“It’s not what you are thinking… I actually meant something else…”: dealing with inter-spousal problems, from “Communication” to “Effective Communication” in Marriage

Given the centrality of effective communication (beyond mere “communication”) in making marriage work, Marriage Counselors and Family Practitioners emphasize the need for “effectiveness” as a major quality of communication in marriage. Effective communication is a skill that is not necessarily inherited. Like an art, it can be acquired by every individual as an important tool in social interaction. It is, however, very key to successful marital and family outcomes. Couples must, therefore, imbibe effective communication as a culture through which the most prevalent cause of marital conflict can be contained and the chances of marital breakdown, drastically reduced.

Communication problems, whose manifold manifestations include but not limited to inability to express feelings, ideas and expectations; inability to listen; and using contemptuous words, can be surmounted if couples strive for effective communication. Effective communication is essential in marriage for a number of reasons. Apart from the tendencies of resentment, anger and unforgiveness it helps to obliterate, effective communication helps to seal the emotional gulf occasioned by the occurrence of friction. Once there is a dispute between couples, an emotional barrier is constructed which has to be taken away if they must relate well with each other again. However, effective communication may not be a piece of cake, it has to be consciously learnt and cultivated.

Perhaps, knowing what effective communication is not is a good way of knowing what it is and how to achieve it. John Sanford (1996) aptly contends that effective communication in a spousal relationship does not take place when the wife or husband resorts to lecturing or making pronouncements. These forms of communication, though have their place in life, shuts out the spouse from bringing forward their opinions and feelings, making them feel their thoughts are unimportant.  Also, as pointed out by Gary Chapman (2010), effective communication is not necessarily synonymous with agreement. Some couples erroneously believe that communicating is making their spouses view things from their perspectives, or insisting and coercing their spouse to agree. In fact, effective communication makes it possible for partners who disagree to relate well without undermining their relationship.  

Couples ought to be able to communicate their feelings, expectations, and anger instead of sweeping issues under the carpet and expecting that things will get better with the passage of time.  For effective communication to take place and be sustained, it has to begin and progress in the right way. A harsh and tart expression begets nothing than an equally contemptuous feedback, a defensive reaction or a complete blockage of communication. In other words, if spouses must communicate and communicate effectively, it is not enough to be right. The human reality of the other person must be put into consideration. Simply put, tactfulness is a key factor to ensuring effective communication.

Marriage counselors have vastly discussed the importance of “empathic”, “creative” listening in ensuring effectiveness in communication amongst spouses. Empathic listening entails honestly and actively seeking to understand an issue from the other person’s perspective; it involves investing our concentration on the other person and what he/she is saying and feeling. Empathic listening does not come naturally, it has to be developed. The significance of creative listening is that when spouses empathetically listen to their partners, they are as well likely to get the same gesture when they bear out their minds.

The following tips can improve effective communication in marriage and family life:

  1. Couples should deliberately create time exclusively for “talking together”. During this time, technology should be suspended, and spouses’ attention should be all about each other. This enhances mutual bond and fosters love.
  2. Listen more: Listening is a major skill in effective communications. It portrays respect for the other person and therefore builds mutual confidence and allows for an unhindered expression of one’s feelings or thoughts. Couples should listen, without being defensive
  3. Talk with clarity. Couples should avoid ambiguity when talking to each other. Clarity of expression makes understanding easy and reduces misunderstanding or marital conflicts.
  4. Grievances should be communicated in a positive way, with love and without attacking the sensibility of the other person.
  5. Affirmative feelings should be expressed verbally and in action. When expressed, compliments should be graciously received.
  6. Couples should be empathetic and take each other’s feeling seriously. They must be sensitive to their partner, identifying with their experience and put them in their own stead when issues arise. This ultimately builds rapports, strengthens the relationship and bond between couples.

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