of marital communication

How to talk to your spouse—what to say and what not to say—is not an easy subject to tackle. Avinash De Sousa and Fahad Kathawala offer tips on the art of marital communication;

The art of talking with your spouse is perhaps the most valuable of skills to possess. It is also the most difficult to acquire. This is evident from the astronomically high rates of divorces across the world due to communication breakdown between the couple. In survey after survey, communication failure has emerged as the top reason for a split. Using their experience, Avinash De Sousa and Fahad Kathawala offer tips on the art of marital communication;

How to talk to your spouse—what to say and what not to say—is not an easy question to answer. But before we get to that, it’s important to build a solid bridge of understanding between the two partners.

Here’s our five-fold method to do so:

Spend time with your partner

If you wish to gain a good sense of your spouse’s interpretation of words, facial expressions and other non-verbal communication, you must spend sufficient quality time with each other. Try to spend an hour or two alone every week—just the two of you—doing nothing but talking. Share your thoughts, feelings and dreams, and encourage the other to do the same. Listen more.

What’s yours is not necessarily your spouse’s

At the outset, you must realise that however compatible you may be, you are two different individuals, and therefore will likely communicate differently. Give your partner the benefit of doubt, when their communication techniques differ from yours. For instance, some people prefer the use of metaphors; role-playing or even the age-old technique of leaving notes around the house to successfully share their concerns. As a spouse, it remains your duty to work equally hard to translate this information without misinterpreting it.

Don’t assume

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships,” said American actor Henry Winkler. Perhaps no one has put the danger of assumptions better. Assumptions corrode every relationship that they affect. Instead of jumping to conclusions, talk to your partner with an open mind to see things from their point of view—nine times out of 10, you will realise that your interpretation was erroneous.

Develop the optimistic side of your spouse

Words such as ‘cannot’ or ‘will not’ create a negative bubble around conversations. Instead of rejecting their ideas outright, use positive expressions such as: “It is definitely worth a serious thought, but may be it’s not the right time” or “This seems to be a little hard for me to comprehend but may be I’ll get it if you help me understand it from your perspective.” These kind of responses re-assure your spouse and make you their confidante.

Never trust the outside ear

Completely ignore hearsay. The only person who matters is your spouse—listen to him/her and know that gossip mongers often indulge in mischief just for entertainment. Sometimes, an outside party may deliberately try to create misunderstanding between you and your partner. If the issue is serious, gently bring it up with your partner and tell them that although you don’t believe what you have heard, it is important to clarify with them to prevent any potential misunderstanding and also to put a stop to such nuisance.

The lips don’t always move

Non-verbal communication is by far the greater component of communication. And yet, most people pay little, if any, attention to this aspect of a relationship. Actions speak louder than words, but most married couples seem to be deaf to the other’s actions. We urge you to see the little gestures of your spouse; try to comprehend what he or she intends to share. Don’t overlook the tear in her eye or his smile as he walks past. Learn to compliment your spouse without saying the words. Remember the times when you took great efforts to woo the other? No matter how many years may have passed since you took those vows, it’s always a good idea to behave like lovers. Facial expressions, gestures and hand movements are all used to speak—the hope being that they are heard.

What to say and what to avoid saying

This is the most difficult part of this article. We have tried to tackle it by `bringing in the perspectives of both the genders. Just for fun, we label them as The Complex Man and The Simple Woman.

The Complex Man

This section is dedicated to all the women trying their best to understand their husband. Read the following and you may gain entry into his mind:

• Men tend to talk in absolutes. So it’s best to try to spell things out when talking with them. Keep it simple and direct. In other words, call a spade a spade, and resist the temptation to describe it.

• Most men have trouble expressing emotions verbally. So it’s a good idea to give them the space [and time] to express themselves in whichever way they want. Remember, you are your man’s security blanket, because his tough outward stature is a projection of an inner sense of vulnerability.

• Reassuring him will enhance your marriage. A man will seldom say it but he needs a constant assurance of his importance in his wife’s life.

• Look for hints in a man’s body language. Most men find it easier to express their feelings through their body language, hence keep your eyes wide open; a kiss blown in the air might be just the romantic spark that you were looking for.

• Men often do not understand the difference between being honest and being rude and can often cross the line between the two unintentionally. Try and give them the benefit of doubt when it comes to what they say and do. Although it might be hard initially, with persistence, this tact bears rich fruits.

The Simple Woman

This section is perhaps the most important since most complications in a marriage seem to arise out of the man’s inadequacy to understand his wife. This could mean one of two things: either men are more inadequate or they don’t complain as much as their spouses too. If you’re a man, the following tips are a password to your woman’s heart.

• Women need plenty of time to express even the simplest of facts. You must bear in mind that women have a tendency to express various ideas within a simple conversation. Your work is to hear them out patiently.

• Women are far more expressive than most men are, which tends to overwhelm most men. Try and leave some space in the corner of your mind to associate with this trait and, if possible, inculcate the same trait into your own style of conversation. This will help you to understand your wife better and is also a wonderful way to express ideas.

• Many women prefer using third person examples: “Oh, did you hear the neighbours are going for a two week vacation to Paris?” It is very likely that she is giving a hint that she too wishes to go on a holiday. If your wife says “Sarita managed to get the entire neighbourhood to attend her birthday party,” it might mean that she wants to celebrate her birthday in a lavish manner. The idea is to look for subtle hints—after all it’s the little things that matter the most.

• Listen because you want to and not because you must. Most men tend to switch off within the first 10 minutes of a conversation. Unfortunately, on an average, it takes a woman 10 minutes to express her true thoughts or emotions. Therefore, in most cases men hear what is not important and leave out what truly matters. In order to share a beautiful relationship with your wife, hear the smallest details no matter how illogical it seems.

The advice we have given is a result of our observations over the years. We hope you will be able to use the same to have meaningful conversations with your spouse and build a marriage that lasts. Our last words would be to remind you that your marriage is not a battleground, but a sacred playground where you play a lifelong innings. Your work is to enjoy and celebrate your time together and ensure that your marriage is a winner.

This was first published in the May 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Avinash De Sousa
Avinash De Sousa is a psychiatrist and psychotherapist – specialising in child and adolescent psychiatry. He is also a corporate trainer and life coach. His areas of interest are child and adolescent psychiatry, neuroscience and brain based interventions. He is the author of 8 books on the subject. He is based in Mumbai and can be reached at avinashdes999@yahoo.co.uk
Fahad Kathawala
Fahad Kathawala is a BBA graduate, majoring in Management and Industrial Psychology. He is currently a research assistant with Dr Avinash DeSousa. His interests include reading, writing and the application of psychological theories to real life situations whilst food and theatre shall always remain a passion.

1 COMMENT

  1. And then, of course, I am a woman. One recent evening there was shelling everywhere, and I was sitting in a corner, wearing the only expression you could have when death might come at any second, and another reporter comes over, looks me up and down, and says: “This isn’t a place for women.” What can you say to such a guy? Idiot, this isn’t a place for anyone. If I’m scared, it’s because I’m sane. Because Aleppo is all gunpowder and testosterone, and everyone is traumatized: Henri, who speaks only of war; Ryan, tanked up on amphetamines. And yet, at every torn-apart child we see, they come only to me, a “fragile” female, and want to know how I am. And I am tempted to reply: I am as you are. And those evenings when I wear a hurt expression, actually, are the evenings I protect myself, chasing out all emotion and feeling; they are the evenings I save myself.

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