How To Better Communicate What We Want to Say To Our Spouse
Do you ever regret what you said, either because it came out ten times worse than what you thought it would, or it just wasn't thought through? Yeah, been there. I was thinking the other day of the things I say that cause me to get in an argument with my husband, and if there was a way to shut myself up from saying something I'll regret before I said it. So, I came up with a list of common things that are said in relationships that could be transformed into a useful tool of communication. You see, it's good to express how you feel and say what you need to say, but it's how we say it that often leaves us in the gutter. Communication, as you know, is key to having a thriving and well-balanced relationship.
It's quite possible that we use unhealthy tactics in order to try and convince the other person to see our point of view without even knowing it.
Here are some unhealthy tactics we use in everyday arguments
1. The Hopeless Tactic.
Don't say - "I don't believe you."
Trust is one of the most important things in a relationship, if not the most important. When the trust is broken, it can be quite the hurdle to overcome that will have to be taken on by both parties; the one who broke the trust and the one who got hurt. While it is important for the one who broke the trust to show transparency and prove that they are trustworthy, it is also important for the one who got hurt to communicate that it isn't always easy to trust again, while giving the other person the benefit of the doubt. If we use ultimatums that express hopelessness, it may prove difficult for the one who broke the trust to believe you will ever see them as trustworthy. Perhaps you can give them the benefit of the doubt, but when you can't, how should you express it in a way that is letting that person know you have hope to trust again but you're just struggling?
Say - "I really want to believe you, but I'm having a hard time."
If you're struggling to trust or forgive someone, read here for my article about healing from your past. There are some great steps to take in forgiveness. If you can't forgive, the trust will never begin to form. You will never forget when trust has been broken, but by forgiving you can finally put it behind you and begin to heal yourself and your relationship.
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2. Putting fuel on the fire tactic.
Don't Say - "You're overreacting" or "You're out of control."
In any relationship where two people care about one another, things are bound to get heated. It's normal, and some might say, it's a good thing. Arguing can be a healthy way to clear the air, but only if done appropriately. In the heat of the moment, this is unequivocally easier said than done, and before you both know it you're in a full-blown fight. One of the worst things to say is " you're out of control," or anything that hints that the other person is beginning to head in a heated direction. The last thing they need to be told is that what they are feeling and saying is invalid. It may be true that they are getting a little too fiery, but what should be said in order to bring things down, instead of fuel it up?
Say - "I understand you're upset, but it seems like you're getting frustrated. Should we take a break and revisit this after we've cooled down?"
Not only will this make them realize they need to cool it, it won't completely neglect what they are trying to communicate. Taking a break when things are getting out of control is possibly the best thing you can do. It may not be the easiest, but trust me, it helps.
3. The assuming tactic.
Don't say - "What's wrong?"
One of the most common things said in any relationship is "what's wrong?" I find myself saying it before I realize it. The motive behind it is not necessarily amiss, it's perhaps the fact that it is automatically making an assumption, and the receiving party will most likely begin to put up their defenses. So, what should we say instead that doesn't assume something is wrong, but rather shows our real intention behind the question, which is, "I care about you."
Say - "Is everything okay?"
Yep, that's it. You are basically asking the same exact thing, but something completely different. It's not assuming, it's assuring them that you are there, ready to hear what is on their heart.
4. The avoiding tactic.
Don't say - "Nothing." when asked if everything is okay.
I do this ALL the time and will admit if I don't want to talk about something, it's the first thing I say. Avoiding it altogether is sometimes easier than saying, "yeah somethings up, but I don't want to talk about it." It can send a red flag to the other person who is a bit too eager to find out what they did to upset you, but then in essence that becomes their problem if they can't accept that. So, yes, you need to say...
"Yes, something's bothering me, but I don't want to talk about it just yet. Can we talk about it later?"
They then have the responsibility to respect your decision not to talk about it quite yet. They need to, by you saying, "not just yet," be reassured that what is going on will be revisited and nor ignored or shoved under the rug. It's not healthy to display your frustration about something without expressing to your partner what's up. But needing time to process it and consider what needs to be said is probably the best option at the time. Most miscommunications and arguments come from talking about something that isn't near ready to be discussed.
5. The giving up tactic.
Don't say - "I'm done" or "it's over!"
Sure, we've all been there. At the end of our ropes, not really knowing what to do about the dire situation our relationship is in. When we feel fear of something happening we react one of two ways. Fight or flight. When our emotions are in full swing, flight is usually the one that seems ideal, so we go into "protection of our heart" mode and the only way out is...well, out. After things have cooled down and you have said some more things you shouldn't, you realize you don't actually want out, you want a resolution to a problem and your emotions got the better of you. What should we have said that we can take note on for next time that expresses how we feel, but doesn't hurt the other person?
Say - "I'm not feeling so great about how things are between us. I would like if we can figure out a way to work through this because I'm having a hard time."
Again, it's important to express how you feel. After all, there is something that has happened between the two of you that caused you to react that way, and ignoring it won't solve anything. Relationships are HARD and take a lot of work. It's no news to you. So, if your partner is not willing to work through the tough stuff, you at least can do that for yourself. Hopefully, they are willing to get counseling or do whatever it takes but don't let the deeper issues in your relationship or your heart fester.
6. The ALWAYS or NEVER Tactic
Don't say - "You're always or never..."
In the heat of it, you say it. I do it, we all do it. Again, our emotions take over and we resort to ultimatums that not only dismantle everything the other person has ever done that is good or right but also makes them feel hopeless. For myself, I know that if I have really tried to change in something, take steps to do so, fail once, then the other person plays the "you NEVER" card, it can feel detrimental and hopeless. Again, what we are trying to say isn't necessarily wrong, but it's all in how we say it.
Take for example, if a husband has the tendency to not think about taking his wife on regular dates, and the wife has to mostly pursue it, she may get frustrated. In response to this, she says, "You NEVER take me on dates or EVER care about what I need," She may feel that way and it's valid to her, but how she communicated it wasn't the best. The husband will most likely respond defensively and an argument will surface. So what should she have said?
Say - "I would love to start going on regular dates with you, but I feel like it's not something on your mind. Am I wrong?"
They will most likely respond with "Of course you're wrong! I would love to do that as well." So then you should say...
"Okay great! I would love it if you would start asking me sometimes. It makes me feel special."
Express what you need, but don't attack by going to ultimatums that will only cause strife.
7. The blame shifting tactic.
Don't say - "You do that too!" in response to someone addressing something you did that hurt them.
No one likes to be criticised or held accountable for something they did, but it takes good character and humility to own up to it, even if what they did wasn't intentional. You see, we can easily say that because we didn't "mean" to, we didn't. Unfortunately, the other person doesn't see it that way. You did something that hurt them, and they are expressing that to you. The worst thing you could say in response is, "You do that too!"
Sure, it may be true that they do unto you as you do unto them, but this is the wrong place and time to express that. So, what should we say?
Say - "I'm sorry I hurt you with what I did. What can I do differently next time?"
Blame shifting will never accomplish anything. You will then go back and forth, round and round, hurt one another, and get nowhere. Sometimes we just need to own up to something, and just because we didn't intend to hurt the other person, doesn't mean we didn't hurt them or do something wrong.
Relationships take time and effort from both parties. I hope that opening up your eyes to some dysfunctional tactics you might be using will help you express what you need without complications to follow.
I would love to hear if you have communication tips to share!
Ladies, read more about how to better relate to your spouse by gaining awareness of what he needs.