TWELVE STEPS TO BETTER MARITAL COMMUNICATIONS

To flourish, a marriage needs careful attention to good communication. If you find frustration, disappointment, distance, or disinterest building in your marital relationship, the problem is likely to be in failed communications. Such problems need prompt attention before they cause serious damage or grow beyond repair. Here are some straightforward steps to improve marital communication. For success in your marriage, they are best practiced regularly.

1. Set aside special time to talk about each other and your relationship. It is important to talk on a regular basis, at least weekly, without distractions.

2. Listen to your partner by giving your full attention and contemplating what he or she has said before responding. Check out your perceptions of what your partner has said. Try to understand your partner's perceptions and feelings even though they may be different from your own.

3 Never assume what your partner is thinking. Trying to read minds is dangerous to all relationships. Ask for feedback. Check out your assumptions. Ask, "Are you feeling that...?"

4. Never assume that your partner knows what you want, think, or feel. Assumptions like this lead often to disappointment or unnecessary frustration. You must express yourself for your partner to know about your interests.

5. When discussing a matter on which you disagree, it is important to get a good grasp on your partner's feelings and perceptions before advancing your own position. Communicate honestly your concerns about your relationship, but avoid accusing or blaming statements. Blaming statements usually begin with "You..."- as opposed to expressions of concern, which more likely begin with "I..." - and describe your feelings or experiences. If you have especially strong feelings about a concern, you may wish to practice expressing them before talking with your partner. For example, use a !ape recorder and listen to yourself first. Keep in mind that assigning blame rarely solves a problem. What you're after is understanding and solution.

6. If you feel under attack or find yourself discussing past hurts, you and your partner are probably off track and not listening to each other. Stick to the present misunderstanding. Slow down and try to understand each other's experiences and positions on the particular concern being discussed.

7. Be clear about your needs and priorities without being either inflexible or feeling like you must always give in. It is important that both of you can sometimes say "no" and have that accepted. Equitable relationships where differences can be acknowledged are usually the most successful and satisfying.

8. Do things regularly that you know your partner appreciates and will show your partner that you care about him or her.

9. Be positive in your communication with your partner. Let him or her hear frequently about things you appreciate.

10. Include humor or playfulness in your routine. Surprises and humor are wonderful icebreakers if tension has developed between you.

11. Touch as much as you are comfortable with, as this nonverbally communicates caring and support. Touching each other when one of you is upset can help dissolve tension and make talking about an issue feel safer. Touch can communicate that you care and want to work out differences. It is also important that touch not be only a signal for sex.

12. Get help from a psychotherapist or marriage counselor if you find yourself feeling angry, bitter, resentful, or discouraged in relation to your partner over an extended period. Coping constructively with frustration or anger is a natural part of close relationships. But if these become dominant modes of relating, consider professional help before things get worse.

This handout was prepared by Peter A Keller, Ph.D. and Rhonda Keller, ACSW. Reproduced from: Innovations in Clinical Practice: A Source Book (Vol. ) pp. 531, by L. VandeCreek and T.L.Jackson (Eds.), Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press. Copyright © 1999 by the Professional Resource Exchange, Inc., P.O. Box 15560, Sarasota, FL 34277-1560.