I feel more than slightly under-qualified after just 5.5 years of marriage to be giving tips on the topic. However, since I was asked about it and do think that since this is one of Ethan and I’s strong points, I’m presenting 3 ways you can better communicate with your spouse.
Know Each Other
Reading The Temperament God Gave Your Spouse found here on Amazon, and The Five Love Languages found here are both great places to start. These help you understand why you and your spouse tend to behave or react the way you do. This knowledge is power because it teaches you how to communicate love, needs, wants, and more effectively.
We have a primary temperament and a secondary one. Our temperament reflects how we are naturally inclined to behave – are we chatty or more quiet? Firmly decisive or uncommitted? Do we react quickly and strongly, or brood and feel things slowly?
My primary temperaments are sanguine and choleric – I multi-task, I build lists, I thrive on activity and change. I react quickly, run with ideas and move fast. Ethan is more of a melancholic-choleric. He moves slower, thinks on things deeper, and while he definitely acts and gets things done, he needs rest, quiet, and time to process what is ahead.
My natural inclination is to overwhelm Ethan with plans for the day, weekend, or the next 15 years. It stresses him because of his natural temperament. I have to work on slowing down, not rattling off too much information at a time, or pressuring him with more tasks than he can handle.
By knowing our temperaments we know how to better approach topics, explain them, or when to bring it up with our spouse.
A quick note that this is a Catholic book and that the temperaments are absolutely in line with the Faith. The enneagram and astrological signs are not the same thing, and are superstitious or New Age practices that we shouldn’t have anything to do with.
As for the love languages – how we feel loved by someone else is often how we naturally express it. If being told affirming words really makes you feel loved (like reading a love note), but your spouse really needs you to do acts of service (like taking the time to fix you a cup of coffee on a busy morning), you likely both feel frustrated with unmet needs if you only express love the way you prefer receiving it.
My primary love languages are gifts and words of affirmation, and Ethan’s are physical touch and words of affirmation. We line up some with words of affirmation – we both love cards or notes, or just the other person verbally communicating appreciation or kind words. On the other hand – I can easily feel touched out from little people pulling on me all day, and I need to consciously remember Ethan hasn’t had that all day and he still needs that when he gets home.
Starting with the temperaments and love languages will help so much with your day-to-day communication.
Cut out the Game
I feel like this is more of a female tendency, but no matter who is doing it, it needs to stop.
The game I’m referring to here is the I’m/It’s Fine Game. We all think we’re always so honest, but does this sound familiar?
We say “I’m fine,” or “It’s fine,” when it is absolutely not fine and we’re going to rack up their further inconsiderate transgressions in our heads until we get so upset we explode at them and let them know the laundry list we’ve diligently kept.
I used to really struggle with this. A boyfriend would do something I was hurt by, I’d say everything was fine when it wasn’t, and one or both of us was miserable until everything came out anyway.
I was determined when I met Ethan to not play this game. When he does something that hurts, I say so. If he asks if I have a preference and I do, I say so.
People can’t read minds, and it’s not fair to hold them to this impossible standard.
Ethan said dating me was so refreshing compared to previous girlfriends in that I didn’t play the game with him. He never had to wonder if he had upset me.
I just told him.
I will sometimes see women in Facebook groups say they wish they could do that but their spouse would be so upset or go off the rails or not care. If that’s the case, your marriage needs counseling (and there is no shame in that!). You have to be able to just say whats going on or that there is a problem. Cold shoulders, mind games, snark, and retaliation because you can’t communicate honestly don’t cut it.
While I was so resolute while dating, I still sometimes slip into the game as a wife and we always suffer for it.
Don’t play the game.
Make Time to Talk
I’m guilty at times of using my phone or the computer when Ethan gets home at night, ready for a break after a long day with the girls, but he needs me to be there to talk about our days and connect.
We also slip into the habit of wanting to veg out with a show or documentary at night in our exhaustion, but we can’t do that every evening and communicate well. We need to sit on the couch or at the table with a deck of cards and laugh, chat, and just talk together.
We need to pray that daily Rosary together and share our needs and intentions. (This makes one of the biggest differences in our marriage).
Sometimes we need to send the girls to go play in their room and have that uninterrupted time to talk about something tough we need to get through.
Finally, we need actual date time. Last year we went out 5 times in total – about 10 hours alone and out in the whole year. That was not enough for our marriage. This year we are swapping babysitting for dates with another family from church with the goal of a monthly date for them and us. We’re greatly looking forward to this!
Look at where you as a couple might not be making time to talk about big and little things, and see what can be changed around to have the time to communicate.
Communication is a muscle that needs diligent exercise to keep it strong, not a one time skill you master and never work at again. If your relationship needs it, don’t put it off, start working at it today. You and your spouse will be glad you did.