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Communication Exercises that Can Improve Your Marriage

Communication Exercises that Can Improve Your Marriage

There may be more to marital happiness than the anticipated ingredients of love, respect, honesty, and faithfulness.

But what does that really mean? Even with the desired relationships and partner characteristics of love, respect, honest, commitment, and faithfulness, one or both partners are unhappy in the relationship. What does it take for a marriage to be a happy one?

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A missing ingredient may be “meaningful interaction”. While couples may be spending time with each other routinely, most couples neglect to nurture their relationship regularly. When both parties are feeling important, loved, and secure in the relationship, active attention to the relationship may not feel important. It becomes more important as one or both partners do not “feel” loved or important to the other. The need for active engagement and nurturance of the relationship is apparent when a partner complains that they “do not communicate” and do not spend enough “quality” time together

They often already know the problem and presumably how to fix it, but cannot seem to get started with enacting their solution. One of the stumbling blocks to being able to effectively bridge the gap and nurture the relationship is that each individual has made some attempts in his or her own individual way, but felt discouraged when it did not receive the desired response or effect. Each has different communication goals and expectations. They have different ways that they want to be shown love. Their ideas about what they want communicated are different. And there is great diversity in what “quality time together” means.

Attempts to solve the problem fail as one or both partners set out to fix the situation by giving to the partner what s/he wants from communication or time together. Since the partners want something other than what is being given, they stay frustrated. They are frustrated not only about still not getting what they are wanting but also about trying and not having their efforts recognized by the partner.

Historically, partners may have told each other what they want or need to feel loved. They may have experienced brief change. When one partner has been trying to communicate his/her needs in an appropriate way and is “rewarded” for the effort with a return to the partner’s old behavior, s/he feels more frustrated and angry. The meaning often given for this return to old behavior is that s/he really does not care.

The more conflicted that couples become over relationship needs, the more difficult it becomes to solve problems, to neutralize or recover from negative events, and to generate positive feelings and positive assumptions about relationship events. Once the situation has reached this point, couples are most likely to use the exact communication behaviors that guarantee that no change will occur. They often engage in destructive communication patterns where the arguing escalates to a point of anger and verbal violence or to where one partner repeatedly tries to engage and the other repeatedly avoids engagement and conflict.

Sometimes in order to break out of the negative cycle of conflict and pain, couples must return to the basics, with a step back out of the militarized zone, into basic communication and working on simply being “nice” to each other. Practicing the same common courtesy with your partner that you would with a total stranger can go a long way to re-establish emotional neutrality, and pave the way for a return to personal “risk taking” in communicating and problem solving.

Simple, basic communication behaviors such as moving from “You” messages to “I” messages can change the whole tone of conversations, reduce defensiveness, and improve the ability to actually “hear” what the other person is saying. Use of active listening and asking clarifying questions also helps to bridge the emotional chasm and restore civility.

As the pervasive mood of hostility and negativity begins to lift, setting aside a regular time for couple communication and nurturing the relationship can be very effective in restoring those positive feelings and marital happiness. Communication exercises such as a Couple’s Feelings Meeting or The Honey Jar, a couple’s conversation starter, can assist couples with getting into a habit of talking and sharing with each other. When couples are talking and sharing, they are more likely to feel connected, loved, and important to each other. When there is a positive emotional climate, it is easier to resolve conflicts that are inevitable in any close relationship. Skills necessary for a happy marriage involve the ability to communicate and effectively problem solve, as well as the ability to restore positive feelings in the midst of conflict.

Copyright (c) 2009 Peggy L. Ferguson, Ph.D.