Updated: Jul 6, 2022
I am so grateful for indoor plumbing and all of the conveniences it brings. However, you know it when your plumbing isn't working. It can become a stinky mess! The same is true when communication is not flowing in a relationship. The longer it is not working, the stinkier the situation.
Hard times and unpleasant experiences will happen in all relationships. In a healthy relationship, the couple is able to talk through the situation, resolve the conflict, and move on. The situation then becomes nothing more than a memory. In unhealthy relationships, the gunk and mire build up due to poor communication. If problems are not resolved, they sit and fester.
Have you ever known someone who bottles up their emotions then explodes over what seems to be a petty issue? This common problem is a lack of communication about the little things that seem to be insignificant and the frustration builds with time. Eventually, the person can't hold it in any longer and everything spews. It can be a nasty, ugly mess. People who bottle it up are usually passive people who would rather avoid confrontation and bottle it up rather than risk confrontation.
Aggressive people will typically blame, yell, and communicate harshly about things. They are more likely to explode regularly. Aggressive people demand that things go their way and will communicate from their perspective without considering the other perspective. It is common for aggressive people to marry passive people, as they balance each other out. However, both communication styles are not ideal.
Assertive communication is open, honest communication, but it is also patient and considerate of the other person. It is owning your own emotions and experience rather than blaming the other person. Part of assertive communication is having healthy boundaries and communicating in a way that communicates your intentions rather than what you demand the other person to do.
For instance, if your spouse is yelling at you and you do not like it, you could say something like this: "I feel angry when you yell. I will talk to you when you are calm. Right now I'm going to take a walk around the block and give both of us a few minutes to feel calm again." Or, "I feel unappreciated when you don't tell me that you are not going to be home for dinner. I'm not going to prepare meals for you for dinner if you aren't going to communicate when you will not be making it home."
Each situation is different and unique. If you struggle with ways to set boundaries and communicate what you will do as a result of behavior that you are bothered by, you might consider reading Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. It is eye-opening!
Most Americans are terrible at communication, as we are culturally taught bad habits. Most TV shows, including news shows, model very unhealthy communication styles. They talk over each other, insult each other are sarcastic, and simply do not listen. One of the best things you can do to improve relationships is to listen with the intention of hearing what the other person is trying to communicate without getting defensive. You might have to look past some bad attitudes and behavior to get to the heart of the issue. Sometimes the words even get in the way of understanding the cry behind the words. The person might be saying, "You never listen to me." What they might mean is "I feel insignificant when you don't pay attention to what I'm saying." There is often more to what a person is saying than the words they use to communicate.
When you make your spouse feel heard, validated, and understood, he or she will be more motivated to connect to your heart and make you feel the same way. However, when you are short or hateful with your spouse, you ignore or make him/her feel insignificant, an atmosphere of distrust and insecurity is created.
Do you have time each day set aside to connect with your spouse? If you have young children it might be difficult to find uninterrupted time. It might be pillow talk for a few minutes before you turn the lights out. Maybe you schedule a call each day during your lunch break to connect. Or maybe it is dinner time each night. Just make sure that you have allotted time to connect. If you are not intentional it can be easy to let the time slip away and distractions will come. The next thing you know a week has slipped by without truly connecting. Having this intentional time together gives space to talk through the little things so they don't build up.
Also remember, your spouse is not likely a mind-reader. It is irrational to expect your spouse to know what you want when you want it, and how you want it. If you have an expectation, you need to communicate it. If you have your heart set on a certain something for your birthday, the only way you will get it is to tell your spouse. Some extremely intuitive people pick up on hinting, but it is not the norm. You might need more than making a fleeting comment at a store or saying you like something you see on a commercial. Better yet, if you think of a perfect dream date, rather than waiting for your spouse to get the same idea, take the initiative to make it happen.