Conflict with your spouse or partner can show up in almost any situation. You could be at Hayden’s Lakefront Grill in Tualatin. Your spouse returns from using the restroom to discover that you got them the wrong food item from the menu. Or conflict could happen after grabbing the wrong type of toilet paper while shopping at the Costco in Tigard. Or you could be sitting at home in Lake Oswego and fail to take the garbage out at the appropriate time. Whatever the case may be, poor communication between a couple can lead to a rough patch in a relationship. Thankfully, there are things you can do to strengthen communication to help with conflict. There are five tips for couples to improve communication:
Tip #1 for Couples to Improve Communication — “I” Messages:
Communication often turns into conflict for couples when the conversation turns into accusations. “Why don’t you clean up after yourself?” “You never listen to me!” “Are you ever going to take the garbage out?”
Oooo…I can feel my blood pressure rising even as I type these. “You” messages are for blaming others, even if you don’t mean to. Instead, try using “I” messages with a feeling or emotion attached to change the tenor of the conversation. “I get frustrated when I have to clean off this counter every evening. Will you help me with this?” “I feel uncared for when my requests go ignored.”
Ahhh…that sounds better. This alone may not stop a fight from occurring, but “I” messages can change the direction of the conversation.
Tip #2 for Couples to Improve Communication — Active Listening:
Couples who actively listen to each other tend to handle their conflict well. How do you actively listen? I’m glad you asked. You can actively listen by (1) Stop talking, (2) Listen to what your spouse or partner is sharing, (3) Pick up on their emotions, (4) Paraphrase or summarize what it is that your spouse or partner has shared and their emotions behind it, (5) Ask, “Did I get that right, or is there something that I missed?”, and (6) Go back to Step #1 until your spouse or partner has felt heard.
By the way, number (3) is really valuable here. And there are things you can do to help ease your partner’s or spouse’s anxiety, too.
Tip #3 for Couples to Improve Communication — Schedule Time to Talk:
Maybe you are on the cusp of getting into an argument, but the time isn’t convenient for a long conversation. Or perhaps you realize that it has gotten too heated and is not unproductive about midway through the fight. Come to an agreement on leaving the fight, but do not create an indefinite “We’ll talk about this later,” knowing full well that later will not come. Couples who fight well will agree on an appropriate and specific time to come back to the disagreement. Something like, “I really want to hear you out, but I don’t have the capacity to do this well right now. Can we have this conversation Tuesday at 5pm?”
Tip #4 for Couples to Improve Communication — Here’s a “Pointer”:
Physical contact can release “feel good” chemicals in your brain. Try interlocking or having the tips of your fingers touching when talking through a point of conflict. While it may not make the argument any less challenging, it can serve as a reminder of your partnership.
Tip #5 for Couples to Improve Communication — Communicate “Team”:
What could be better than winning an argument with your spouse or partner? Remembering that you both are on the same team. It may sound weird, but relationships can be lonely. It is important to break down walls in communication by reminding each other you are on the same team. Not only is it valuable for you to remember that you are for your spouse, but it is also powerful for your spouse to hear the words “I am for you. I am on your team.” Simply doing this goes a long way in relieving tension and help for smooth communication through difficult topics. Your spouse is not your enemy. The lack of communication is.
These tips do not guarantee that your relationship will improve dramatically. And these tips aren’t necessarily easy to follow. But your communication will improve, and that will only improve the way you and your spouse or partner manage conflict. And it will help your relationship.
Wellspace Counseling is located in Tualatin, Oregon and serves Tualatin, Lake Oswego, and the Greater Portland Metro Area. To find more information about Wellspace Counseling, visit the at www.wellspacepdx.com.