Jennifer Johnston-Jones, Ph.D.
Communicate better with your spouse
How can we communicate better with each other? The most important relationship you’ll have in your adult life is the one with your spouse. You need to learn how to communicate all over again. Most likely the way you’ve been communicating is fine for less intimate relationships, and it works with your family because you’ve most likely already achieved some strong intimacy with them. However, in order to increase your intimacy with a spouse, most people will need to completely change the way they communicate. If you want to communicate better with your spouse, I’m a big fan of Marcia Rosenberg and non-violent communication. To put it simply it’s about having empathy toward your partner and owning your feelings and not putting blame on others. It sounds like common sense, but very few are actually able to do it.
Let me give you an example. When one person (example the wife) is really wanting more time with her husband, but the husband is feeling exhausted and burned out. Because her spouse is exhausted, this may cause her to want even more time, and to feel rejected.
What is actually going on in the wife’s head is brain activity. Her frontal lobes are saying, “I’m pissed off at him because he’s never around.” Well, if he heard it unfiltered just like that he would become defensive immediately. He would think she is wanting me to be around. I don’t want to or I can’t be around, and the door closes.
However, if she takes that same emotion, “I’m pissed off at him…” and recognizes it as anger, she can dig further into this anger. What are the other emotions that are connected to this anger? Are they loneliness? Are they exhaustion? Are they disappointment?
So start with finding the underlying feelings that are underneath the big feelings. They’re softer, they’re easier to hear. And then own them. I’m pissed off you’re not around. That’s option A. Option B would be, I’m really feeling hurt because I was hoping you would want to spend more time with me and I don’t see you very often. It’s much harder to do. It sounds good intellectually, but bridging the gap between strong, passionate emotions and making them come out in a way where the other person is not going to become defensive is a challenge. It’s settling yourself and being responsible for every one of your feelings. No one can make you feel anything you do not already feel. So you need to truly own your feelings and not place the blame inadvertently on your partner.
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