As a newlywed myself, I can relate on these difficult times that occur during the first few months and even the first few years of marriage. There are certain principles you can follow to have effective communication, listening skills that you can learn, have an understanding of non-verbal communication, and realize how self-concept, and self-disclosure, can all play a vital role in your communication within your marriage.
While communication has occurred since the dawn of time, becoming an effective communicator really does take some skill and understanding of how interpersonal communication works. Understanding these concepts and skills, will help tremendously in those not so blissful points of marriage. “To become a more effective communicator, scholars would most likely agree that five specific aspects of interpersonal communication are crucial areas of focus” (Sole, 2011). These 5 skills are listening skills, people skills, emotional intelligence, appropriate skill selection, and communicating ethically.
I am sure looking at this list you can pick out which of these skills you think you possess over another, but the key to interpersonal communication is honing in all of these skills and using them together and at the appropriate times. Now let us break each of these skills down and concentrate on the key concepts of each skill. Listening, this is more than just sound waves bouncing through our ear canal, to be in affective listener “requires focus and attention” (Sole, 2011). A lot of people hear without actually listening.
I know that there have been many times that my husband and I were having a discussion and I could hear what he was saying, meaning I knew he was talking and I could hear the words that were coming out of his mouth, but I was not listening to what he was actually saying. Once I stopped and actually listened to what he had to say, we were able to resolve the conflict we were having. People skills, also plays a role in communication, however people skills is a collaborative use of many different skills like problem solving and appropriate self-disclosure.
Emotional intelligence is probably the easiest to understand but the hardest to apply in interpersonal communication, for me at least. To be emotionally intelligent is to understand how and when to express certain emotions in given situations. For me, I am very passionate about most things in my life, and when I have an idea or thought, or even problem, I want to get it out in the open as fast as possible. When someone does not agree with me, is upset with me, or even does agree with me, you can see my emotions in my face, hear them in my voice, and can tell by my overall attitude.
While in my working relationships this sometimes has posed a problem, I believe in a marriage it is very important to share your emotions with each other, and keeping in mind of the emotions of one another. In a marriage I believe to be emotionally intelligent means to have the ability to express how you feel about something to your spouse, as well as being able to relate to the emotions of your spouse. Appropriate skill selection means that you can recognize a problem in communication and then affectively solving the problem.
Finally, communicating ethically, varies in meaning from person to person, as one person’s set of ethics may not be the same as another person’s, however in general to communicate ethically means to keep your own ethics, morals, values, and beliefs in mind while communicating. Speak with a purpose, and let your ethics guide you in not only what you convey when you speak but how you convey it as well. In a relationship it is easy to point out what the other person is doing wrong and how he or she fails to communicate.
It is important to take a look inward and realize how you can grow and realize what you can work on too, in order to increase effective communication in your relationship. This may be a hard pill to swallow, but you are not perfect, and realizing that, accepting it, and admitting to imperfection will strongly help any relationship. I think that everyone could agree that listening is equally important, if not more important, as talking. Realizing when we are hearing conversation rather than listening to a conversation will help make the messenger feel like you the receiver not only understands what they are saying, but cares about what is being said. I know as a woman, when I feel like my husband is tuning me out, it hurts and I take it much more personal, than if he were listening to me and then not saying anything. “Listening involves hearing, but it is much more than just the physiological act of your ears perceiving a sound and transmitting the auditory sensation to your brain.
Listening is a complex psychological process that can be defined as the process of physically hearing, interpreting that sound, and understanding the significance of it” (Sole, 2011). There are many aspects of being a good listener which we all start to learn in the early years of education, but as adults we tend to tune out, those that boar us or that we feel is unimportant. The first of the many characteristics of being a good listener is a motivation or willingness to listen. You have to make a conscious decision that you are going to listen to the speaker, with an open mind and an eagerness to hear what he has to say.
I know this sounds completely cliche but you need to make a “safe” environment for your spouse so they not only want to talk to you but they feel that they can talk to you and be heard. This was a big concept that both my husband and I had to learn in the first few months of our marriage, and quite frankly, it is something that we are still working on. My husband is a quiet person, and he does not let a lot of things get under his skin. When something does start to bother him he tends to hold it in, and then all at once, it is like a bomb went off and he explodes.
For me, it made it hard to talk to him about anything, because he did not want to talk about it or did not have much of an opinion on the subject. When I would ask if something was bugging him, he would say nothing until that bomb went off. Because of this ticking time bomb that I felt would go off at any moment it made it very hard for me to come to my husband when I had something I wanted to talk about. So while he was not making a safe environment for me to come and talk to him, I in turn, was not making a safe environment for him either. He felt like when we did talk, I was not actually listening to him, and only wanted things my way.
I was not allowing him to feel like he could come and talk to me, so he did not do so. Once we got this out on the table, it made our communication much more effective. Crossing your arms, rolling your eyes, tapping your foot, these are all ways that we can communicate with other people without words even coming out of our mouths. We send off a vibe through our body language that can let a person know how we are feeling without saying anything, or a person can misunderstand a vibe that you may not be giving off, but because you are unaware of your body language you do not realize it. Research shows that 55% of communication is conveyed by the body language we use, that is use of eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions. 38% is conveyed through voice, its quality, use of tone, and inflections. Only 7% is conveyed in the words we use” (Makodia, 2009, p. 6). When the first few issues arose in my marriage, we would try and have a conversation to work these issues out. My husband is not one to convey his feelings very well verbally. To be honest, it is much easier to talk about things with him via email or even text message.
When we would talk with each other he was the king of just blankly staring at me with his arms crossed, while I was speaking. This infuriated me. It made it impossible to talk to him and I would end the conversation and nothing would get solved. As you can see, sometimes it is not even what you say, not how you say it, but the way you use your hands, your face, your entire body to convey a message. A simple smile can take a conversation from stagnant and cold, to warm and understanding.
When talking out a disagreement, try smiling and talking about it, that alone can turn the entire vibe of the relationship and you may get further than using cold gestures, like crossed hands or a mean scowl. Going back to what I stated before about creating a “safe” environment for your spouse is key to having effective communication. When you have a harsh body language, you can make yourself come across unapproachable where as if you keep your body language carefree, it can make it easier for your significant other to bring up a situation.
In understanding communication, and how your spouse communicates with you, you must understand yourself and why you are the way you are. For example, growing up I was always getting in trouble for my siblings mistakes. As the oldest child I picked up the heat for almost everything. Now as an adult, I can come off very offensive if someone accuses me of something I felt that I did not do. When I could understand there was a reason for me getting on the defense it helped my husband understand how to approach topics that I might react in a negative way about. Self-concept is comprised of relatively permanent self-assessments, such as personality attributes, knowledge of one’s skills and abilities, one’s occupation and hobbies, and awareness of one’s physical attributes. ” (Sinha, 2009, p. 2) Being aware of one’s self not only will help in learning and grasping the concepts of interpersonal communication, it will also help you understand why it is that you communicate the way you do and allow you to let your spouse know why you are the way you are.
As I stated before, once the title of your relationship changes from engaged to married, it seems that things may change drastically. Living together creates a whole different slew of problems. Having children creates another chapter of problems. Life happens, and it is only natural that you and your spouse are going to disagree on these subjects, but knowing how to overcome disagreements, and how to convey your point in an effective way, makes all the difference. As humans we grow, change, evolve every day.
Our interests change, our hobbies vary, and if you are anything like me, you have a new favorite color every season. When a couple first starts dating the best ways they start to understand and get to know each other is by self-disclosure. Self-disclosure is asking and answering questions like “ What is your favorite movie? ”, “Where do you see yourself in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years? ”. Questions like this help one another learn, understand, and is a big part of communication in a relationship no matter how new or how old. Quality communication is defined somewhat differently from study to study, but research consistently has shown a link between happy marriages and “self-disclosure,” or sharing your private feelings, fears, doubts and perceptions with your partner” (Schoenberg, 2011). I have a running list of questions that I keep in the notes section of my phone. Every so often I go through the list and ask my husband a few questions. This is either face to face, via text or email, or sometimes I ask in a letter that I write to him which I will slip into his lunch. It is not once a week or even once a month.
Just when I think about it, or once a year, we talk about our goals that we would like to accomplish for the year and how we can reach these goals. This year or goals are to put at least $5000 into savings, and pay off all of our credit card debt. Keeping in mind that we are ever-changing as humans, setting up a time where we ask our spouse these self-disclosure, types of questions, can greatly impact the quality of communication in your relationship as a whole. Focusing on quality rather than quantity of communication can aid in each other’s understanding of one another and how to effectively communicate.
My husband is a Recruit Division Commander, which in not so many words means he is a Navy boot camp drill sergeant. This means that he is working from anywhere from 4am to 10pm, 7 days a week, for at least 13 weeks at a time. I have a full time job working 8am until 5pm and then come home to take care of our 1 year old. By the time 1030 rolls around and he walks through the front door we are both tired and ready for bed, but we make it a point to take 15 minutes, and unload about our days. These 15 minutes gives us enough time to connect with each other and get the important stuff out in the open.
Now 15 minutes a day does not seem like a lot of time but it is the quality of our conversation that keeps us strong. This is what I mean about quality over quantity. The elements that create effective communication, listening, non-verbal communication, self-concept, and self-disclosure are all part of becoming an effective communicator in any interpersonal relationship, but especially with your spouse. Understanding these concepts will help you not only know yourself and how to improve your own communication skills but also understand your spouse and how they communicate.
It will not always be a cake walk, but when applying the skills I have outlined, it can get better. Communication is key, when life starts getting in the way, just 15 minutes of quality communication every day can go a long way. References: Makodia, V. V. (2009). Role of Body Language in Communication. Jaipur, IND: Paradise Publishers. Sinha, D. S. (2009). Personal Growth and Training and Development. Lucknow, IND: Word-press. Sole, K. (2011). Making connections: Understanding interpersonal communication. San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.