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3 Communication Mistakes Married Couples Must Avoid

mistakes couple


Dishonesty.

It sounds like a no brainer but dishonesty can sneak into even the most solid marriages. It starts when you want to prevent conflict, which is generally a good idea. The desire to prevent the negative feeling of conflict is so strong you justify stretching the truth. You end up developing a pattern of withholding information which seems ok because you have prevented conflict, until your dishonesty comes crashing down demolishing trust.

Criticism.

We’ve all heard couples who constantly berate each other and wonder why they stay together but criticism is subtle too. Your offhand comment about the laundry or the bills hurt more than your spouse let on. For some couples criticism is direct and burns hot, for others it’s passive aggressive and festers under the surface.

Just getting by.

So your communication isn’t perfect, but it’s not terrible either. Congratulations, you have a normal marriage. You’re living life as it comes wishing your marriage was exciting and meaningful but simply getting by day to day. You may wonder what your partner is thinking or why they are withdrawn or angry all the time. You fight from time to time, which you hate, but then things seem a bit better and you continue on until the next painful argument.

Now for the good news: You don’t have to stay stuck. You can develop better communication.

Click the Orange Button to get exclusive content for my email subscribers. You’ll receive the solutions you’ve been looking for and experience immediate results in your marriage. Your communication will explode (in a good way).

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The White Water of Communication in Marriage

Hollie rafting the Zambezi (she is holding the blue paddle)
Hollie rafting the Zambezi (she is holding the blue paddle)

Fishing was fun but what happened next, I’ll never forget.

One warm summer day my dad, mom, younger sister and I went fishing at nearby MacKay reservoir. Usually we found a spot along the bank but this time we fished off the dam. I can’t remember much about the fishing, I suppose it was a lot of my dad baiting the hook with night crawlers and me casting them into the greenish water.

Not long after we started fishing a group of people came to play at the dam. They carried inner tubes and started swimming in the cool water not far from where we were fishing. I remember watching as each guy curled up inside an inner tube and rolled down the slope of the dam splashing into the water. It looked like fun and the entire group was laughing and having a great time. I’m not sure how long we attempted to fish while they splashed nearby; mostly I remember what happened next.  

One of the guys didn’t come up.

The laughing quickly turned to concern then to frantic searching in the murky water.

The next part of my memory consists mostly of the flashing red lights of the ambulance. I learned later my dad drove our truck to a nearby house to call 9-1-1. Emergency workers had difficulty finding the missing swimmer due to poor visibility. They eventually found him but he didn’t make it.

Experiences matter. Highly emotional experiences tend to hold enormous meaning throughout our lifetime. They shape us to the core and provide the backstory of our life.

To this day I’m wary of water sports. It took me a long time to realize how my experience at MacKay Reservoir affected me. I can’t even name the emotion related to the experience but my reaction has been caution. I get nervous around water and tend to be extra vigilant to ensure everyone is safe. That’s not exactly a bad thing and it didn’t really matter until my wife suggested we go white water rafting with friends.

My reaction didn’t go over very well.

My fear came out as disinterest. Ok, my reaction was probably stronger like disdain for her idea. Pro tip: never treat your spouse with disdain, it’s not healthy for connection.

The ensuing discussion was tense, my reaction was surprisingly blunt and raw. I was afraid but it was hard to describe in that moment.

My wife Hollie has a different emotional response to water sports. She had an amazing experience white water rafting in Africa. In the summer after her freshman year in college Hollie visited the country of Zambia for a two week long mission trip. During the trip her group went on a rafting trip of a lifetime on the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe Africa. They put the raft in at the base of the falls excited to experience the class five rapids. The first rapid was called the boiling pot where the river makes a sharp turn. They had only been in the boat a few minutes when the raft crashed into rocks and turned over. Everyone fell out and rushed to get back in the raft to avoid the crocodiles. Even when she retells the story she can feel the adrenaline rush. Hollie loves a thrill and she remembers her trip as one of the most awesome experiences of her life. Whenever she thinks of whitewater rafting she recalls the wonderful emotion of adventure on the Zambezi.

Our experiences and our reactions to them are vastly different. A simple conversation about the idea of going rafting touched on emotions from our unique experiences. Because our experiences and emotions were so different our communication regarding the possibility of a rafting trip missed each other. I was overly annoyed at her giddiness and rather than share my fear, I was irritable.   

Writing about the drowning and my reaction to it nearly 30 years later makes it seem easy. Like I’m super aware of every emotion from every back story of my entire life. I’m not. It took me a while to unpack my reservations to sign up for the rafting trip. Slowly over many conversations with my wife and years of self reflection, I was able to see how my experiences and reactions were related to emotion.

All communication contains emotion to some degree, especially in marriage. Emotions provide meaning to the words we say. The emotions you feel and communicate come from your past experiences and how you react to them.

To communicate better with your spouse:

Identify your emotions.

The simple (but not easy) step of labeling how you feel will help you unpack your reactions and how you communicate with your spouse.

Identify the source of your emotional reaction.

It may not be clear where your emotions are coming from but often there was some type of event or situation behind your emotion. It could be as simple as having an exhausting day which fuels your curt responses to your spouse.

Many couples go off track here and miss-identify their spouse is the reason for their uncomfortable emotions. It’s often a result of lazy introspection. HINT: The source of your negative emotion is likely not your spouse. If I had incorrectly labeled Hollie as the source of my emotion, that it was her fault I felt afraid, our communication and marriage would struggle. Viewing negative emotions as external to your marriage will help you come together against the threat. Viewing negative emotions as internal to your marriage will fuel conflict and disconnection.

If interactions with your spouse have caused serious emotional pain, please get professional help to provide a safe place to heal your marriage.

Share your experience with your spouse.

Communicating about your past experiences will help to explain your current feelings and behaviors. Identifying a situation or combination of circumstances will help your spouse be more supportive and less defensive.

Engage in new experiences. 

Be open to trying new experiences and new emotions. Your fear may be valid but don’t let fear paralyze you and limit your life. I’ll try whitewater rafting, it will be scary and I’ll probably never be as comfortable with it as my wife. But when I do I’ll experience new positive emotions and my fear will diminish some.

What is your white water rafting? What scares you but seems silly to your spouse? Share your experience with your spouse. Your communication and connection in marriage will thrive when you take the risk to share vulnerable emotions. When your spouse shares their experiences and fears respond with understanding and gentle encouragement rather than judgment and shame; it will make some wonderful in your marriage.

Go Deeper.

Learn more about communication in marriage with my new course 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage.

The course is packed with my best lessons on communication formed from years of working with couples in my counseling office. 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage course contains even more information than I can cover with couples in the counseling setting.

The course is delivered to you in 30 daily emails which contain lessons specifically designed to boost your communication with your spouse. Each lesson includes an Action Point so you can immediately apply the lesson to your relationship.

Lessons Include:

  • The requirement for all communication.
  • What you see is what you get.
  • Getting comfortable with compliments.
  • How to know what your partner is thinking.
  • Reducing distractions.
  • And 25 more!


FREE BONUS: You can also receive each lesson via text message. If you are like me, you always have your phone. The text message option allows you easy access to the content on the go making it even easier to boost your communication today.

Click the link or photo to GET IT NOW

“I’m Sorry, You’ve Been Temporarily Disconnected”

guy with phone

The other day I was talking on the phone. It was a great conversation and I was chatting away until I realized the person I was talking to wasn’t there. I had no idea how long I had been talking after they were disconnected. A few seconds? Several minutes? When I realized I was only jabbering to myself I stopped. Communication cannot happen without relationship. I had to call back and get reconnected.

The same situation can happen in marriage. Married life is going fine until you realize you were disconnected somehow. Communication falters when you are physically or emotionally disconnected.

A disconnected marriage is like when you call someone and hear: BEEEEEPP! “I’m sorry, the number you are trying to reach has been temporarily disconnected.”

If you are distracted or connected to something else, like looking at your phone instead of listening to your spouse, communication doesn’t work well.

Don’t let your marriage become disconnected. Engage. Call your spouse back and get reconnected in your marriage. Temporary disconnection happens in marriage but you must commit to reconnecting for communication to work. Some couples end up talking to dead air for years without even realizing it because their connection is gone. Even the best communicators need a connection.

In marriage, communication is not about relaying only factual information, it’s mostly about relaying love. Maintaining healthy communication promotes good emotional connection. Then, emotional connection improves communication. It’s the wonderful cycle that’s guaranteed to keep you well connected in marriage. Keep the wonderful cycle going in your marriage and your communication will never feel like you’ve been jabbering to yourself.

lady with phone


2 parts of communication cover

I would like to share with you the story of Sue and Chuck and how their communication about flowers was about much more than simply flowers.

Their communication, and yours, consists of 2 main parts. First, the actual words shared, what I call logistics, and second, the meaning of the words, or the emotion the words evoke.

To learn more about Sue and Chuck and The 2 Parts of Communication get this free resource to instantly improve your communication.

4 Marriage Lessons from Sour Milk

milk


I never feel more apologetic than when I clean the back seat of the car. In those moments I apologize to my car for having children. Last summer our car smelled. Bad. Upon further investigation we discovered a long hidden sippy cup lodged under the seat. It had been filled with milk and given to one of our sons and at some point in the chaos of child transport it was forgotten. Until the smell. The first day the smell arrived it smelled like something had died along the road, like we passed roadkill along the way. The smell was disregarded as we got out of the car. By the second day of the smell it was clear the roadkill was somewhere in the car. We cleaned the car and found the cup. The sour smell was overwhelming and the sick feeling was made worse when we discovered the smell was not only from the cup of sour milk but that the milk had spilled onto the floor of the car. We scrubbed, we removed the seats, we scrubbed and washed and air freshened. Eventually the smell diminished but the smell still lingers in my memory.

The sour milk tragedy reminds me of the interaction cycle of some couples. In life and marriage not everything works out perfectly. Mistakes are made, miscommunication happens and hurtful words get flung around. For healthy couples these difficult times are no fun but they are quickly resolved and connection is restored. Unfortunately, some couples ignore the mess and conflict hoping it will go away. Their conflict continues and their connection suffers until the smell becomes unbearable.

To avoid a sour milk marriage:

  1. Risk making a mess. First of all it’s okay to really engage in your relationship. You must risk vulnerability to connect well in your marriage. We are okay with living in our car. We want to engage with our children in the car which means risking spills and crushed fish crackers in the car seats. Don’t be so scared of making a mistake in your relationship that you suffocate authenticity.
  2. Take care. Although we allow our kids to eat in the car we also teach them not to be careless. We don’t expect them to never spill but we do expect them to learn. Invest in your relationship. Learn how to avoid relationship injuries. Talk to your spouse about ways you can reduce conflict. Get expert help when you are not sure how to connect well without fighting.
  3. Stop criticizing. It would not have helped to yell at our kids for spilling the milk. In your relationship it doesn’t help to shame your spouse. No matter how much you know about your spouse of how careful you are arguments will happen. Criticism destroys the foundation of trust in relationships.
  4. Clean up quickly. The main problem in our car was not that milk was spilled but that we didn’t clean it up soon enough. The warm summer days took our neglect and punished our sense of smell. When fights and arguments result in hurt feelings don’t just let it sit. You can take time to cool off if your argument gets too hot but don’t let it go days without working to resolve the tension. The longer you keep unaddressed conflict in your marriage the nastier it gets. Healthy couples quickly clean up the spills of relationship injuries.

Mending Your Relationship with God and Your Spouse

mending heart

There once was a man who had two sons. The younger son said to his father “give me my inheritance now.” So the father gave him his inheritance early and he took off with the money to a distant land. He soon squandered all of his money and found himself destitute and desperate. He thought to himself “even my father’s hired men have food to eat and here I am starving. I will go to my father and tell him I am no longer worthy to be his son and beg him to be one of his hired men.” When he was still far away his father saw him and ran to him, embraced him, and welcomed him home. The father was overjoyed his son had returned and threw a royal party in his honor.

Jesus told this parable of a lost son (It’s recorded in the Bible in the book of Luke chapter 15). I love how his story illustrates a relationship injured then mended.

Grace offered, grace accepted. Party. It’s the winning method for mending and strengthening relationships.

Your relationship with God and your spouse are the two most important relationships in your life. Mending these relationships will benefit all other relationships.

[I’m co-authoring this post with my sister Joy Lindner. She is an ordained minister and the pastor at the Juliaetta Idaho Church of the Nazarene.]

Mending your relationship with God.

God has made us for relationship with him and desires an intimate connection with us as his dearly loved children. But our relationship with God is broken by sin, by the selfish choices we make, by our pride that says we can do just fine without God.

  1. We mess up. Our first step is to admit our sin and acknowledge how our choices have broken the relationship. Yet, by ourselves, we are not capable of healing this relationship.
  2. Grace offered. The Good News is God extends his grace and reaches out to us to heal the relationship. Long before we turn to God, God, out of his great love for the world, sent his son Jesus as the ultimate expression of that love. God offers us the free gift of his grace, wooing us to a life of reconciled relationship and deep connection. All we do is simply accept his gift of grace through faith in Jesus.
  3. Grace accepted. God’s gift of grace completely mends our relationship, and in response to this amazing love of God, we seek to live in ways that express our love in return. As recipients of grace and forgiveness, our lives reflect a change of direction, turning away from sin and toward God. God invites us to live in ways that increase connection and fosters closeness.
  4. Party. Connecting well with our Creator leads to life, life abundantly. Deep connection with God produces the fruit of his Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Connecting well with our Creator thus produces in us characteristics that foster deep connections in human relationships.

Mending your relationship with your spouse

The major difference between your relationship with God and your marriage is your relationship with your spouse contains two imperfect people. In human relationships, grace must be extended and accepted in both directions.

Our marriage relationship gets damaged in many ways, we are imperfect and we mess up. It could be through conflict, neglect, selfishness, eating all the chocolate, or simply not getting the toilet seat right. Marriage can sustain relational injuries from serious or petty conflicts.

  1. We mess up. Relationship mistakes will happen in marriage. Conflict gets messy and we damage our connection. When you mess up admit to your spouse how you were responsible for damaging the relationship. The critical aspect of apology is acknowledging the damage caused to your connection.
  2. Grace offered. When your spouse messes up extend grace. Communicate this grace gently in a way they can experience.
  3. Grace accepted. Recognize when grace is extended to you and accept the gift. Don’t remain in the pit of self imposed despair. In response to receiving grace, commit to reduce future damage and protect connection through a healthy pattern of interaction. Taking responsibility to change how you interact resulting in fewer mess ups will rebuild trust.
  4. Party. The best part of mending your relationship with your spouse is the celebration. Enjoy wonderful intimacy in your marriage. Celebrate your great connection. It can feel like bragging or showing off to celebrate a great marriage when so many are suffering, but go ahead and show others the wonderful benefits of committed connection. Your celebration can change the impression that struggle and divorce are a more common experience in marriage than happiness.

The older son in Jesus’ story grumbled about the extravagant grace the father extended to his younger brother. If you choose to ignore God’s offer of grace you will risk missing the party. If you choose to remain critical and hurtful to your spouse you will miss the party.

Will you accept the grace offered you? Get ready to party.

Photo credit: / 123RF Stock Photo