Communication is the cornerstone of any relationship, but it can take many different forms depending on the relationship. You know, because the way you talk to your boss differs from how you talk to your mom. And when it comes to the romantic sort of relationships, the way you talk to each other is a barometer that reveals the current status of your connection.
“When couples start coming into counseling, they always say they need to work on communication — it’s what they think is the problem,” says relationship expert Anita Chlipala — she’s a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple’s Guide to Lasting Love. “But most often the root of their communication issues stem from a lack of connection.”
You see, when we feel disconnected to our partner, it can easily poison our communication patterns. Because when we’re disconnected, we feel insecure or frustrated so we jump to conclusions: We blame; we instinctively act out; we criticize; we yell; we give attitude; we ignore each other in an attempt to convey a point. And while it’s clear that our communication is unbalanced, it’s important to remember that these communication issues are merely a symptom of disconnection.
The good news is that keeping your marital connection strong and healthy doesn’t require a couples’ retreat. Your connection doesn’t necessarily hinge on what you say to your S.O., but instead on how you say it — it’s about the little things.
Set aside time to put away all distractions
If you’ve gotten married, you might have noticed your communication patterns shift from lingering late-night talks to dry, logistical texts about calendars or groceries. In fact, according to Chlipala, the average married couple spends about 35 minutes a week talking to each other — just 35! Contrast that to when you were dating — when 35 minutes a day felt like the bare minimum.
And it makes sense — the romance simmers, the endorphins settle, and real life takes over. You’re finally living that life you’ve talked about. After all, those daily hour-long chats aren’t all that necessary anymore when you can read each other’s minds. Throw kids in the mix and the ability to get a few words in over dinner gets swallowed up entirely. You’re tired, beat, and just don’t have the energy for romancing, right?
Fortunately, all you need is about 10 minutes a day to keep the status quo of a romantic connection. The caveat: in those 10 minutes, your partner should have all of your attention. That’s right — no cell phones in sight. You needn’t bring up anything heavy (although you can!) — but you certainly shouldn’t bring up anything logistical.
Terri Orbunch, the author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great, explains that these 10 minutes should consist of a “daily briefing in which you and your spouse make time to talk about anything under the sun — except kids, work, and household tasks or responsibilities.”
And if you want to maximize your time together, set a goal to learn something new about each other. It can be as trivial as what movies your spouse is interested in seeing, or as deep as your moral stance on a recent news event. Learning something new (and trust me, there’s always something new) keeps the relationship fresh — renewing that spark and strengthening your emotional bond.
Make a ritual out of it
We’re creatures of habit. Even if you think you’re the definition of spontaneous, look at your life: you still have habits for the important things like eating; brushing your teeth; showering; car maintenance; and keeping plants, pets, and even small people alive.
Since your relationship is at least as important as your dental health, create a ritual that’s just about your relationship. Designate a small part of your day where you can rely on each other to be present for some undistracted, one-on-one time. For some couples, maybe that’s coffee first thing in the morning. For others, a nightcap is the lifesaver they need after the kids are finally in bed. Or maybe you’re so busy, all you can do is simply agree to a similar bedtime, so you can talk a bit before you go to sleep.
Whatever you choose, try to make it special, but don’t make it laborious — otherwise, it won’t happen. Consider texting about your excitement for it beforehand (e.g., “So excited for wine tonight!”). Buy a new unique blend of coffee to make that moment seem special. Try out different cocktails. Or maybe sit up and bed and light a candle for your nightly talks. Whatever you decide to do, make it apparent that your time together is truly treasured by you both.
Remember your tone
Your tone of voice holds more power than you might think. According to recent studies done by the University of Southern California, it can actually predict marital satisfaction — with nearly 80 percent accuracy. Even if your negative tone of voice isn’t derived from feeling angsty about your partner — for example, if you had a rough day at work and you are just agitated — your partner can accidentally interpret it as blame, especially if your connection waning.
So take a deep breath and put yourself in the present moment. Find a way to separate the real cause of agitation from your partner’s presence. Maybe this means you need to meditate for a moment in your car before you walk into the apartment. Maybe it means you need to say a prayer. Or maybe you just need a drink of water. Whatever you need to do to change your tone, trying to keep your voice calm and neutral (or positive!) can be a total game-changer in the way you communicate because your partner’s attitude will most likely reflect the energy you’re exuding.
And if your partner greets you with an agitated voice? Respond calmly. Tension can be de-escalated by tone alone — your calm demeanor might wake your partner up to how they’re acting. And while we might be adults, stepping away from strong language can do a lot of good, especially if you’re stressed.
Communication isn’t always easy in marriage, but it’s always necessary. And it’s a whole lot easier when you slow down and you’re intentional toward your partner. So when communication gets terse and you start feeling defensive or aggressive, slow down and examine the state of your connection. After all, poor communication is usually a sign that you need each other more than ever.