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Modern marriage can sometimes feel like a grueling routine. The reality for many is an exhausting cycle of all-day parenting and work responsibilities that leaves little energy for quality marital communication.
During a typical weekday, the amount of time American couples spend by themselves is about two hours. And if you have kids, especially younger ones, time spent together may be reduced to less than an hour.
-Dr. Jason Holland, Lifespark
Importantly, spending time together seems to have hidden benefits, as in one study couples indicated that they are happier, less stressed, and feel more fulfilled during time spent with their partners as opposed to time apart.
Of course, not all time together is equal. For example, women who say that interaction with their partner is frequently interrupted by texting, Facebook, and other technological distractions are less likely to feel satisfied in their lives and relationships.
So, if you are wanting to make the most of limited time with your partner and improve your communication, here are five ways to make it happen:
1. Maintain a good balance of positive and negative interactions
All couples, even the happiest ones, must sometimes have hard discussions. It’s important to work out differences in marital expectations and discuss unmet needs in the relationship. What seems to be most important is that there is an optimal balance of positive and negative interactions. In the research of relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, stable and happy couples have been shown to exhibit a ratio of about five positive interactions for every negative one; whereas, unstable marriages tend to have a roughly equal ratio of negative to positive encounters. Want to know more about how to maintain this optimal balance? Keep reading.
2. Incorporate play into your interactions
In the midst of juggling work and childcare responsibilities, taking time to just have fun with your spouse may fall by the wayside. Couples with busy schedules may have to get creative, but finding ways to be more playful with your spouse could pay dividends down the road, as partners who spend more time in playful activities report being more satisfied with their relationship and communication. If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, click here for a list of suggested playful activities for couples.Read Related Article: 30 Ideas for Incorporating Play into Your Marriage
3. Use “I” and “We” language
It may sound strange, but the pronouns that we use when communicating with our spouse matter. In marital therapy, couples are frequently urged to make “I” statements instead of “you” statements when asserting their needs. The idea is that a comment like, “You make me so mad when you don’t pick up after yourself,” where the emphasis is on the other person, sounds pretty blaming and argumentative. In contrast, a statement like, “I get upset when I notice that clothes are on the floor,” is simply a matter-of-fact account of one’s own internal experience. Couples who use the word “I” instead of “you” in their interactions have been found to be more satisfied in their relationship and better able to generate positive solutions to problems. Other research has shown that the use of pronouns like “we” and “us” can also help convey that ‘we’re in this together’ and promote greater marital harmony. So, a second way of rephrasing our earlier complaint (this time using “we” language) could be: “Our house is getting messy. How can we work together to get the clothes picked up off the floor?”
4. Avoid spillover of stress from outside source
Do you find that conversations with your spouse tend to dwell on complaints about co-workers, deadlines, and errands? One of the biggest challenges of modern marriage is being able to effectively manage the stress of work and daily life, without allowing it to spillover and consume your relationship.
Numerous studies have confirmed that when one spouse is highly stressed it can negatively impact the other person and eat away at the relationship. Although it’s perfectly natural to want to go to your spouse for support, it’s also important to realize that continual strain from outside sources can have a destabilizing effect. Spouses under stress are more likely to hold negative perceptions of their partner and have less energy and patience left to deal with problems that come up in the marriage. If any of this describes you and your relationship, consider drawing on other stress-reduction methods (e.g., meditation, therapy, or self-help) to reduce the spillover of stress into your marriage. And if you’re struggling to find topics to talk about other than work and daily tasks, try using VERTELLIS Relationship Card Game to get the conversational juices flowing. Even if you’ve been married for years, you’ll learn things about your spouse that will surprise you.
5. Keep negative interactions in check.
Couples are most likely to divorce early when spousal interactions are plagued by strong negative emotion. In his research, Dr. Gottman, has identified four particularly harmful characteristics of marital communication, which he refers to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. These include:
Defensiveness – responding to perceived criticism with all the reasons why your partner is wrong
Criticism – continually nitpicking and finding fault with your spouse
Contempt – rolling your eyes and being sarcastic
Stonewalling – giving the “silent treatment
Of course, all couples argue and sometimes things get ugly. But the basic idea here is that there must be some underlying respect and love that can be accessed when you are communicating with your spouse, even if the conversation is a difficult one. If that’s sometimes hard to do, try to recall the moment when you felt most grateful and loving toward your spouse. Once you have a solid picture of that in you mind’s eye, practice cuing up that image in the midst of a frustrating or stressful experience with your spouse. Consider how you might then disrupt cycles of negative interaction by expressing these positive feelings in some way (e.g., through supportive touch, kind words, or possibly humor).
In short, much of communicating effectively with your spouse has to do with balance keeping negative emotions in check during disagreements and making sure these more negative interactions are offset by a healthy dose of playfulness, love, and positivity.
McDaniel, B. T., & Coyne, S. M. (2016). “Technoference”: The interference of technology in couple relationships and implications for women’s personal and relational well-being. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 5, 85-98.
Neff, L. A., & Karney, B. R. (2004). How does context affect intimate relationships? Linking external stress and cognitive processes within marriage. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 134-148.
Sillars, A., Shellen, W., McIntosh, A., & Pomegranate, M. (1997). Relational characteristics of language: Elaboration and differentiation in marital conversations. Western Journal of Communication, 61, 403-422.