Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my marriage was going to be near broken after the birth of our son. We were together for 7 years before our first child was born, we were solid. We knew how to communicate effectively, we understood how to avoid creating conflict with each other, and we were madly in love. We thought bringing a baby into our lives would only multiply our love…boy were we wrong.
The stress of becoming parents, the lack of sleep we endured, and suffering with postpartum depression definitely made it difficult for us to be so lovey dovey with each other. There was a new dynamic that came along with our new roles (as Mommy and Daddy), our relationship evolved and not in a good way. Eventually we were both unhappy and no longer recognized the person laying on the other side of the bed.
I’ll spare you the in depth details, but to sum it up, we disagreed on parenting, finances, domestic responsibilities, how we spent our recreational time, pretty much any topic related to adulting resulted in an argument. Of course we talked about these topics at length prior to having a baby, but our opinions changed as time moved forward.
It took nearly a year for us to get back on track, but with intentional nurturing of our relationship, we were able to get back to our happy place and we’re even happier than ever before.
The three aspects of our relationship that we focused on the most were our communication, how we spent our time, and accepting each other. Today, I’ll share the techniques we used to effectively communicate to restore our happy marriage.
Everyone knows that communication is key to having a happy and healthy relationship.
But what does that mean? What does open communication look like? How do you achieve it when no matter what you say or do, everything turns into an argument?
It’s not easy to have difficult conversations, prepare your mind and your heart to share and receive each other’s feelings and thoughts openly. The best way I prepare myself before going into a “we need to talk” conversation is by praying about it. I ask God to open our hearts and our ears so that we can have a productive conversation that ends in understanding and compromise.
By preparing yourself, you have the opportunity to reflect on what you want to say, how you will say it, and remind yourself that the end goal is to walk away with an understanding and agreement.
A big part of having a productive dialog requires active listening. Active Listening is when you give the speaker your full attention and fully receive the message that they are sharing with you. Here’s how to practice active listening:
Get off your phone and make eye contact so your partner knows they have your full attention.
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Give your partner an opportunity to elaborate on their thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Your partner may not be explaining themselves in a way that clearly makes sense to you, if that’s the case, ask open-ended, clarifying questions to get them to expand on what they’re sharing. If they don’t give much feedback at all, probe for more information.
- Example: “I can tell that you’re unhappy, what changes do you think we need to make in order to bring our relationship back to a happy place?“
We have to model the change that we want to see in our relationship. If you want a safe space to share your feelings, make sure you offer that same safe space to your partner. Your relationship should be a place where you both feel confident being able to share your true thoughts and feelings with each other. If your partner feels judgement from you, they will likely become guarded and less willing to open up to you.
Active listening is all about listening, it’s not about talking. So be patient and let your partner finish before responding to their feedback. By showing patience, you’re showing your partner that you respect their prespective and that you want to hear what they have to say.
Reflect on what your partner shared before responding. You remember the old saying, think before you speak…it absolutely applies to conversations with your partner. Statements can’t be unsaid, so listen to what they say, process it, and try to consider how you’d feel in their shoes before responding. There’s no clock counting down in the background, so take your time and give thoughtful responses.
This is when you repeat the speaker’s message in your own words. It shows that you were listening and that you’re doing your best to understand the message. Paraphrasing is so incredibly important because we may receive a message differently than what our partner intended. By paraphrasing and repeating back what we processed, you can avoid misunderstandings. This has helped us tremendously.
Here is an example of what active listening looks like:
Partner says, “You just want to be on your phone all day, taking pics of the baby.“
You may think to yourself, “Duh I want to capture all these precious moments!“
But instead of defending yourself, try to use active listening and reflect on what your partner told you. Then your response may sound something like, “Are you saying that you need more attention from me?“
People tend to lash out and fuss about trivial things instead of addressing the underlying issue. Maintaining open communication and actively listening to each other will help to get to the root of the issue.
Allow Yourself and Your Partner to be Vulnerable
It’s much easier to receive feedback and have compassion for someone who is being vulnerable and sharing their true feelings, rather than someone who is clearly guarded and unwilling to share their feelings. For example, which of the below statements do you think would have a better outcome?
“I hate that you go out with your friends!”
” I really don’t like when you spend so much time with your friends because me and the baby need you. I am so lonely in the house all day, I just want us to enjoy time together as a family.”
Likely the second statement would be more persuasive because you’re sharing the true reason why you’re upset. You’re not trying to ruin anyone’s fun, you just want time and attention. Who wouldn’t understand that?
Share Your Honest Feelings and Talk About Your Needs
One thing I learned that really helped our marriage was accepting that my partner is not a mind reader. We do not respond to situations the exact same way. I cannot hold him accountable to a standard that I’ve set in my mind but have never shared with him.
I would get mad when Hubby wouldn’t volunteer to take the baby so I could take a shower, or when he was okay with me going through the bath time routine every single night while he chilled on the sofa. I was really angry with him when I felt he was neglecting duties that I never actually asked him to do. Sounds crazy now it, but I just figured, I would’ve done it if the roles were reversed! But we’re not the same, we don’t share a brain, and I can’t blame him for not anticipating all of my desires.
After weeks of building up resentment and holding grudges, I finally expressed my frustration about always having to do the bath time routine. You know what he told me?
“I thought you enjoyed doing it? Like it was your special time and routine together.”
Imagine spending weeks being mad at someone for a misunderstanding as simple and avoidable as this. See why open communication is so important?
Be Specific with Your Needs
It’s important to be clear and direct when sharing what you need from your partner. Here are some examples:
I need 2 hours to go to the gym, three to four times a week.
Twice a month, I need a date night with you.
I need you to tell your family that they can’t come over if they haven’t gotten the flu shot.
Notice the above examples leave no room for confusion. They are clear, specific and to the point without having to read between the lines.
None of us are perfect, we all make mistakes, apologize when you are wrong. Even if you don’t think you’re wrong, or your words were misunderstood, you can still apologize. I’m not telling you to be a door mat, but I am suggesting that you empathize with your partner and make them feel heard.
One day my husband sent me a long text, mad that I didn’t get our son ready for school in time, which made my husband late to work (Hubby does school drop offs). At the end of his text he clearly stated that I obviously don’t respect his time. From my perspective, I gage when to get JC ready based on how far along Hubby is in his “get ready” routine. I did get our son ready later than usual, but hubby wasn’t ready on time either. Instead of going back and forth, I simply replied,
“I’m sorry, I never intended to make you feel like I don’t respect your time. Moving forward, I will make sure that JC is always ready at 6:45.”
And regardless of what time hubby is ready to walk out the door, our son is ready by 6:45am. This was my way of skipping the “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument and going directly to the solution. Some arguments just aren’t worth fighting over.
If you made it to the end, I’m proud of you! This was a lengthy post, but I hope it will be helpful if your relationship is going through a rough patch.
Relationships can be hard, but as long as each partner is willing to work on it and make necessary changes, you can make it work. Our children are looking up to us and will absorb all the behaviors they see from us, so it’s important that we model the best version of ourselves. Let me know in the comments if you and your partner have found any other ways of improving communication your marriage.
Ready for Part 2 of How to Save Your Marriage? Learn how we managed time to best serve ourselves and our family, as well as how we learned to accept each other in order to improve our marriage and ultimately build a happier family life. Take a look at How to Save Your Marriage: After Having a Baby – Part 2.