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How to Improve Communication

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Good communication skills are essential for a long and happy marriage. Thankfully, it’s easy to improve communication if you focus on it as a couple. The first step to healthy communication is managing your expectations of marriage. Often, newlyweds expect their husband or wife to be mind readers, who know exactly what they are thinking. No one can pull off such a trick. You have to tell people how you feel and what you need and want.

Also, your partner will not become a different person just because you got married. “People think that magically the person will be the way they want them to be and not how they are,” says Nora J. Baladerian, a psychologist in West Los Angeles.

Once you have accepted that your husband or wife will never read your mind and he or she probably won’t change much, then you can start discussing everything from the mundane (“I wish you would help me around the house more.”) to the serious (“I would like to start having children, but I’m not sure if you’re ready.”)

To have these discussions, you must arm yourself with strategies for talking about anything without offending, hurting, or angering the person with whom you’re speaking. Honestly, good communication skills don’t just work for marriage. They can also come in handy in other relationships, including those with your extended family and co-workers.

Here are the skills you need to build your communication toolbox and help your marriage:

Eliminate all distractions.

Since there is no place for distractions when trying to communicate well, you should shut off all phones, TVs, etc.

Learn to listen.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that to be a good communicator, you must be a good talker. Actually, you should be listening more than talking. And listening is more than just keeping your ears clean, so the noise comes through. You have to really pay attention to what the other person is saying.

An exercise that may help you improve your ability to listen, says Baladerian, is to allow your husband or wife to speak for five minutes without interruption and then repeat what he or she said. Then, have him or her correct you if necessary – say, for instance, you are misinterpreting or getting facts wrong. He or she should keep saying what was said and having you repeat it until you get it right. Then, you can switch places, so that you take the place of the talker and he or she the repeater. Baladerian estimates that the exercise initially takes about 30 minutes.

Consider the other person’s feelings.

“You must put yourself in the other’s shoes,” says Sandra Levy Ceren, a psychologist in DelMar, Calif., who adds that any relationship should be looked at as a learning experience. You are constantly getting to know one another, and you each have different family backgrounds, experiences, values, and expectations that shape who you are. Instead of getting disappointed or angry when your spouse doesn’t automatically meet your needs, try to understand where he or she is coming from.

This is easier written than done. Ceren suggests finding an objective third party to help you break down your differences to better understand each other’s point of view. Objective people are not usually relatives. It’s best to consider professional counselors, religious leaders, psychologists, etc. If you feel like you need professional help to communicate better, make an appointment sooner rather than later. “It’s like a plumbing problem,” says Baladerian. “Don’t wait until the house is flooded.”

Create a plan for broaching difficult topics.

Marriage can get ugly. Sometimes you have to talk about difficult subjects, including infertility, in-laws, money, and death, just to name a few. Baladerian suggests prefacing conversations about tough issues with something like the following: “I have something to say, but it’s scary because I’m afraid you’re going to be upset. But I hope you’ll be proud of me for telling you.”

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