The Simple Communication Switch-Up That Literally Saves Marriages

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Cute couple in front of building

The practice of compassionate communication is to "see me and others as always doing the best we know to try and meet our needs". From that perspective, there is no need for us to take others' undesirable behaviors personally. They're just doing the best they know how to get the results they want.

That doesn't mean we should excuse rudeness, yelling, or judgment from the other person. But it does mean if we seek to connect with what's going on with them, there is a much higher chance we can work toward a win-win. Most of the time, this involves switching up the time frame for bringing up problems or conflicts.

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Here's the simple switch-up that saves marriages.

1. Address your concern when the problem is not happening.

Let's say you know your partner is dealing with anxiety about their career health or finances. Instead of waiting for them to be grumpy again and fretting about it, find a relaxed time and tell them you notice they seem withdrawn and you'd like to know if they could tell you what you might do to reassure them or be available. There's nothing quite as comforting as feeling heard and understood.



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2. Acknowledge what your partner feels before it becomes a fight.

What if your spouse needs to be heard, and you're too tired or frustrated to listen when they want your attention? How about saying something like, "Sue, I'd like to be here for you, and I'm feeling such low energy I'm afraid I will get impatient and you'll get mad at me. Are you willing to talk tomorrow when I hope to be more present?"

If they reply with, "You're never ready to listen when I need you to be," you might remember their words are not against you; they're an attempt to meet needs and acknowledge what they have been dealing with. "I can see how discouraging that is for you. Please trust if we can talk about it peacefully tomorrow, I will be present, and we can work it out."

3. Ask for what you need when things are going well, not poorly.

You might consider what soothes you when you're upset, scared, or sad. Share that at a neutral time when you're having a relaxed conversation. Try saying something like, "I notice our styles are a bit different. You seem to find it very important to clear the air whenever something you're feeling anxious or angry or fearful about comes up "but," which negates the first part) I hope you can be patient with me when I don't feel able to understand or respond to you as quickly as you would like.

Could we give each other a nonverbal signal, like a hand on our heart, to indicate we hear each other but aren't able to connect with feelings and needs right now? And could we use that hand over our heart to mean 'I'm willing to talk matter-of-factly about what you've brought up tomorrow?'". This is a peaceful signal that says "I care" without promising to be fully there at every given moment.

Supportive loving hug

Photo: fizkes via Shutterstock

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4. Be honest in the immediate instead of waiting for resentment to build.

One thing to be conscious of is the need to be honest. Don't pretend you'll be calm the next day if you've built up resentment for weeks. Be real. Be authentic. And be a matter of fact. You can say "I can't deal with this right now," in the same tone as when you say, "Please pass the potatoes." Use that voice, not the voice intended to put someone in their place.

5. Don't try to get someone not to feel something.

Often, calm conversations and getting to the root of your issues are the best solutions for dealing with anxiety. Perhaps they came from a home where they weren't allowed to argue, disobey, or stand up for themselves. Tell them you want to support their self-expression. If they want to express themselves physically, encourage them to stomp on the floor, pound a pillow or a bat on a couch, or shut the door and yell when and where you needn't see or hear.

Remember, they are doing what it takes to feel safe, heard, or calm down. Can you imagine the difference it will make in any relationship if you can believe and express how you want to honor and respect each other's feelings and needs?

Who doesn't want a loving and peaceful relationship with their partner, family, and friends at work and in the community?

And we'll probably agree all of us have felt confused, insecure, or anxious at different times. In addition, we've probably recognized vulnerability usually draws people closer. Perhaps you've been in a trying relationship for several years. If you intend to remain in the relationship no matter what, wouldn't it serve you, during a meal, for instance, to propose an action that could move your "just-OK relationship" to a vital one?

You might start with, "Pete, I'm a little nervous bringing this up. We've not been as close as we used to be, and I want to feel more connected. I'm wondering if a weekly date night talking about a book we're reading, or even going for a walk or a drive could help us feel closer. Would you like to try one of those?"

When you stop stressing, your love life will improve. Great ways to enhance that stress-free love are to read love quotes online and talk about what they mean to both of you. Put a note in their purse or billfold. Keep a journal of what has pleased you, and share it with your partner. Before you say goodnight, tell each other about a past or a current memory that made you feel special. And remind yourself, as often as you think of it, that with openness and caring, your anxiety can be transformed into loving fulfillment.

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Morah Vestan is a life coach, communication trainer, and author. She has an M.A. in Adult Education and was a relationship columnist for 16 years for Seattle's Active Singles Life.