How To Communicate Effectively With Your Spouse

Communicating Effectively With Your Spouse
By  Maryam Bachmeier

Psychologist, Counselor, Writer – U.S

  • Do you have some behaviors that interfere with the effectiveness of a successful day or a harmonious relationship or health? 
  • Do you end up yelling instead of telling your beloved how you really feel or what you really need?
  • Or, you just walk away, sulk, and say nothing?  

Unfortunately, these behaviors can harm a marriage.  Behaviors such as yelling can destroy the vital ingredient in life you got married for, or ruin true intimacy  or an opportunity to complete your religion.

There have been many articles written about the subject of communication. Probably, most of what you have read is good information addressing the positive behaviors that you want to embrace and use.  In Behavioral Psychology, we would call that using a replacement behavior, so is learning communication techniques. For instance, with yelling learning communication techniques is useful if you know the function, and how to make changes in your environment to help you use your new communication techniques, then you will be able to choose the appropriate communication techniques.

You might say that you are learning your own communication style and making changes.  You can also learn your spouse’s communication style, and use that information to “shape”, or teach and motivate him or her into using more effective communication techniques.  Exploring the “triggers”  that perhaps frustrate you, such as your wife asking you  questions in the middle of a TV show instead of waiting for a commercial, will help you decide what you want to change in your environment, and develop a plan of action to make those changes in a harmonious manner.  You also want to really understand the function of your communication style.

In Behavioral Analysis, there are four main functions for any behavior: to get attention, to escape something unpleasant, to get something (tangible), and to communicate, otherwise the behavior is truly visceral and not learned.  Ineffective attempts to communicate may be just that, tying to communicate, or the person might want attention.  So, what we will be doing is to conduct a mini asessment to find those triggers (structural) and the actual function of the ineffective communication style by looking for patterns.

Here, I will illustrate how to do this by using the problem behavior of yelling as an example.

For example, If you are yelling every time that your wife / husband tries to talk to you, how would you change the environment to reduce the probability of that trigger occurring again?  I can think of at least two possibilities:

Record the show which you want to watch, so that if he / she has something important to say, you won’t have a conflict between listening and watching the show. 

Or, you can ask your spouse to pick a special time when you know you can give your attention without becoming frustrated. 



You get the idea!

You will want to identify as many patterns related to your behavior as possible.  You will want to know what the triggers are, and what reinforcers (functions) there are.

Now, here you are, ready to take action. This is what you do. You will use a simple tool called the ABC tool from the science of Applied Behavioral Analysis. Take a piece of paper and make three columns. 

  • In column one, write “antecedent.” 
  • In column two, write “behavior”. 
  • In column three, write “consequences”. 

For the following week, write down in:

Column 1:

Everything you see in your environment, everything that is happening around you, and the event that has just occurred before you yelled. Then, write down what you are thinking about and how your body is responding (is your jaw tightening up?  Are you feeling hot?  Does your leg start to shake?

Column 2:

Every time you yell

Column 3:

Everything that happened immediately after you yelled. Did someone try to console you?  Did someone yell back?  Did someone walk away?  Write it all down in the consequence column. 

Next, (a week later) analyze your ABC chart and look for a pattern.  You should be able to identify the triggers that “set you off” and the reinforcers that make you feel comfortable using this behavior on a regular basis (even though now you don’t want to). 

The next step in the preparation stage is to develop the plan of action.  In this case, it will involve learning coping skills when a “trigger event” occurs; appropriate responses to the other or events (social skills); and a way to feel better (self soothing skills).  You will first need to be able to identify when a trigger is about to happen and how your own body is responding just prior to a yelling event.  And to prevent the yelling, you will learn alternate behaviors and affirmations (which will eventually change what you think and how you feel during triggering events).  So here, you have a plan of action with a list of skills and alternative behaviors to learn.

Now that we have gone through the process of analyzing the patterns that are triggering and reinforcing the problem behavior, and we have identified the effective communication techniques that you want to learn, it is time to actually make the needed changes in your environment if possible, to reduce the probability of triggers and to learn your new communication techniques. 

I won’t actually be teaching specific techniques in this article, but I may do in the future if there is a demand for it.  Techniques such as taking deep breaths, stop looking, listening, taking a walk before you talk, and using I statements are very popular and many writers have already written about them.   But one should realize that it takes at least three weeks to develop a new behavior, and to be able to use it consistently, so be very patient with yourself, especially when you are on the learning curve.  Remember, ‘practice makes perfect’. 

In order to keep the momentum going, you will need to reward yourself for your successes.  This may sound silly, but it works, you can actually give yourself a star in your journal each time you are successful in using the new behavior.  You can also keep track of how many opportunities or time you felt “triggered”, and how many times you used the old behavior, and how many times you used the new one. This way, you can see your progress, and you will be motivated to keep going.



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