How do you talk to your spouse? Do you speak as kindly as you would like to be spoken to most of the time? Or do you take him for granted and treat him like someone who isn’t very important?
Really give this question some thought. I see couples who believe they are happily married but regularly speak to each other curtly, with impatience, inattention and disrespect. It simply isn’t possible to have a warm, enduring marriage when spouses communicate that way.
Here’s a true story illustrating what I mean. A husband buys his wife a gift of a cheese serving set. She opens the gift, and says in a somewhat disgusted voice, “What do you think I going to do with this? I don’t use things like this!” She then hands it back to him.
If someone reacts like this when you give him a gift, how inclined are you going to be to do it again? It was a totally unsatisfying and even humiliating experience for the husband, who was doing something thoughtful for his wife. She completely failed to appreciate this, thinking only about her disappointment, and not considering how he would feel. Wouldn’t a much better response have been to say “Thank you. That is so thoughtful!” If she really doesn’t think she has a use for the gift, she can kindly let her husband know this later by saying something like, “This is very nice. Do you have any ideas about how we can use it?”
I realize that years of familiarity can breed this type insensitivity, but that isprecisely why I am writing this post. Over time, this kind of treatment will get your spouse looking for appreciative and kind attention from other sources, and that could lead to even worse consequences for the marriage.
Since no one wants that, I’m asking you to be mindful about how you speak to your spouse. I’m not saying that you should never get upset and use harsh words. While that would be ideal, almost everyone occasionally reacts with abrasive language towards those we love because we are human. Anyone who doesn’t is either the Dalai Lama or constantly suppressing her emotions in an unhealthy way.
When we do lose it and speak harshly, it is helpful to look at our behavior from the perspective of an outside observer. A mature person will then offer a sincere apology. “I really appreciate how thoughtful you were to buy me the gift, and I’m sorry I reacted insensitively.” This is in contrast to what some people think of as an apology, but what I call a politician’s rationalization. “Sorry, but I wouldn’t have reacted that way if you had bought me something that I wanted.” This type of statement simply fails as an apology and would leave the giving spouse still feeling blamed.
I’ll be covering different aspects of communicating with your spouse over the next few months, and will cover it in detail in my upcoming program on “rocking your marriage to the next level,” coming this spring. In the meantime, a good rule of thumb is to be mindful of how you speak to your spouse. Learn how to pause before you react.
Think, “How would it feel to be on the receiving end of what I’m going to say?” before you say it.
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