Dysfunctional communication occurs when there is a discrepancy between what is said and what is heard between partners. Trying to navigate a conversation involving a variety of thoughts, beliefs and emotions between two people can create dysfunction if not done with awareness and care. By implementing these ideas into your marriage, you may be able to increase the times where functional communication happens with your spouse.
People do not appreciate being accused of anything negative. For example, telling your husband that “you make me feel sad and lonely when you go out after work with your co-workers rather than come home to spend time with me” can create a defensive reaction. Dysfunctional communication stems from feeling defensive and attacked. There are many different ways of saying the same thing, and saying “you” instead of “I” may have your spouse feel quickly turned off from wanting to openly communicate with you. Instead, try using an “I” statement. John Gottman advised “this is the ability to start talking about a complaint or problem gently, without criticizing or insulting your partner. When one spouse does this, the other is more willing to listen, making compromise possible.” By saying “I feel sad and lonely” instead of “you make me feel sad and lonely” you are taking ownership for your feelings instead of blaming those feelings on the other person.
Adding in a bit of playfulness into your communication will alleviate stressful feelings and open the door to more humor and lightheartedness. In a study by psychologist Lorne Campbell and colleagues, published in "Personal Relationships," the researchers found that “Besides enhancing positive feelings and bonding in relationships, humor can also serve to stabilize a relationship during times of disagreement or conflict.” Try an activity where each person writes five silly questions to take turns answering. For example, “if you had to choose between only eating peanut butter covered worms or chocolate covered ants, which would you pick and why?” These questions and answers will often provoke laughter and amusement, which can bring couples closer together and increase their communication.
We Instead of Me
If you take a moment to think about what thoughts you have during the day, a majority of them are likely about yourself. Once you get home to your partner after a long day, you both may be in the “me” instead of “we” mentality. Unlike using “I” statements when speaking to your spouse about things that upset you to avoid placing blame, use “we” statements when speaking with your spouse about the relationship as a whole. The “we” in the relationship can get lost when individuals think in terms of “me” regarding communicating about future plans, goals or ideas. Communicating in terms of “we” and “us” helps build a mutual awareness that you and your partner are in the relationship together.
Farewell to Dysfunction
Avoiding dysfunctional communication in a marriage can at times seem like a daunting task. You and your spouse can work with each other to learn each other’s communication styles and what works best as a couple. Remembering how the words you speak affect your spouse and focusing on bringing in laughter and togetherness will likely replace the dysfunctional communication with openness, honesty and more meaningful, functional talks in your marriage.
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