Finding ways to better communicate can be one of the most challenging aspects of a relationship. Two people with different personalities and life experiences come together to form a union. Each person has their own style of expressing their emotions, voicing concerns, and getting points across.
Failure to get on the same page can lead to other issues, and ultimately result in a split. A study conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers found that communication problems were the number one reason for American marriages ending in divorce, with about 67.5% of all marital unions failing due to a breakdown of communication.
As psychotherapists and relationship coaches, husband and wife Ayize and Aiyana Ma’at have worked with many couples looking for ways to better communicate. As high school sweethearts who have been married for 20 years, they have also had to work through communication problems of their own, which led them to begin working with other couples.
“We saw how some of the problematic patterns in our relationship interfered with our ability to communicate effectively and connect completely,” the couple says. “We ‘did our work’ individually and collectively (therapy and relationship education) and wanted to empower others to ‘do their work’ so that they could experience healing and wholeness in their relationship.”
According to the Ma'ats, the reason so many couples struggle is that most are not in touch with their feelings and have not been taught how to express their thoughts in a healthy and productive way. However, it is critical that couples begin working to remedy the situation immediately.
“Communication impacts every area of your relationship (money, sex, parenting, in-laws, quality time, etc.) If communication issues go unaddressed, they become pervasive and eventually cripple the connection. In our work with couples we’ve seen that unresolved communication issues lead to a lack of knowing and being known, lack of intimacy (touchless and sex-starved relationships), a lack of trust, resentment, and ‘roommate’ marriages.”
Ayize and Aiyana offers the following advice for those looking for ways to better communicate with their spouse or partner.
Instead of seeking agreement, aim for understanding
When working with clients, one of the questions the Ma'ats often asks is, ‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be in a relationship?’
“We ask this question because many people prioritize their point of view and perspective over arriving at a place where both parties feel understood. When there’s mutual understanding, both people in a relationship feel heard, valued, and respected. Relationship work is personal work, and part of the personal work is recognizing that nobody has a monopoly on perspective.”
Speak life to your partner
All people need to be affirmed, and we need to hear it from the ones we love the most. Speak life to your spouse or partner by letting them hear edifying, uplifting, and enriching words coming from your mouth.
“This is a part of the Divine Design of being in a healthy relationship. Take time today to think about how you can affirm your partner. It shouldn’t be optional. When you speak life, you give life, not only to your sweetheart but also to yourself and your relationship.”
Ask heartfelt questions to increase intimacy
Sometimes individuals are so absorbed in their own problems that they forget to see their partner as a person.
“You can strengthen your relationship by learning more about your partner and discussing their thoughts and feelings. The goal should always be ‘to increase our connection and our communication in our relationship.’ We should continually be trying to be more active in taking interest in the mind and heart of our partner. There is no point of arrival….intimacy is developed and strengthened in the pursuit of a deeper level of understanding each other.”
Keep a shared journal
Harness the power of the written word, one of the most impactful ways to communicate with your lover. It's a proven pathway to respectfully deliver a heartfelt message, receive love, heal, and understand.
"You don't have to filter through facial expressions, tone, and gestures. You can just be with words, thoughts, and feelings. Using a shared journal is an amazing way to intensify the intimacy in your relationship. It helps you to see yourself and each other differently. It can deepen your knowing and appreciation of your love."
Stop cutting your partner with your sharp tongue and weaponizing your silence
Interrupting your partner when your feelings get hurt, or you get mad, shutting down and not talking to your spouse for long periods of time, or having the ability to slice your partner with your words are all protective postures and maladaptive coping mechanisms that the Ma'ats say create disconnection in your relationship.
“Instead of popping your collar and taking pride in ‘getting’ someone before they ‘get’ you, do your work. Soften the sharp edges by prioritizing getting the necessary help to heal your pain.”
Don’t just focus on what they say, acknowledge and affirm what you see
Lastly, the couple would like to remind others that your words and actions matter and that it is important for both you and your partner to verbally and nonverbally affirm each other and express thoughts and feelings in order to experience a healthy relationship.
“Although words matter, the overwhelming majority of communication is non-verbal. Yes, your partner has a responsibility to talk, however, you may be missing a lot of what's being expressed because you're waiting for your partner to say it. Instead of paying attention to how they show it. Are you paying attention? And are you acknowledging what you see?”