Do you ever feel that your partner doesnât listen to you? It seems that every time you bring up a sensitive topic, like disciplining the kids, money, or sharing household chores, your conversation quickly deteriorates into a big fight. Or sometimes you donât fight, becauseâ¦you guys donât talk! If you say anything, he just nods and promises, âYes honey,â just to shut you up. But of course nothing changes, and if you remind him, he accuses you of nagging.
Thereâs a way out of this mess. Here are tips on how to communicate in a way that will break through all that defensiveness and denial (your partner, and yours!)
1. Use the âIâ language.
Sometimes itâs not what we say, but how we say it. Most of us lapse into language that can come across as critical: âYou never help me with the housework,â or âYou spoil the kids too much!â The other person then tries to justify what he does (âIâm busy with work! Who else will pay the bills?â) or then launches his own string of grievances. âOh yeah? Well I would help you, if you didnât complain so much about the way I do things! Nothing is ever good enough for you.â
Itâs human nature to recoil from criticism. So, choose your words carefully, focusing instead on how you feel or what you need. For example, you can start the conversation by saying, âIâm very tired and Iâd like to have a little âquiet timeâ in the evening. You know how demanding the kids can be.â This way you make your partner feel that you need him (and everyone likes to feel needed) and that youâre both on the same side, looking for a solution.
Or, if youâre affected by his behaviorâlike the way he stays out late with his friendsâyou can use the formula of âemotion = behavior = effect.â For example âI get really sad that you spend all your Friday nights with your college buddies, because I get insecure that you prefer their company over mine.â Basically, this approach lets him see your things from your perspective, but youâre not attacking him personally. âThis is just the way I feel.â
2. Be specific about what you want.
Instead of saying, âI wish youâd help me more around the house,â you are going to get a better reaction if you just spell out what you really want. âCan you cook dinner three times a week?â or âI’d like to have Saturday mornings free to spend time with my friends.â
Why? When youâre specific about your needs, your partner knows that youâre not attacking his characterâyouâre just asking for a particular action. âI wish youâd help me more around the houseâ insinuates that heâs lazy or indifferent. Itâs tantamount to saying, âYou never help me.â But spelling out your needs keeps the discussion objective and neutral. You skip all the drama and go straight to solving the problem together.
3. Donât bring up the past.
Stick to the issue. If youâre bothered by a comment he made (âI was really hurt when you made fun of my cookingâ) then by all means talk about it. Just donât let the conversation include all the other things he already apologized for, years ago. A relationship shouldnât be a score card of all the wrongs and rights committed throughout its history. Think about it this way: you probably made a couple of boo-boos yourself. How would you feel if he brought those up again and again?
4. Donât monopolize the conversation.
Itâs also important to stop and allow the other person to talk, share his feelings, or air his own hurts. You may feel that youâre the aggrieved party, and deep inside the only words you want to hear from his mouth are âIâm sorryâ or âIâll do what you want.â But thatâs not how a conversation or even how a relationship works. Thereâs give and take, and thereâs shared responsibility. No problem is completely one personâs fault. There may be ways that you contributed to a situation, and there are certainly ways that you can improve it.
Remember, itâs not about being âwrong or right.â Itâs about making a situation better. Listening to each other, and admitting your own weaknesses and resolving to help each other, will always create a win-win situation.
5. Show appreciation for your partner.
Youâve probably heard parenting experts say that itâs not enough to scold your child when he does something wrong; you also have to praise your child when he does something right. The same thing goes for dealing with your partner. Try to acknowledge what heâs already done, or at least his sincerity in changing. At the very least, you can thank him for hearing you out, and for spending time talking about something that matters to you. âI feel so much better being able to open up to you like this. I really appreciate it.â Or âYouâre a really good provider and I know you work hard to give us a good life. I just want a little time to rest so I have more energy to be a good wife and mother, too.â
After the conversation, single out and show gratitude for anything that shows a positive change. âThank you for washing the dishes tonight, honey!â or âWow, that was a really great dinner. Thanks for making it.â We often obsess over what our partner does wrong, and take for granted what he does right. Part of healthy communication is loving appreciation. When your partner realizes that you see his effort and listen to his needs, then the next time you say, âCan we talk?â heâll be more open to it.