If you’ve been married for any length of time, chances are you’ve hit a bump or two and experienced what you might consider to be marriage problems. I would also put money on the fact that you’ve probably had an issue or two specifically related to communication in marriage.
Guess what: You’re not alone. Communication in marriage can be hard.
This doesn’t mean that your relationship is doomed, it simply means you’re human. Communication is one of the most fundamental and critical components to any relationship and it’s so easy to get it wrong. Miscommunication in marriage is quite common and is something that can be improved on.
Communication seems like such a simple concept and is one we often take for granted because many of us communicate constantly. We assume we’re doing it well because it’s a normal part of our day-to-day (think email, texting, phone calls, face-to-face interactions). It’s not very often that most of us check in to consider how we’re communicating until it becomes an obvious issue.
Without realizing it, we may not be communicating as effectively as we could, especially in the relationships that are most important to us. Marriage problems can often stem from breakdowns in communication. Something so simple can easily become complex.
Communication is a two-way street
Communication is not only sending a message, but having the other person receive that message as you intended. This is where things get tricky. Consider this example:
You told your husband that dinner needed to be ready at 7. You thought this communicated that he needed to have dinner ready at 7. He heard that he needed to be ready to eat at 7 and is expecting that you cooked.
What happened? Miscommunication. Anything like this ever happen to you? Probably.
And probably what happened next is that you’re both upset with each other because you think you’re right and the other person is wrong. In reality, there were missed opportunities for effective communication on both sides of the conversation. And, since communication isn’t always face-to-face and may not be verbal (for example we often text), there is ample opportunity for miscommunication.
Remember: communication goes both ways and for communication in marriage (or in any relationship) to happen smoothly, both parties are responsible. So how can you solve it?
3 Tips for Improving Communication in Marriage
If you’re sending the message, check for understanding with follow-up questions. After you share information, saying “got it?” isn’t enough. The person thinks they heard what you meant, but did they really get it? You won’t know unless you ask them.
In our dinner example, you could have asked something like “Do you have any thoughts on what you want to cook?” or “Are you able to cook the whole dinner, or do you need some help from me?” By adding follow-up questions, you can get a sense of if they heard the message that you intended to send. In this case, the listener would understand that you mean that he was responsible for dinner and if that didn’t work for him, then it could be addressed before dinner didn’t get made.
If you’re on the receiving end of the message, confirm understanding by repeating back what you heard, but use different words. Remember that when you hear information, you are interpreting it through your own personal lens and creating context and meaning. This may end up creating an interpretation that the sender did not intend. So, confirm that you heard it correctly.
Going back to the dinner example, if you had been on the receiving end, you might say something like “Okay, great, so you’re cooking dinner and are going to have it ready by 7?” You’re working to clarify what was heard and by repeating back what you understood, the sender of the message can determine if you “got” the message or not. If there is a communication breakdown, hopefully it can be addressed.
When you miss the opportunity to clarify miscommunication up front, don’t point fingers at each other when the situation comes to a head. When you both show up to dinner at 7 and nothing was made, chances are an argument is going to erupt about who was supposed to cook. And you’re likely going to point fingers about who said what, who was wrong, and who miscommunicated.
Try your best not to go back and forth about who did what. Own up to your part of the situation. The sender of the message can say something like “I thought when I said that dinner needed to be ready by 7, you knew I meant you were cooking. But I see now that I wasn’t clear.” The receiver can try “I assumed you meant you were cooking and I needed to be ready at 7. I should have clarified.”
When you both own up to your own part of the miscommunication, you not only see where you can make changes moving forward, but you’re not longer fighting with each other. You’re looking at your own behavior. Yes, this is hard, but it helps avoid a larger blowup from miscommunication.
Don’t worry- when it comes to miscommunication, we’ve all been there and probably will be again. Communication in marriage is hard, and miscommunication is an easy trap to fall into. However, we can be avoid miscommunication more often than not when we remember that communication is a two-way street, work to be clear, and take responsibility for our role. The sender of the message improves the likelihood of effective communication when the message is clear and direct, but then improves it further by checking for understanding. The receiver or listener does her part with improving communication when she confirms what she heard. By doing your part on either side of the conversation, you limit the chance of miscommunication happening.
What helps you limit miscommunication in your relationships?
You’re so right…especially about not pointing fingers! I’m especially bad at that. We’ve been married for 15 years, and we are definitely better at communication now than we were in the beginning. Still, we have a lot of room for improvement. Great article!
These are three great tips for better communication. Often, when we have a little miscommunication between my husband and myself I will say, “Well, it was clear in my mind, but I guess you can’t read my mind.” We then laugh and start over. It has helped us in the past 28 years of married to also smile, forgive quickly and have a sense of humor. Thank you, Sara, for a great post!
Thank you, Michelle! I appreciate the positive feedback. You make a great point that we really need to take responsibility when miscommunication happens; we’re often very quick to point the finger at someone else!