Ask any happily married couple, and they will tell you that positive communication is the bedrock of a fulfilling marriage. Good communication is the fuel that drives marriages, builds bridges and connects a couple– in good times and bad. In fact, research has shown that couples who communicate well are likely to have better relationships. However, while we may all have heard stories of couples who hit a post-baby rocky patch, many of us fail to realise that the communication bridges are built long before baby arrives on the scene.
At the heart of most communication clashes is the stark difference in how men and women communicate. Recognising that your spouse expresses himself differently from you is the first step to enhancing the communication in your marriage. For example, the reason for speaking up might differ. husbands may speak up with the intent to state a problem, and then try to find a solution immediately. Wives usually want to explore their feelings and use their husbands as a sounding board, often without expecting to reach a resolution at once. Men and women are also different in how they communicate. Men tend to be factual and brief, and are sometimes misunderstood as being curt or rude, while women may talk on for a while – this is when their husbands may interrupt mid-conversation with an unsolicited solution! Accept that your spouse has a different communication style from you, and learn to adapt to each other as part of the marriage journey.
Listening well is perhaps the most important building block for good communication in any marriage. Often, we are quick to speak but slow to listen. Experts say that nearly 85% of what we communicate is non-verbal, which includes expressions, gestures, posture and also eye contact. 27 year-old newly-wed Alina shares that “observing my husband closely helps me to understand his communication style better. I learn to pick up on when he tends to speak up or clam up, and also what he says to indicate that he is stressed, tired or angry. By listening to and observing each other more closely,, we found our misunderstandings have greatly reduced.” Paying close attention to your spouse and creating an inviting atmosphere for conversation can be done in a number of simple ways:
- Invite your spouse to share their thoughts: “You look tired, do you want to talk about your day?”
- When your spouse is talking, lean in slightly towards them, to indicate your interest in what they are saying.
- Make regular eye contact with your spouse, while he or she speaks.
- Offer short ‘filler’ responses to encourage them to speak, such as “Ok, I hear you”, “Go on” etc.
Couples should also identify potential hotspots in their marriage, even as they plan for parenthood. As each individual is raised in a unique home environment and experiences different family dynamics, often, these differences in upbringing emerge as sources of tension in the marriage. Mrs Joanna Koh-Hoe, President of Focus on the Family Singapore, a non-profit organisation that offers family-life education and counselling services, shares that the common sticky issues for newlyweds are finances, in-laws and work-life integration. “Having a baby accentuates these issues as it adds a further dimension – now you have to plan not just for your couple getaways but to eventually send your child to university; you now worry not only about getting along with the in-laws but how the grandparents’ parenting styles may conflict with yours; it also gets morechallenging to harmonise work and family demandswhen you have a newborn relying on you 24/7”. Taking the time to discuss these differences and proactively find solutions even before you have your baby, will strengthen the trust and communication between you as a couple, and also minimise conflict later on in your marriage.
Reinforcing the marriage, prior to your baby’s arrival is important. Often, couples get caught up in the whirlwind of work and personal responsibilities, and forget to make time for each other. Cultivating your friendship in the early part of your marriage will take some effort, but couples share that the pay-off is worth it. Joan, a 32 year-old mother of two toddlers, reveals that sheintentionally embarked on new hobbies together with her husband. “When we were first married, we took dance and pottery classes together. But now that we have the kids, and time is short, it’s simpler things like exploring new coffee joints, or catching up over lunch in the middle of the work week. The important thing is that we take time to connect, and it’s become a habit for us”.
Institute date nights. “Why would a couple that lives and sleeps together every night
needs dates and rituals? Precisely because they live and sleep together”, declares Dr. William J. Doherty in his book, Take Back Your Marriage. Maintaining a regular date night gives couples the opportunity to connect emotionally despite the busyness of their week, and offers a relaxed atmosphere to share deeper feelings. Keep your dates fresh and simple; you may want to go out to a nice restaurant one week or curl up in front of the television with a favourite DVD, the next.
Nothing undermines the lovingly built foundation of a marriage, like a nasty fight. While conflicts are a given in any relationship, learning to respect boundaries and fight fairly is a core component of a solid marriage. Mrs Koh-Hoe of Focus on the Family Singapore offers this advice:
- Select a good time and place to talk – this may require some planning so you can have a proper, uninterrupted conversation.
- Focus on finding solutions together rather than harping on the problem or stopping at merely defining the problem.
- Fight fair – It doesn’t help to get hostile and enter into a shouting match, or get defensive and retreat into the silent treatment. Avoid hitting below the belt (using words or phrases that trigger more reaction, such as “You’re just like your mother!”, or getting historical about wrong-doings) and learn how to say sorry.
Ultimately, investing time and effort in building communication bridges early in the marriage will create a solid foundation of trust, love and intimacy to ensure your relationship will stand firm as you welcome your new baby into the family.
I Love Children thanks Mrs Joanna Koh-Hoe, President of Focus on the Family Singapore, for her professional input.