Relationships

De-Stressing Your Marriage

Communication is key and it takes skills you may not have practiced
BY Tenesha L. Curtis TIMEApril 12, 2022 PRINT

Each day, approximately 2,000 marriages in the United States end in divorce. The top reasons for marital splits include constant fighting and infidelity. But these problems don’t appear out of nowhere. They often start with a breakdown in communication. Fights, affairs, and eventual divorce are frequently the results of this breakdown. Fortunately, communication problems can be prevented. Even marriages that seem doomed now can be revitalized by using a few simple concepts and skills.

Communication Over Conflict

You’ve probably heard that healthy communication is the key to a lasting marriage. Most married couples would probably agree with that idea. Unfortunately, not everyone’s notion of healthy communication is the same. We all come from different life experiences. That means it can be difficult to get on the same page about any given aspect of the relationship. And it’s easy to fall into the trap of leaning on unhealthy communication skills we may have learned. A common example might be passive-aggressive behavior. We may have picked up this problematic skill growing up in an unhealthy household.

Healthy communication is direct, respectful, and clear. It happens when both people in a marriage are striving to resolve whatever issue is affecting themselves and their spouse. They aren’t concerned with being “right,” or making their spouse look foolish. Communicating in a healthy way doesn’t mean total agreement on everything: what color to paint the house, how many children to have, etc. It just means that you and your spouse are clear on where you stand on a particular topic. Then you can work together on how to move forward.

Listen actively. Listen to your spouse to understand—not to defend, respond, or judge.

Let the other person speak. Don’t interrupt, laugh, or do anything else that might distract you or your partner.

Embrace silence. When your spouse is finished speaking, don’t race to respond. Sit back and let a few seconds pass. Use this time to consider what’s been said. Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see the situation from that perspective.

Respond with compassion. Let your response show that you have tried to understand and relate to your spouse’s position or situation. An example might be: “I didn’t realize you felt that way, but now I think I’m starting to get it.” This doesn’t mean you agree with the other person’s position, just that you respect that point of view. You may even feel sad that the other person has been hurt or is feeling unpleasant emotions, so don’t be afraid to say that: “I hate that you’re going through something so painful.”

Echo your spouse. Echoing is a skill that entails reiterating to your spouse, in your own words, what you heard that person say. If your interpretation is off, this gives your spouse a chance to provide clarity to help both of you avoid problematic misunderstandings. Actively listen to what your partner is saying, as outlined above.

Tell your spouse what you understood from what you heard. You could have gleaned that the other person is feeling smothered, doesn’t want to have any more children, or needs to find a lower-stress job. Express what you heard in your own words as a statement or a question. Here are some examples: “Are you saying you want a little time apart?” “So, you don’t want more kids. Is that right?” “It sounds like you want to change jobs soon.”

Let the other person respond. Your spouse needs a chance to tell you if you’re hearing correctly or not, so let that happen.

Forgive. Forgiveness is a powerful thing. Everyone makes mistakes and has shortcomings. Without forgiveness, resentment about past pain starts to tear a marriage apart from the inside out. That strain on the relationship is what leads to divorce, or to behaviors that precipitate divorce, such as infidelity or abuse. When your spouse makes a mistake, take proactive steps to help both of you get past it.

Recognize that you’re both human. Everyone makes mistakes. That doesn’t make your spouse a bad person, just a mortal one.

Express your pain and needs. Let your spouse know how you were affected by what was said or done. Explain what you need from the relationship in the future. For example: “I’m angry and surprised. The money in the joint account was for our household bills. I need you to only spend that money for those purposes.”

Forgive. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting something happened. To forgive each other, you only need to commit to not holding that mistake against your spouse for the remainder of your marriage.  When someone is allowed to make mistakes, and be forgiven, the closeness and intimacy in the relationship will increase.

At their core, the problems that lead to divorce are communication issues. Better communication leads to better, longer-lasting marriages. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” relationship. Every marriage takes effort, but practicing these communication skills can make your marriage a less stressful, more enjoyable union.

This article was first published in Radiant Life magazine.

Tenesha L. Curtis is formally trained as a psychotherapist specializing in addictions counseling. She was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky before moving to her current home just outside Atlanta, Georgia. She is the publishing manager at Volo Press Books. Connect with her online at TeneshaLCurtis.com.
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