I’ve heard from a lot of you recently on the topic of communication, whether you’re planning a wedding, learning the marriage ropes, or are home with a baby. Communication is key as we work through this big life changes, but so many of us either don’t know how, or choose not to, do it properly. Over here, we’re finding tender ways to speak to each other and using long-standing crutches we developed during our time as a soon-to-be- and then, newly-married couple.
Dig deep to figure out what’s really going on inside.
It’s easy to let stress quell your opportunities to communicate. I tend to get overwhelmed easily by the world. Small things often feel very big to me. Taking Willow home from the hospital was naturally a big thing. To me, it was miles wide and bottomless. I couldn’t wrap my head around the way it felt to need a glass of water and not want to put her down to get it. So, I bossed Josh around in the early days and it certainly didn’t help our ability to communicate. He definitely didn’t speak deep enough to his underlying insecurities either. Instead, we picked at each other and each expected the other to be a mindreader.
These days, we’re working on figuring out the underlying issues before speaking up. In retrospect, I see that the hormones and major sense of change post-baby was to blame for our very normal breakdown in communication. Now, I am verbally clear that a pair of dirty socks on the floor, a jacket tossed over the back of the stroller, or a snack wrapper left on the kitchen counter after I’ve spent two precious hours cleaning feels like a personal attack. He gets it, and has learned to make the effort. In turn, he has let me know that when I scroll my Instagram feed while he’s reading an email draft aloud to me, we’re not both in the tech zone together. Rather, I’m inadvertently shutting him out. Finding these understandings within and sharing our thoughts with each other is clutch to better communication.
It’s okay to walk away
Not forever and not even for the night. But if you feel something nasty rising toward your lips, instead say, “I need a breather from this conversation.” What you might mean is, “I absolutely hate you right now and I wish my words were made of fire but if I kill you I will be alone, so I am taking my fire with me into the other room for ten minutes.”
Funnily enough, when one of the other of us does this, the person who walked away tends to come back with iced coffee or spends the break throwing in a load of laundry. The space has become a safe basket we can throw our ugly words inside of without having to say them. And for some reason, this action stirs a sort of jilted form if empathy within us that leas us to think, If I come back with coffee (or do a load of laundry), Round Two will go so much better.
(which leads me to…)
Pick a calm moment, not a fight (But also: Don’t Ruin Date Night)
It’s so easy to slam each other when temperatures are rising. Instead, find a time when things are good and easy to talk about something that’s been bothering you. Or, to go over those wedding planning logistics that he’s been shrinking away from. This does not mean you should ruin romantic interactions or peaceful Sunday afternoons with needless drama. But actively seek out less stressful moments to bring up the big issues that are weighing on you.
Be honest, but kind
Being married is about building a home and a life together. It’s about buying shower curtains and doing dishes and picking out favorite TV shows to watch together. Being engaged is preparation for that. Marriage is about trust, adoration, and sexual chemistry, sure. But it’s also about having a bad day and being able to tell someone about it. Someone who’s seen you with your retainers in or with a face smeared with zit cream, and loves you just the same.
You need to be honest with this person without hurting their feelings. Yes, it’s possible. Josh and I are a work in progress. We argue, we disagree, and sometimes we neglect to speak our minds. But one things we don’t do is push each other’s buttons. I can list by name and date the few big blowouts we’ve had as a dating, engaged, and then married couple. I won’t, but I can. Each one taught me things not to say or do with Josh, and the reverse is true, too.
It’s cliche, but stating how something makes you feel rather than attacking your partner for doing it is important. Also remember that you won’t get anywhere by accusing him or her of not caring or listening. Instead, consider, “We should find some time to talk through X this weekend because I’m sure we both have more to say about it.” (This is a great alternative to, “Every time I try to talk about X, you pull away and don’t listen.”) Think about it: telling someone they’re not a good listener is going to make them not listen. Don’t do that. Posing disagreements or things that have yet to be discussed from a team-effort approach will help everybody involved.
…And if all else fails, pour yourself a glass of wine and try again tomorrow.