How many times have you felt like your spouse just wasn’t listening to you? How many times have you heard a friend make that same complaint? A lack of listening is a huge problem in any long term relationship. And it’s something that I’ve struggled with myself. So here are four methods I use to make sure I’m heard by my husband.
Be Specific: Choose an opening statement that matches your needs.
When you ask for attention, be clear about what you’re asking for. Everyone hears the phrase “We need to talk” as a red flag, so don’t use it. When I’m trying to figure out how to run errands and fulfill conflicting responsibilities, I start the conversation out with: “I need help figuring out some logistics.” When I want something done around the house, I say, “I can’t do something,” or “I’m going to need your help sometime this weekend.” Being specific in our language avoids potential misunderstandings and fear. And yes, it’s more work. But healthy communication is a little bit of work.
Figure out what you want, and use a phrase that lines up with that need.
Create Time to Talk
After my daughter was born, I arranged a babysitting swap with another family. I watch her kids for her date night one week, and then she comes over and watches my daughter for my date night the next week. It saves a ton of money on babysitting and keeps us “accountable” for continuing to go out together.
Another way we keep the flow of conversation going in our marriage is by eating dinner together at least 5 times a week. We don’t have our phones at the table, and while the meal may not be a long leisurely one, and the food might be pizza, at least we’re together and talking.
By creating regular times for talk, you build a marriage in which communication on all kinds of issues happens naturally and organically. This can reduce the pressure you might feel when an urgent situation comes up.
I can already hear you saying: “But my spouse is ALWAYS doing XYZ. I have to interrupt!” Always watching TV. Always playing a video game. Always surfing the Internet. Always reading a book.
First, lay the ground work by asking your spouse to check in with you before s/he starts a solo activity. This isn’t about asking permission; it’s communication. Just as you wouldn’t drive away without informing your spouse, you wouldn’t withdraw into an activity without informing your spouse. Be sure that you also check in before you disappear into an activity!
Second, make a list. If you think of something as soon as s/he has booted up the computer/turned on the TV, don’t immediately interrupt. Just write it down. That way you don’t have a series of interruptions: you’ll write down everything as it occurs to you. Then, when your spouse is done, you can say, “Hey, I have a couple of things I thought of while you were playing video games and I wrote them down.” Encourage your spouse to do the same for you.
Be assertive, not passive aggressive.
There’s something about marriage that just makes the weed of passive aggressiveness thrive, isn’t there? For example, maybe your spouse agreed to wash the dishes. The next day, the dishes aren’t washed. Don’t waste time nagging. Instead, say exactly what you think. “I’m upset because the dishes aren’t washed.” That’s a world of difference from, “Can you please wash the dishes?” Or you can ask a question. “Hey, we agreed that you would wash the dishes yesterday. Why didn’t you?” There is no one formula to handle this situation, because every marriage is different. This is why assertive communication is so essential.
What is assertive communication? It’s communication that is honest, direct, and avoids blame, accusation, or complaining. And tune in next week for a blog post all about assertive communication!
Just be nice!
It’s very tempting to say “I told you so.” It’s also very tempting to nag. Let’s just focus on treating our spouses with common courtesy. The niceties of please and thank you don’t equal submission or formality. They grease communication and make things easier. This doesn’t mean being fake, or suppressing your irritation. Expressing your feelings honestly is part of a healthy relationship. But another part of a healthy relationship is openly expressing our positive feelings. Pay your partner a compliment. Show appreciation for his or her work. If you have a date night, occasionally dress up fancy and go somewhere special, just because.
This may seem trivial, but it’s really important. Forcing ourselves to be polite and to find ways to acknowledge and compliment our partner helps us to focus on the positive aspects of our relationship. And keeping an eye on the positive is a great way to move forward!