How To Have Healthy And Effective Communication With Your Spouse


Avoid useless arguments and initiate healthy discussions by learning how to ask questions.

If you are married, chances are the most important question that you have ever asked your spouse, or answered from your spouse is: "Will you marry me?"

If you did the proposing you gave more thought and preparation to that question than to any other question you have asked before or since. You rehearsed when, where, and how you were going to ask the question because you knew the answer would have a long lasting impact on your life. If you were on the receiving end of that question, you probably considered it well in advance of it being asked, you played it over and over in your mind, and you anxiously awaited its arrival much like a child who is told, "Yes, we can go to Disneyland ... soon."

Yet, despite the thought, care and attention that couples give to that single question proposing marriage, most couples fail to realize there are other questons that will be asked during the marriage which can easily have an impact on the strength and stability of your marriage. Not to mention the quality of the effective communication between you and your spouse.

Has your spouse ever done something that you did not like and you asked, "Have you lost your mind, or are you just plain stupid?"

Or, maybe you asked a milder and gentler question like, "What the hell were you thinking?"  

If you've been married for any period of time you have certainly found yourself in conflict with your spouse, and these conflicts, big or small, usually give rise to questions. These conflicts range from him adding your favorite hand wash only garments to the washer machine with extra bleach, to your thinking that the steady engine light on the dashboard is a sign that the engine is in good working order. These conflicts can also range from excessive spending on the credit cards, to excessive amount of time spent after hours with the new and just slightly sexy co-worker. Whatever the situation is, you will want to ask questions, and you will certainly benefit from asking the right questions.

Your Honor, Will You Please Instruct The Witness To Answer The Question?

Most of us have watched courtroom dramas unfold on television and in movies where the prosecutor is questioning a defense witness who simply refuses to answer a direct question. This refusal can take the form of a non answer, an evasive answer, or it can be an outright refusal to speak. When this happens we see the prosecutor turn to the judge and ask: Your Honor, will you please instruct the witness to answer the question? You will then see the judge turn to the witness and say something like, Mr. Jones please answer the question or I will have to hold you in contempt. 

During my years as a Board Certified Trial Lawyer, I had this scenario play out hundreds of times in cases that I was involved with. I have to admit that it was alot of fun to spar verbally with an evasive witness, and then stop, cast a dramatic glance at the jurors and then ask the judge to make the witness answer my question. But alas, there is never a judge present in your living room when you want to question your spouse about when they are going to begin looking for a job, what happened to the money that was in the children’s college fund, or about the late evenings working on that project with the ever so slightly sexy co-worker.

I remember early on in my previous marriage that I would initiate discussions with my wife by asking her questions like, "What's wrong with you?" or "What were you thinking?" To me these were, at the time, normal everyday questions, but she would often become defensive and tell me to stop interrogating her like she was on trial. At first I thought this was simply her way of avoiding my questions and making the conversation about something other than what I wanted to talk about. However, it soon became apparent that my questons were not leading us into meaningful discussions, and so I had to take the responibility for changing my approach. 

Fortunately for me, asking questions of other people was something that I got to do for a living. So I practiced every chance I got, and soon realized that asking questions is really an art form. The same question could be framed in a variety of ways in order to elicit a certain reposne from the other person. So as I became better at framing and asking my wife the right questions our communications vastly improved, and I started winning more cases at trial.

How To Improve The Quality Of Your Questions 

When it comes to posing questions to your spouse, the first thing to consider is your objective. If your objective is simply to start an argument so that you can vent and let off some steam, then ask anything you want and ask it in an accusing manner. You will certainly draw a heated discussion. However, if your objective is to gather information in order to help you analyze and understand a particular situation, you will want to ask the right question.

For example, if the money which had been set aside for the children's college fund has all but disappeared, you could certainly ask, "What the hell happened to the money?" You have a right to know right?

The problem with this question is that it not only sounds angry, it is also covered with judgment. As a result your spouse will likely become defensive, and they will answer, "I don’t know," or "I spent it," and now you have another problem on your hands ... a recalcitrant spouse.

To avoid this try asking, "Will you please show me where and how this money was spent?" When phrased in this manner the question is not casting blame or judgment, and will most likely produce the response you are looking for which is an explanation of where the money was spent.

Sometimes the question you are asking is not directed to your spouse, but to yourself, and these can be just as important. For example, let's pretend that you are concerned with whether you want to continue in the relationship with your spouse. You could easily ask yourself, "What am I doing with this person?" While this appears to be a logical question, notice that it carries an underlying negative judgment about your spouse.

Also, by referring to your spouse in the third person you are revealing a desire to dissociate from them. A question phrased in this manner will usually lead you to find only the negative and not the positive in the relationship. However, if you reframe the question like this, "Are my needs currently being met in my marriage?" you now have an inquiry that will lead you to find quality answers and which can lead to a healthy discussion with your spouse.

Here are some typical questions that couples ask one another:

I recommend these should be avoided because they are based in judgment and will lead your spouse to become defensive:

  • What is the matter with you?
  • What did I ever do to you to deserve this?
  • What were you thinking?
  • Have you lost your mind?
  • What possible excuse do you have for your behavior?
  • Where in the hell have you been?

In the following examples I have reframed the questions in a manner that will lead you to a healthy discussion:

  • Is there something troubling you that you would like to share with me?
  • Have I done something to hurt your feelings? If so, please share that with me.
  • What happened that caused you to take that course of action?
  • Are you feeling pressure or stress right now?
  • Please share with me what you were feeling so I can better understand your actions.
  • Were you required to stay late at the office?

A successful marriage requires a combination of factors, among which the ability to communicate well, is key. Although the stress of your daily life can make it challenging to communicate properly with your spouse, you can reduce and eliminate the stress of talking about sensitive topics by paying close attention to your questions. Asking the right questions will lead you to gain information and clarity, and will help you avoid meaningless arguments and frustration.  

If you want to learn more about the art of asking questions, or how to initiate a meaningful discussion with your spouse on difficult topics, register at my website and then send me an email with your question and I will do my best to guide you.


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