Every couple experiences little instances of communication breakdown. It just happens.
Of course, the little things can gradually chip away at your connectedness in your marriage. Small drops of water from a leaky pipe over time lead to big problems.
Minor bad communication habits are like that. Not that big of a thing in the moment, but given time… you get the picture.
So with that in mind, here are four common communication habit scenarios every couple experiences. The good news is, you can fix or improve bad communication with a little intention:
Fred asks Wilma if it’d be okay to go bowling with Barney tonight. Wilma replies, “Sure, you can go if you want.” However, Wilma’s tone of voice sounds less than enthused. And her crossed arms and frown suggests she’s not as approving as her words suggest.
Wilma is sending mixed messages to Fred. Her words don’t match her non-verbal cues. She feels bad saying no, but she would really love for him to stay home and spend time with her. This leaves Fred in a no-win situation: Should he accept her verbal permission and go, or stay home because of her tone and body language?
Wilma needs to be honest with her feelings and maybe work out an alternative. Perhaps he can go out tonight and plan on quality time with Wilma the next evening.
If Fred senses the mixed message, he needs to politely ask his wife, “Dear, I appreciate you letting me go tonight, but your tone and crossed arms seem to be telling me something else. Am I reading you right?”
Pam has had a rough day at work; her boss just seems incompetent, and her co-workers lazy. She shares with her husband Jim that evening. Jim makes several suggestions on how to handle things. Pam walks away feeling misunderstood.
The issue here is Pam just wants to be heard. There are times for solutions—this isn’t one of them for Pam. It would do Jim good to gently ask Pam during the conversation, “Hon, is this one of these things where you want some help fixing this or where you just want me to listen and try to understand?” Pam would feel appreciated just being asked that.
Knowing Jim is a fix-it kinda guy, Pam could prep Jim a little and say, “I want to share what happened today, and I don’t really need anything to be fixed; I just need you to listen.”
Rachel tries to tell Ross the chores she’d like his help with this weekend. Ross is currently engaged in the game on TV. When she’s finished, Ross blankly looks up at her and says, “Huh?” Rachel walks away frustrated while Ross sits there confused.
Rachel should understand Ross’s mind is in the game. It’s sometimes difficult for people to switch from one “mindset” to another. Rachel might ask her husband, “Would it be okay, when you get to a pause in the game, to talk some about this weekend?“
Ross needs to consider how important this conversation is for his wife. If the topic were more urgent, he’d definitely need to put the game on hold and give his wife his full attention. In this case, he might pause the game and say something like, “Babe, I know this is important to you. Could we wait until halftime to talk, and I can give you my full attention?”
Zach assumes Kelly is taking the garbage out. He notices the can is not by the curb. He says to her, “Hey Kel, the garbage hasn’t been taken out yet.” Kelly, a little miffed, replies, “Good observation, Zach…”
Zach just wants to see the garbage get out on time. But his first whammy is that he “assumes.” Add this to the fact he expects Kelly to read his mind, and bad communication results.
The problem is in his approach. Zach needs to put assumptions aside and be more direct (and still respectful): “Hey Kel, were you planning to take the garbage out? I thought you said you were but wanted to be sure I heard you right.” [And if Zach were really considerate…] “If not, I can do it.” With this approach, Kelly needs to remember she and Zach are a marital team and consider where he is coming from. Without making assumptions of her own, she can politely reply with something like, “Thanks for reminding me. I’ll take care of it in just a minute.”
★ It’s the little things that count. The same can be said for improving communication in marriage. Hopefully, you can relate to at least one of these scenarios. It’s often an easy fix, but a significant one. Acknowledge these scenarios with your spouse in your own relationship. Laugh about it; say, “Yup, that’s us!” and then take the simple steps to fix the leaky pipe of bad communication. Soon the small drops will be water under the bridge.
***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***