Women are good at them. We use lots of them.
Men might prefer to accomplish most things with a minimum of words. You won’t catch a man yacking on the phone to his buddy for an hour. Economy of words suit most men.
But honest communication is important. And couples need to do it, regularly.
How do you get around these differences? How can a very loquacious lady express her thoughts to a man who might lose attention in 5 minutes flat?
[First, I suggest you try my Valentine 14-day challenge to smooth out the playing field for useful communication]
- The first rule of communication is that you need to be prepared to be an active listener. Communication is two ways. You can’t usurp the conversation. And DO NOT LECTURE. If you can’t go there, YOU are not ready to communicate.
- Tell your man that you’d like to set aside some time to just talk about ideas to make your marriage even better and happier. Yeah, first time out, he’s not going to like the sound of this. He may try to avoid it. He suspects you are going to complain to him, or ask him to do something he doesn’t want to do. Please prove him wrong on this suspicion.
- Ask him what he considers reasonable amount of time for a conversation? Thirty minutes seem what most men can tolerate. If he knows there’s a reasonable time limit, he might be a better sport about it. Set a timer. If it goes off in the middle of something heavy, ask if he’s agreeable to go 5 more minutes; or pick it up at a later time you agree upon.
- Always pick a time when you don’t have any other demands or outside distractions. Phones off. Kids asleep, away, or with the babysitter. And not at bedtime, when you’re tired, if it can be helped. If you pray together, do that. If not, just say a quiet prayer to yourself for a good communication. Keep your focus on each other, make eye contact, nod, interact.
- Ground rules: no anger, no fighting, no accusations or insults. RESPECT. If it starts to get negative (i.e., you hit a road block or an emotional topic), take a break.
- You have a list of 10 things you want to talk about. You get 2-3, tops, at a time. Don’t overwhelm him! Sometimes I actually have written out my list of topics, and I ask him which two we should talk about (thus handing him some control). Resist the temptation to get it all off your chest in one sitting, this will be counterproductive.
- Always start out your communication by telling him everything you appreciate and love about him. Things you are thankful for. Great memories you have. Set things up positively. Maybe this is hard, and you will need to dig a bit. Practice your sincere face in the mirror. Let him know that you want to work hard– with him– to make your marriage happier and more exciting, and are interested to hearing his thoughts and suggestions–and be prepared to try harder!
- All requests for changes must be preceded by what we already love about our partner, expressions of what he does well. He needs to feel respected and appreciated.
- Practice turning negative statements into positive (teachers do this: instead of “no running inside” we say “use your walking feet inside.” I know, it’s not always easy or possible. Statements should start with I feel/believe” rather than “When you do this, it makes me feel bad…” Of course “When you do xyz, it makes me feel great” is an exception! Another good phraseology is: “These are things that make me feel good/happy/loved… I like when you…” Follow up with questions like, “how does all this make you feel?” and “What are some ways I can make you happier?” and be prepared to commit to a little change yourself. Be prepared to hear him tell you some things about you that you may not like to hear. If it’s mean, then let him know it’s not helpful if not constructive. Try not to make excuses or argue him out of his feelings.
- Time’s up! Thank him for spending this time with you and how much it means to you, tell him you love him, repeat any agreements you’ve reached, topics that need more discussion, and state that you’d like to schedule a regular “date” to talk (once a week is best. Resist the urge to skip these “appointments,” which is easy to do when things seem better, or when life gets hectic). And then, tell him you would like to hug him, and hold that hug, mean that hug, for at least 20 seconds.
Remember, this may start out with baby steps. It may get frustrating, but keep telling yourself this is a process, you may be rebuilding from a lot of devastation. It may take a while for him to lose suspicions that you don’t have a selfish agenda. He may not be used to your kind and caring side (or remember it? yeah, ouch!). He may be reluctant and surly at first and really make you mad. Commit yourself to dredge up all your patience and love and give this a chance. There may have been some deep hurts for both of you that had been buried and festering for a while.
Changes can happen with patience and love. There are men (and women) who can really resist change or admit there are problems. Each person wants to know “what’s in it for me.” Try to change this dynamic to “what can I do to make my partner happier?” Trust me, if anything is going to change for the better, this is important, almost a non-negotiable.