Normal conversations do not usually flow like dialogue in a scripted performance where each person gets to complete his line before the next player takes her turn. Speakers naturally overlap each other. Even though interruptions are a natural phenomenon of speech, they can create a power struggle, lead to frustration and, over time, have a detrimental effect on any relationship. Fortunately, examining why the interruptions occur and working on other ways to improve your relationship can help the reverse the damage.
Look for patterns of when most interruptions occur. For example, if they happen during late-night conversations, you both might be tired and have more difficulty listening.
Find time when both of you are calm and share your feelings. Make more "I" statements than "you" statements. These are usually less threatening and invite more open communication. Instead of saying, "you're always interrupting me," try "I feel frustrated when I'm interrupted." Ask for her insights about why she's interrupting, and truly listen to her point of view. Don't be surprised when she has a different perception of the problem.
Ask your wife if she wants to record your conversations so you can both analyze your conversational patterns. Listening to the recordings together may be what you both need to gain insight into how you each communicate. Don't be surprised to discover that you interrupt her. It's also possible that you contribute to the problem by monopolizing the conversations and the only chance your wife gets to contribute is if she interrupts.
Analyze the type of interruptions in your conversations. Research conducted by the department of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., distinguishes between two types of interruptions -- competitive or cooperative. The competitive type indicates a low priority is given to what the speaker is saying. This could be caused by a lack of respect or a power struggle in the marriage. The cooperative type consists of supportive comments or clarifying questions. If most of the interruptions you find are of the cooperative type, there is less reason for concern about your relationship.
Examine your relationship. Have you been as caring, considerate and attentive as you used to be earlier in your marriage? How well spouses communicate in marriage reflects the connection they feel to each other. Deepening your connection to your spouse might help correct your communication problems. Schedule a regular "date night" out to focus on reconnecting.
Examine the responses you each give to the interruptions. Do you both tend to ignore the interruption and just keep talking? Do you give up, give in and address the other's interjection? You both might be inadvertently rewarding the very behavior you don't want to encourage.
Make a game of trying to stop the interruptions. Agree upon a non-verbal signal that you each will use when one wants to interject something while the other spouse is speaking. The signal could be something simple such as a raised hand or finger, or introduce some humor into the process and agree on a silly or playful signal such as pulling your ear, tapping your nose or covering your mouth with your hands.
Develop a mutually agreed upon way to react when you're interrupted. This could be a hand signal that indicates you've heard each other but will address the point later, or it could be a slight negative shake of the head that says, "not yet."
Keep some paper and a pencil handy to make a note of what each partner wants to say when tempted to interrupt. People often interrupt because they're afraid they'll forget what they wanted to say if they don't say it immediately.
Pause and elicit each other's responses during your conversations. Examine each other's facial expressions, so you're more in tune with how engaged your spouse is as a listener. Invite each other to respond at appropriate points in the conversation by stopping and asking if your partner has any questions or comments to make.
Record your conversations again after you've had time to work on making improvements to see if there has been any change. Expect some backsliding as you engage in the process, but try to adhere to the agreed upon responses so that you can both keep your anger and frustration in check while you continue to work out the problem.
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- Aish: Communication - the Key to a Good Marriage
- Georgetown University: Interruptions and Intonation
- Psychology Today: Marriage Problems -- How Communication Techniques Can Make Them Worse
- The New Conversations Initiative: Challenge Three -- How to Express Yourself More Clearly and Completely
- ADHD and Marriage: Should I Record Our Interactions?
- Marriage Builders: A Brief Summary of Dr. Harley's Basic Concepts
- Remind yourself about your spouse's good qualities. This will help increase the patience you'll need while you both work at improving your communication.
- Keep the lines of communication open in your marriage to foster mutual respect and caring for each other. Always tell each other what you need and want in the relationship.
- Another game: Set a timer during your conversations and see how long each of you can exercise your listening skills without saying anything while the other spouse is talking.
- If your wife doesn't agree there's a problem and you're becoming increasingly frustrated, seek a professional counselor to help you work through the issue.
Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.