In our work with couples Marriage Care is acutely aware of the value of good communication in relationships. Whether it be in enjoying and nurturing a relationship that is in its element, or in aiding broken relationships that need rebuilding and healing, we know that good communication is essential.
The support Marriage Care offers couples is provided by a nationwide network of professionally trained and dedicated volunteers. They hold a wealth of relationship knowledge, skills and experience – gained through their own marriages and relationships as well as from their work in marriage preparation and relationship counselling. So, when we were asked to contribute an article for Marriage Week about communication, we thought who better to ask than our volunteer community!
We invited our volunteer members to send in their top tips for good communication. Responses have flooded in and here is what we have gleaned:
The ability to listen was by far the most suggested top-tip for good communication. One volunteer encouraged – “listen so well that you can say back what the other person has said. Let the other person finish speaking and respond to that, not what you were going to say anyway”. “Communication is two way – it is so important to have your say, but it is just as important to listen attentively to what the other person has to say”. It is also important in conversations to remember that just because someone is telling you their problems does not mean they are inviting you to fix them.
Being open and honest were the second most cited suggestions; kindness, and empathy came in a close third. “Say what you need, want, think, feel and encourage your partner to share their thoughts and feelings too” – “Your partner cannot read your mind”.
Choosing your ‘moment’, particularly when you are talking about a sensitive or more important topic, was another common recommendation – “I tend to ‘walk away’ when we have a disagreement and bring up the contentious subject later, once we have calmed down and are in a happier mood”. It is important not to raise an important issue when someone is stressed or anxious – pick your time and bring up concerns carefully.
Other often mentioned communication boosters were spending quality time together, being trustful and patient; also, showing interest in the partner and what they are saying and thinking. Couples need to create time and space for this, free from distractions such as other people, TV, mobile phones to allow them to relax together and talk. Sharing things in common also creates the right environment for good communication. Always be curious and be interested in what your partner does and says, asking questions more than making statements will help your partner open up and feel appreciated.
The theme of intentionality ran through many responses. “Make a plan to revisit what is important regularly. Don’t let days, weeks and months pass by without checking in with each other. You could even have pre-decided topics to discuss, for example, day to day concerns, build-up of feelings, needs of each other and practicalities. Make space for important conversations as well as regular connection”. Of course, communication doesn’t always have to be verbal – “remember how important touch is”. Another aspect of being intentional is to keep an eye on how much and how deep your communication is, to be aware of when it becomes thin or sterile – and together, to do something about it.
In times of tension and disagreement, as well as getting your timing right, one volunteer shared the importance, sometimes, of being prepared to “stand up for your own point of view without devaluing the other person’s” and another touched on the importance of not becoming defensive – a common mistake many couples make when disagreeing – owning your feelings rather than blaming them on your partner. Others emphasised the importance of accepting differences, particularly in styles of expression. Often one partner may be better at expressing themselves, whilst another may take longer to articulate their response. Lastly, “respect the fact that your partner is different from you and that you probably chose them because of this, so don’t try to change their nature”.
Good communication skills take time to develop, particularly if you have interacted a certain way for so long, so do not give up if it’s difficult at first. Keep putting these suggestions into practice, forming positive habits of communication that will help you build and sustain a healthy, secure and lasting marriage.