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[thrive_text_block color=”light” headline=”Chapter Summary”]It’s time to finally get into the nitty-gritty of communication inside a marriage. In this chapter you’ll learn specific tactics and rules to help you say the right things at the right time, and you’ll learn strategies to help you handle conflict even if you’re bad at it.[/thrive_text_block]
When most men email me asking for help with communication, usually they struggle specifically with two important elements of healthy, manly communication:
The first major struggle for most men is speaking your mind.
Most men have a really hard time saying what they really mean. Or, maybe you’re a little too good at saying what’s on your mind and you end up pushing your wife away and hurting her feelings with your blunt approach to communication.
The second major problem for most men is understanding what women need from communication.
A lot of men have trouble really putting themselves in her shoes to hear what they’re saying through her ears. Usually they’re insensitive, or inattentive, or they simply don’t take the time to think about what their wife is saying.
But before we get into all that, let’s get one thing out of the way:
Good Communication Is Not Hard
I’ve said before that open communication won’t save your marriage. That’s absolutely true – there’s no way that good communication alone will get your wife back. Although some marriage counselors will preach that the only difference between a healthy marriage and an unhealthy one is the communication, that’s simply not true.
The truth is that good communication isn’t hard. There are a few principals and commonsense rules to keep in mind, but once you know them, it should be pretty easy to adjust your communication style.
3 Commonsense Communication Rules to Live By
A commonsense approach to communication has always worked in my marriage, and it almost always works in the marriages of the men I’ve given this advice to.
Basically, these rules will help you clearly put what you’re thinking into words and present it in a way that your wife will understand without being too cold or aggressive.
What’s really cool about each of these rules is that they each apply to a different part of communication. Think of it like this:
- Rule #1 is what you do before you speak.
- Rule #2 is what you do as you’re speaking
- Rule #3 is what you do after you’ve spoken.
Keep those points in mind as you continue reading each of these communication rules.
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[thrive_number_counter color=”blue” value=”1″ before=”Rule ” after=”. Think Before You Speak” label=””]
This first rule is cliché, but it’s good advice and it’s something that every husband should live by.
The problem with this cliché is that the phrase itself doesn’t fully explain how to actually put it into practice. Or perhaps it’s so cliché that people don’t really think about what the phrase is actually telling you to do.
Either way, let’s look at this tip, “Think before you speak”… What does that mean? What does that look like?
Whatever you’re going to say, think the words in your head first.
As you’re thinking of what you’re going to say, answer these questions:
- Are these words really the best thing to say?
- Do these words really convey what I mean?
- How will she take this when I say it? Is she going to understand what I mean from these words?
These questions will train you to start empathizing with your wife. They will get you in the right mindset for proper communication.
Journaling as Communication Training
In Chapter 15, one of the important habits I’m going to introduce you to is journaling. We’ll talk more about it then, but journaling – and writing in general – is one of the best ways to train yourself to think before you speak.
If you feel that putting your thoughts into words is a weak area of your communication, or if you struggle to come up with things to say in the heat of the moment, then I encourage you to get a head start in your journal. All you need is a simple spiral notebook, a pen and a little bit of discipline. [thrive_highlight highlight=’#eeee22′ text=’dark’]Spend 5 to 15 minutes a day writing in your journal (about anything at all)[/thrive_highlight], and I’m willing to bet that within a week or two you will notice yourself becoming a more fluid speaker.
Again, I don’t want to go to into too much detail here because we WILL be talking about it later, but I also want you to be able to get a head start if you so please. This is a simple daily exercise you can use to help you improve this aspect of communication.
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[thrive_number_counter color=”blue” value=”2″ before=”Rule ” after=”. Be Results-Oriented (aka. say what you really want)” label=””]
Saying what you really want is the second rule of commonsense communication, especially when you’re dealing with a conflict or a problem.
Again, how do you actually say what you want? How do you even know what it is you want in the first place?
The way that you say what you really want is by staying consistently results-oriented in your communication. In other words…
To stay results-oriented, ask yourself, “What is it I really want to happen after this conversation is over?”
What is your desired result of the conversation you’re having with your wife? Whatever that is, that’s what you want. That’s your objective. It sounds obvious when you put it like that, but whatever you say should help you work towards that specific goal.
Being results-oriented carries with it a few best practices. The following tips will help you consistently get what you want out of a conversation.
No Insults EVER
This one should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyways because it’s just that important…
There is never any situation – EVER – in which you should insult your wife. If your wife is the one insulting you, don’t let it go unquestioned. Stop her and tell her firmly that insults aren’t productive or helpful.
That brings us to the next piece of advice for this rule…
Respond to Negativity with Positivity (most of the time)
This is a technique I’ve personally used in my own marriage. If your wife is anything like mine, she occasionally gets into “moods” of negativity. You know, those moods where she’ll find something wrong with everything.
Has that ever happened to you?
What I’ve found is that when my wife is being overly negative, one of the best things I can do is counter her negativity with positivity. If she’s complaining about someone, I stop her and say something nice about them. Or I say something that helps put her in that person’s shoes.
Now, sometimes my wife just needs to complain and get something off her chest.
It’s perfectly okay to let your wife vent; don’t be the stickler who’s constantly correcting your wife every time she opens her mouth. But, when that complaining becomes excessive… When that complaining is unwarranted and serves no purpose, then it becomes a problem.
In your case, maybe your wife says something negative about you or the marriage. Don’t let it go unquestioned. Say something to the effect of, “Is it really that bad? Or are you just frustrated?” Because being frustrated is okay. Attacking your spouse or belittling your marriage is not.
Keep in mind that this will be harder to do when your wife is on the way out of the marriage. Generally, if you’re facing separation or divorce, or there are other big pre-existing problems in your marriage, trying to counter every negative thing your wife says with something positive may not be a good idea. If you try to be overly positive, you may just end up alienating your wife.
Which brings us to our next point about getting what you want out of communication…
Know When to Shut Up
You know that saying ‘less is more’?
Yeah, it applies to communication too.
If you can feel a conversation slipping out of your control, sometimes the best thing you can do is find a way to pause. The extra time to think will do you both good.
This is also why I added that ‘most of the time’ note in parentheses to that last point… If your wife is in a really bad mood and is hurling insults/negativity left and right, sometimes the best thing you can do is just let her get it out of her system and nod your head.
Again, it’s hard to define a hard and fast rule for these tips… That’s why they’re called commonsense communication tips. You’re going to have to use a bit of your own judgment to put them into practice.
But, no matter what, even if you’re not being constantly positive, you NEVER want to give in to her negativity by allowing yourself to become negative too. Especially during a separation, it’s normal for her to try and get a rise out of you or bring you down; don’t let yourself be controlled!
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It sounds obvious, but one of the best ways to make your wife feel loved and valued is to pay attention when she speaks, and to pay attention in a way that makes sure she knows it. What does this mean in practical application?
It means that any time you’re talking to your wife, however small or unimportant the conversation may be, you need to pay attention. You need to actually listen to the words she’s saying and comprehend what they mean. You need to engage with her and converse with her; not just sit there while she talks words at you.
This rule is what we’re going to spend the next part of the lesson talking about, so keep reading to learn more.
DOs & DON’Ts for Engaging Conversation
[thrive_headline_focus title=”Communication DON’Ts” orientation=”left”]
Let’s start with the don’ts for engaging a meaningful conversation with your wife.
- Don’t text while your wife is talking to you
- Don’t watch TV in the background
- Don’t skim through Facebook or check your Twitter in the middle of a conversation
- Don’t tune her out or let your eyes gloss over; don’t lose focus
- Don’t think about what you’re going to say next while she’s speaking
Let me quickly expand on that last point…
[thrive_text_block color=”blue” headline=”What Is One-Way Communication?”]
(hint: avoid this at all costs!)
Most of us treat communication like a turn-based game. When you’re only focused on your side of the conversation, communication ends up looking like this:
- Conversation starts.
- It’s my turn to speak so I’ll say my thing… Once I’m done, it’s your turn to speak.
- Instead of listening, I’m going to think about what I’ll say next while you’re talking…
- Okay my turn to speak again… Okay I’m done talking, so I’m also done listening.
- You’re turn to talk; let me think about what I’m going to say next while you say your thing…
- Okay my turn to speak again…
… And so on and so forth.
I like to call this one-way communication, because you’re only really communicating one way. You’re talking, but not really hearing the other side of the conversation. You only care about what YOU have to say; not what they have to say.
This is how most people communicate, even outside of marriage. Don’t let yourself fall into this pattern!
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With the Don’ts out of the way, let’s talk about things you should do to create two-way conversations with your wife. These techniques fall under the realm of what’s called active listening. What this means is that you’re making the listening side of the conversation just as active and engaging as the talking side.
Active listening removes the “my turn, your turn” style of conversation because true listening should take just as much effort as speaking.
- Do make eye contact with your wife when she speaks
- Do nod your head when your wife makes an important point
- Do say things like “Yea” and “Mmhmm” to let your wife know you’re listening
- Do read her facial expressions and body language
- Do repeat what she’s saying in your head to make sure you understand it (this is especially important as you’re first getting used to active listening).
- Do repeat important points back to her in your own words so that she knows you heard her, and to make sure you understood her correctly
As you can see, that’s quite a laundry list of things you need to be doing while your wife is talking. You can’t afford to be thinking about what you’re going to say next during this time… You HAVE to devote your energy to hearing the words your wife is saying and making sure you understand them correctly.
Yes, this way of communicating takes more energy…
Yes, it will make conversations last longer…
Yes, you will have to set aside time from your day to listen to things your wife says that you don’t necessarily care about…
Yes, it will make you uncomfortable when you face confrontations with your wife more fully…
These are all good things! If these statements ring true, it means you’re doing it right. It means that you’re enriching the communication inside your marriage.
If your wife has ever accused you of not listening to what she says, or if she feels under-valued or under-appreciated inside your marriage relationship, then these active listening techniques will be a lifesaver. By really and truly listening to what your wife says – and making sure she knows it – you’re showing her that you value her thoughts and opinions just as highly as you value your own.
Many of you have probably heard some of these active listening techniques before. Now, though, you’ll actually practice them because you know why they’re so important and what they do for your wife.
How to Handle Conflict When You’re Bad At It
What if you’re already a really good listener?
Some guys reading this will be on the opposite end of the spectrum – they’re really good at active listening and hearing what their wife is saying, but they still struggle with communication.
Because they don’t know how to handle conflict and speak their mind.
I’ll be honest, this is the part of communication I personally struggle with.
I already have a natural tendency to think before I speak. In fact, in the heat of difficult conversations, I’m so afraid of saying the wrong thing that I freeze up. I can’t say anything.
Does this sound like you? Do you hate conflict? Do you have a hard time thinking of what to say in the heat of the moment?
What ends up happening is that when my wife and I are in the midst a conflict or disagreement, I can’t figure out what to say. This is because I’m paranoid about saying the right thing, but in these situations, there really isn’t anything you can say that “sounds good”.
[thrive_text_block color=”light” headline=””]If you’re a guy like me who really struggles to speak his mind during a conflict or disagreement, then Rule #2 above – say what you really want – is where you need to put your focus.[/thrive_text_block]
Removing Your Communication ‘Filter’
[pullquote align=”right”]Please note: This section only applies to men who naturally struggle with speaking their mind and who tend to clam up during confrontation. If you don’t have that problem, this DOES NOT APPLY.
If confrontation does not make you clam up, continue focusing on keeping your communication filter ON at all times. [/pullquote]
During a confrontation with my wife, I have to force myself to take off my communication filter during these intense conversations. Because I’m naturally so reserved, I have to let my guard down and get a little emotional… Not something I like doing and not something I normally recommend.
The reason for this is that because I’m not good at thinking on my feet, I may not have time to figure out what I really want out of the conversation, so I have to blurt out what I’m feeling and then refine it throughout the conversation.During a confrontation with my wife, I have to force myself to take off my communication filter during these intense conversations. Because I’m naturally so reserved, I have to let my guard down and get a little emotional… Not something I like doing and not something I normally recommend.
[thrive_text_block color=”blue” headline=”Reviewing What We’ve Learned So Far”]
Let’s quickly review what we’ve learned so far about speaking your mind and communication in general:
- Think before you speak. Make sure what you’re about to say will be clear and understandable to your wife.
- Say what you really want. You can figure this out by deciding what you want to happen after the conversation is over.
- Pay attention and make sure she knows it. Be actively engaged in every conversation you ever have with your wife. If your young children can tell when you’re paying attention to them, so can your wife.
Communication What Ifs
What if I can’t think of anything to say?
We’ll talk a little more about this in the next few chapters, but if you’re in the heat of a tense conversation and at a loss for words, it’s okay to tell your wife, “Give me a second to collect my thoughts.” This tells her that you really care about the conversation, AND makes sure you say what you really mean.
What if I clam up during confrontation?
If you’re the type who struggles with speaking your mind during confrontation, you need to practice taking off your “communication filter”. It’s okay to get emotional and say how you feel, and then refine it throughout the conversation to make sure you’re saying what you mean.
What if I REALLY can’t think of anything to say?
There are three things you can do if you really can’t think of anything to say in any given conversation, whether it’s an argument or not.
- Ask questions. Ask your wife what she means, or ask her to expand on something she said. Ask her to tell you more, or ask her what she wants to happen after the conversation is over. Ask her how she feels, or what she’s thinking. Ask her what you can do.
- A lot of us have a tendency to talk too much. If you can’t think of anything to say, then maybe you don’t need to say anything at all. It’s okay to let your wife do most of the talking, and simply speak up when you have something important to say.
- Repeat what your wife just said back to her in your own words. This tells her that you’re listening, and it makes sure that you are both on the same page. Or, identify how she feels about whatever it is she just said and repeat that back to her too.
In The End, It’s All About Speaking Your Mind
Wherever you are on the communication spectrum, whether you’re naturally reserved or naturally outspoken, the end result is the same – you have to get better at speaking your mind. You have to be able to communicate what you’re really thinking, what you really feel and what you really want to your wife, and you have to be able to listen when she does the same.
Finally, remember that leading the way in good communication is your job. You’re the one here reading this; you’re the husband; you’re the leader. That applies to communication just as much as any other area of marriage.
Here’s why this is important…
In the beginning, I’m willing to bet that your wife WILL NOT be a very good listener. She may not speak her mind very well… Perhaps she’s overly negative or critical, or un-empathetic.
All of this is okay!
Just continue to work on your own conversation skills. As long as you challenge her negativity with positivity – and make sure to do it in a way that’s genuinely helpful and not condescending – then over time she’ll change with you. As you show your wife what good communication looks like (and as she finds herself enjoying the feeling of being listened to), you’ll find that she picks up on these commonsense rules and starts using them for herself.
Now, I know that you probably still have questions about the conflict resolution side of communication, but don’t worry… We’ll talk more about fixing marriage problems in the next few chapters. Communication is a massive subject, which is why we have an entire section of the course dedicated to it! In fact, the next chapter is going to be all about problem solving, and your role as the leader in conflict resolution.
[thrive_text_block color=”note” headline=”Key Takeaways from Chapter 9″]
- Communication doesn’t have to be difficult… Follow a few commonsense rules and you will quickly find yourself becoming a better conversationalist.
- The three commonsense communication rules are:
- Think before you speak. Literally, think the words in your head and make sure they sound good, then say them out loud.
- Say what you really want… What do you want to happen after the conversation is over? Everything you say should be in alignment with that goal.
- This is especially important if you’re a bit hot-headed… Use this rule to filter what comes out of your mouth.
- This rule also helps soft spoken guys like me who have a hard time speaking their mind in a conflict… By identifying your end goal, you’ll have a better sense of what to say.
- Pay attention to everything your wife says and make sure she knows you’re listening using the active listening techniques we outlined in the chapter.
- Avoid one-way communication, which happens when you treat a conversation like a turn-based game. Your turn, my turn, your turn, my turn, etc.
- Expect to be the leader in communication. You may be the only one following these communication rules at first. Soldier on and your wife will catch on over time.
[thrive_link color=’blue’ link=’https://inside.husbandhelphaven.com/chapter-10-the-anatomy-of-a-marriage-problem/’ target=’_self’ size=’big’ align=’aligncenter’]Go to Chapter 10. The Anatomy of a Marriage Problem[/thrive_link]