Every marriage requires considerable adjustment and compromise. Each partner approaches the relationship with their own view of how a marriage should be and how a marriage partner should act. Unfortunately, these expectations don’t always line up, causing a great deal of frustration, confusion and sometimes outright resentment. The areas that are most sensitive and cause the most contention are those closely intertwined with our sense of identity and security. Topics such as, religion, sexual intimacy, money management, child rearing, in-law relations, social activity and communication styles are subjects that are common points of contention in almost every marriage. The key to overcoming these differences is learning to communicate effectively. The following tips will help you discuss these important issues in a way that will encourage respect, intimacy and compromise.
1. Communicate to understand rather than to win
This requires you demonstrate acceptance of your spouse’s ideas and opinions. Because you will disagree on many issues raised during the course of your marriage, it is important to learn to suspend judgment and gather information about the other person’s feelings, needs and opinions before you respond. This type of communication demands careful and active listening. Demonstrate to your spouse that you are paying attention by asking questions such as, “Can you tell me more about this?” or repeating back, in your own words, what your spouse has said. Use nonverbal gestures such as, nodding and eye contact to show that you are interested. Ask your spouse to clarify statements so that you are sure to understand correctly. Showing this type of understanding is crucial to solving marital conflict.
2. Have regular “marriage conferences."
Create specific times when you will talk and listen to each other without outside distractions. Allow yourself at least twenty minutes in which each spouse has five minutes to ask questions for which the other spouse gives an answer without interruption. Neither partner can agree or disagree with the other, but only listen, summarize and clarify responses. As you practice and become skilled at these listening techniques, you will be able to discuss sensitive items in a calm, considerate and productive manner.
3. Express your expectations for yourself, your spouse, and your relationship
Some expectations are culturally prescribed and carry over into how we think our relationship should be. Expectations also come from our experiences in childhood and throughout life. Keep this in mind when you consider both your own and your mate’s expectations. Don’t automatically assume that your expectations are right and your partner’s expectations are wrong — they are simply different. Whatever your expectations of your relationship, you need to discuss them. Talk about "what I want to be" and "what I want from you." When both of you have expressed what you want and expect you can begin to make adjustments in your relationship and behavior.
Trying to resolve every issue that you face in your marriage in one discussion will only lead to frustration and confusion. Try to stick to the topic at hand and avoid tangents into other subjects. Agree to a narrow topic and commit to stay on that topic until both of you have had a chance to express your thoughts and feelings. Staying focused on one specific problem at a time will make it easier to resolve it successfully and will make you feel confident that you can continue to solve problems together in the future.
A. Lynn Scoresby, founder and president of My Family Track , First Answers , and Achievement Synchrony , and has been a marriage and family psychologist for more than 35 years. He has published more than 20 books and training programs.