I don't know how to communicate with my wife. I seem unable to convey my desires and goals to her in a manner that she understands. This includes everything from what restaurant I want to go to, to where we're going to spend the holidays, to what color to paint the dining room. I manage people in my office and seem to communicate assignments and reviews clearly. How can I communicate with my wife?
-- Need to be Heard
Dear Need to be Heard -
It sounds like you would like to be heard and, upon being heard, have your wife agree with or concede to your way more often.
In some ways effective communication and problem-solving can benefit from an approach similar to peers brainstorming strategies and solutions at work. Often, while at work, people make an extra effort to maintain composure, avoid taking comments personally, and practice respectful listening and communicating. The key, of course, is that they are peers working together. If you are the boss at work and try that approach at home, it will surely backfire.
Often it is important to decide how you are going to decide. This is a lot like kids figuring out the rules of a game they're making up. Together you'll have to decide how you're going to pick a restaurant. If you feel like you're not being heard, then it is a good idea to let her know you would like to suggest a place or two as well -- and then do so. If you feel like you're being heard, but never get to pick, let her know and decide how to take turns. This takes a lot of going back and forth and a lot of honest communication.
Ironically, one of the best ways to be heard is to talk less and listen more. You would be surprised at how willing another person is to hear you (and even agree with you or concede) once they feel truly heard. To really hear someone, it is important to let go of your agenda. Listening to her telling you all about her favorite color for the living room just so that you can trump her when she's done is less listening than it is tolerating. You have to, for the moment, really want to hear and understand her opinion. Care about what she thinks, how she arrived at her opinion, and how important it is to her. This takes concentration, acknowledgement, and reflection. When you understand, and she agrees you understand, let her know that you'd like to share your feelings and confirm that she is ready to hear them. When you're done, you will together have to decide how to decide.
Sometimes a partner doesn't realize the other one cares about choosing. Sometimes, a partner feels there is an understood division of labor and decisions. And sometimes there are other underlying issues and resentments sabotaging effective communication. If your communication does not improve, I encourage you to seek the help of a therapist. Effective communication is a very common and achievable goal in couple's counseling.
About Author / Additional Info:
Lauren Trecosta is a Licensed Professional Counselor offering virtual Individual, Relationship and Group counseling through SKYPE webcam and teleconferencing. In-office counseling is available on a limited basis.