The Role of Marital Communications in Life as a Couple
“We could talk about anything under the sun.” And so goes one of the major reasons that people give for marrying or committing to someone. With the passing of years or with changes as people and relationships transition, communication between partners are among those that also change, not always for the better. Among the saddest lines I hear from couples, those I meet and those I work with in therapy, are those about feelings of distance and isolation from the one they share a bed with; of never being able to say anything right or of never hearing what they need to hear; of regret for not saying something important at a crucial moment or not listening closely enough to hear the partner’s pain, “until things were too late.” Marriage and communication should go together, but I often wonder why something that seems so basic is often overlooked in relationships.
For some couples, the problems with communication is the main issue. For others, it can be a tool to help solve other issues. Still for others, it can be the root issue that leads to bigger problems. Nevertheless, whatever the issue between two persons in a relationship, one way that they are able to manage is by opening communication lines. This seems intuitive, but sadly not all couples are able to talk things through.
When couples encounter difficulty, having conversations about the issue(s) lets them express themselves, listen more, and understand more. It allows couples to breath more openly. We clench when we are unable to share what we are thinking and feeling. We also clench when we are holding ourselves back from saying something that we feel will make things worse. Some tips to help us unclench with our partners, especially on a difficult or major issue:
- Take turns being listener and speaker.
- The main goal of the speaker is share what is going with them and what was happening to them. Criticism and blame are avoided, if possible. Use the first-person perspective and focus on their own feelings and emotions, thoughts and behaviors. Use gentle start-up. Tone matters.
- The main goal of the listener is to discover and understand what is going on with the speaker. Taking notes can be helpful. The second goal of the listener is to empathize and affirm, with even just one thing that the speaker is sharing. The third goal of the listener is to take some responsibility, if warranted by what is shared, or help solve the problem, if and only if asked by the speaker.
- Ask open-ended questions. Be interested.
- The listener’s role is crucial. Listen to understand. Listen to empathize. Listen to participate in problem-solving.
- Each one waits for their turn to speak. Try not to interrupt. Have an open mind.
- Take a break if things get too heated or if it has become difficult to think. Take deep breaths. Just remember to set a time to resume the conversation.
- Create a safe space to talk, be vulnerable, and provide support.
Affirming the other person and acknowledging some responsibility, especially for shared issues, is always a good idea. It lets the other person feel that they are not alone and that they have a partner in working through things.
On a daily basis, developing rituals of connections, whether eating breakfast together to start the day or sharing a glass of wine to unwind in the evening, helps couples attune to each other and keep communication lines open. The big talks that need to happen at certain points in the relationship benefit from the small talk, the dinner conversation, the pillow talk, and all the other exchanges between couples, covered by the phrase usapang mag-usawa. Communication may be seen as love translated into everyday practices, the more couples talk and listen, the more they grown their love.
The quality and quantity of usapang mag-asawa can be a good barometer for relationship health, as well as a valuable tool, for couples as they navigate life’s ups and downs, in sickness and in health, constantly renewing hope that till death do they part.
(Sources: Gottman Couples Therapy, Emotion-Focused Therapy, Family Systems Theory)