Communication in a Marriage
David Katzenstein, LCSW
Marriage can be an amazing thing, if we make it so. The “perfect couple” that is a product of being a perfect match doesn’t exist at all. Ask any successful couple who has been married for decades what the recipe for success is and, likely, the answer will have less to do with being perfect for each other and more to do with working hard at building their relationship.
As men, we tend to romanticize certain aspects of marriage and are convinced that there is an elusive magical formula to figure out. In reality, it’s about remembering to show appreciation for the lunch your wife just prepared or actively listening when she is discussing which babysitter she should hire when you couldn’t care less. While it is true that some couples are more compatible than others (at least those eHarmony.com commercials claim so), there isn’t a couple on Earth that has an exclusively cheerful marriage without issues to work through. If you would find a couple that has never had any issues or arguments and claim that neither of them has ever become upset or annoyed or frustrated at the other, I will venture to say that their relationship is fundamentally flawed. When there are no differences and no arguments, there essentially is no relationship.
The problem is that too often differences and arguments veer off from being differences and arguments and instead turn into fights and resentment-filled attitudes toward one another. How can this be prevented? Here are a few suggestions.
One, we need to be more selective when giving constructive criticism to our wives, request that they do something differently or explain to them why we feel they did something wrong. We all know it is difficult to take, so let’s be careful about how much of it we give. If there was an incident that happened that may have upset you, first think for a minute if you are letting her know because you want to prevent it in the future, or is it only due to the fact that she recently criticized something you may have done wrong and you want to even out the score. The problem with the latter is: when you start keeping score in marriage, the game never ends and no one ever wins.
Two, if something is really bothering you, don’t hold it in. Wait for a period of time (at least an hour or so) or at least until some of your frustrations subside- this way there is a better chance that the impending conversation will be constructive. Conversely, do not hold it in too long; more than a day or two is asking for trouble. By that time, the resentment will have only escalated in your mind. Had you addressed it earlier, you might have been more inclined to express yourself in a more composed manner.
Three, let your spouse know beforehand that you want to discuss a certain matter with her, don’t start discussing what you want to say without warning. It will probably catch her off-guard and unprepared, which can subsequently cause her to be more defensive and less receptive.
Finally, and possibly most important, always start off with something positive (which can be totally unrelated to what you are about to say) and package what you want to impart well. The single most vital factor on whether your message will be well-received is the way it is delivered. Which would you think sounds more likely to be received well and actually listened to and accepted?
You should know that I’m really upset about the way you cook when my parents come over. When your parents come you serve steak and when mine are here we have macaroni and cheese! Do you dislike my parents or something?!
I want to let you know how much I appreciate the fact that you supported me with my decision to start my own business, I really could not have accomplished all of that without you…I just had something that was on my mind and I hope you will understand where I’m coming from. I would really appreciate if we could put in a little more effort when we invite my parents over…
The answer seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? The difficulty is being able to compliment someone who we might be upset at. But if we can ignore some of our pride, it will be well worth it in the end.