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Long Married

Question:

This is my second marriage, 15 years going OK but both are constantly irritated by a mutual problem: communication is rather unpleasant, it cannot be made easily. The problem (for myself) is that when she wishes to make a point, she sound so aggressive and raises her voice to a tone which I cannot stand. I try to moderate her, asking she to speak in a friendly way because she makes me feel upset and uncomfortable. This a short-fuse situation and we begin fighting bitterly. As for herself her complaints are about the same as mines, I think we both can’t support being corrected or criticized if comments are made harshly. Sorry for both of us because we love each other. Thanks very much in advance, dear Anne.

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  • ‘Anne’ is the pseudonym for the individual who writes this relationship advice column.
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Answer:

You two have a history of fighting with each other. When you wish to communicate with each other, both of you enter the communication with the expectation that the other will hurt you, or will act in an out of control and unpleasant manner and that you won’t be heard by the other. Anticipating the worst, you probably both act very defensively towards one another. If you are acting defensively, you probably are not really taking the time to be open and to listen to what the other has to say. When both partners act defensively, no communication gets done at all. All that is left is a shouting match. Communication in a relationship needs to be based on the assumption that if one partner has something to say, the other will listen. Not just passively listen but actively listen so that the listening is all that is being done and full attention is put into the act of listening. A listener should work to clearly hear what the other is trying to say. A listener should not be thinking of what to say next, but instead, should be focused on clearly hearing what the other person has to say. This openness to listening requires mutual respect and a lot of work. It is not easy to accomplish, but it is highly worthwhile and will make your marriage more pleasant. In order for you and your wife to have better communication, it will be necessary for only one of you to speak at a time, and the other to listen. If you both try to talk at the same time, it won’t work. You need some sort of ‘traffic light’ – a regulating device that decrees who gets to talk and who gets to listen. One good way to get your communication regulated is to agree to some speaking rules with your partner. One person will speak at a time and the other will listen. You can flip a coin to see who speaks first. The speaker gets to speak until he or she is done. While the speaker speaks, the other partner has to listen wholeheartedly. The listener is not allowed to ask questions or to interrupt the speaker while the speaker is speaking. When the speaker is done speaking, it is the job of the listener to repeat back what the speaker said. When the speaker is satisfied that the listener has correctly heard what he or she was trying to say, the two partners trade roles and now the former listener gets to speak and the former speaker gets to listen. You keep trading speaking and listening roles back and forth until everything that needs to be said gets out on the table. Using rules like this to enforce how you and your wife speak with each other can improve your communication. If you can’t get your communication under better control by this method, then seek marital counseling. Good Luck!

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