How to have the kind of marriage communication that leads to closer connection

Experts cite communication problems as the number one reason marriages fail.

But good communication in marriage is not enough, unless that communication leads you to a closer connection with your partner.

That’s because…

Communication is not really the problem in marriage. Feeling disconnected is.

You can have good communication and not feel connected.

I’m not saying communication is not important, because you can’t connect without communicating. What I’m saying is you can communicate without connecting.

Sometimes you may communicate perfectly and still trigger each other’s defenses.

Whenever defenses are triggered, the space between you becomes negative. Negativity makes a conversation unsafe, and that’s what keeps you from connecting.

So…

Whether it’s criticism in your communication, or a judgmental reaction to your partner’s words, this kind of communication will prevent connection and conflict will be the result.

Talking with criticism or listening with judgment can make any subject a contentious one. And that’s when we blame our relationship failure on “communication problems”.

On the other hand, when you talk in a way that leaves you feeling connected, then you can more easily deal with every problem in your relationship.

The Safe Conversation model (aka The Couple’s Dialogue) is a tool that will help you communicate in a way that leads to connection.

Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt have defined a Safe Conversation as…

A way of talking without criticizing, of listening without judging, and connecting beyond our differences.

Let’s consider how this can work for us.

1. Talking without criticizing

Janet said to her husband Rob, “You’re going to kill yourself if you keep eating like that! You know that white sugar is poison!”

Communication? There is no question about what Janet is communicating. It’s crystal clear. But what do you think Rob’s response would be to this kind of communication?

He’d probably see it as criticism, and react by judging Janet’s intent as being disrespectful or controlling. Right?

“Stop telling me what to do! You’re always trying to control me!”

And then this reaction would then trigger further frustration on Janet’s part.

“You never listen to me.”

This downward spiral began with a critical comment.

A safe conversation can eliminate that.

You can talk about almost anything if you’ll say it in a respectful way without criticism.

It’s not what you say but how you say it. Whatever it is you’re talking about is secondary.

As safe conversation is like a truck moving produce.  The truck will deliver whatever it’s carrying: wheat, corn, beans or potatoes, it doesn’t matter.

In the same way a safe conversation will deliver any kind of message you want to send: appreciation, frustration, things you want, or things you need from your partner, it doesn’t matter. Like the truck moving the cargo, a safe conversation will deliver the goods.

So what would a Safe Conversation look like in this case?

1) Use “I statements” rather than “you statements”

Instead of saying “you” and then criticizing Rob, Janet could start by using “I” statements to share two things: “what I saw or heard” and “what I felt”.

And then she add any other thoughts or feelings that come to mind.

“When I saw you eating donuts, I felt anxious. My mother had diabetes and died at an early age and I’m afraid of something happening to you.”

2) Watch the non-verbal messages you’re sending

Often, things like a sigh, a glare, or a rolling of the eyes communicate negativity.

It will be really helpful if Janet conveys a soft look in her eyes and speaks in a kind tone.

It’s the non-verbal gestures that actually do most of our communicating.

3) Regulate your own emotional reaction

When Janet speaks in this way, she is working to regulate her reaction and the fear that drives her criticism.

This gives Rob a chance to control his own reaction, and perhaps listen with curiosity.

So, when you’re talking, use I statements, watch your non-verbal messages, and regulate your reaction to what you’ve seen and heard.

These steps will help do a lot to make the conversation safe and thus easier for your partner to listen and connect with you.

The problem may not be that your partner is not listening well. The problem may be that you’re not communicating in a way that can be heard.

Talking without criticizing can help make it safe to talk about even the most difficult issues.

2. Listening without judgment

What’s Rob’s part in this?

Rob stirred the pot by reacting with, “Stop telling me what to do! You’re always trying to control me!”

What if he were to regulate his own reaction for the moment?

You know Janet is really a decent person. What if Rob were to become curious about what feelings are driving her insensitive comment.

The three-part Safe Conversation model is designed to help you do that.

Here’s what it might look like:

Mirror

What if Rob simply mirrored back to Janet what she said?

Mirroring says to your partner, “You matter. What you have to say matters.”

Here’s what that might look like:

“Let me see if I got what you’re saying. You’re saying that when I ate that second donut, you felt anxious. Your mother had diabetes and died at an early age, and you’re afraid of something happening to me.”

Did I get it? (checking for accuracy)

Is there more about that? (curiosity)

Checking to get 100%, and then becoming curious about your partner has a powerful effect, making your partner feel like she or he matters.

The second step is…

Validate

Validation is when you say to your partner, “Although I may see things differently, you make sense.” And then you tell your partner what makes sense about what she or he just said.

“Janet, you make sense. It makes sense that because you experienced such a loss when your mother died, you’d naturally be anxious when you see me not being careful about my sugar intake. That makes sense.

“Does that give you the validation you need?” (always check to see)

Empathize

And finally, empathy is when you feel what your partner is feeling about the issue.

“And I can imagine that you’re feeling really scared. I’ve felt afraid when I thought of losing someone. And that feels really bad.”

Empathy enables you to be present with your partner in the midst of their fears. This enables you to connect emotionally, on a deeper, heart level. This will also bring a measure of healing to the wound that is driving your partner’s fear.

3. Connecting beyond our differences

As Rob and Janet connect, their differences over diet may not change. But empathy will enable them to connect beyond their differences.

You say, well, what if I can’t accept the difference? What if it’s not just an addiction to sweets, but an addiction to say, alcohol.

Then it may be necessary to ask for a change in behavior. But in my experience Rob would be much more open to Janet’s request if they feel connected.

On the other hand, if they continued being defensive and feeling disconnected, the fight would go on and on and on. Right?

What about you?

You too can learn to communicate in a way that leads to closer connection with your partner.

How?

By talking without criticizing, listening without judging, and connecting beyond your differences.

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5 things most people don’t know about emotional connection in marriage

We know emotional connection is important in marriage, but why?

Here are five powerful benefits of emotional connection with your partner that you may not know.

1. Emotional connection is the key to problem solving.

When couples fight, it’s usually not about what they are fighting about. Couples fight because they feel emotionally disconnected and don’t like it.

And when couples feel that disconnection, they will pick the first thing in sight to blame for the anxiety they feel.

He: “If you would just park the car on your side of the driveway I wouldn’t have to worry about hitting it every time I back out of the garage!”

She: “Well if you would fix my side of the driveway, I wouldn’t have to step in the mud every time I get out of my car!”

Even if she parks on her side every time for the rest of her life, and even if he fixes the driveway today, it won’t solve the problem.

Why? Because the problem is not the problem.

The problem is the feeling of being emotionally disconnected.

When a feeling of disconnection occurs, anxiety is triggered, defenses go into effect, and our adrenal gland pumps cortisol into our system. Feeling stressed, we then blame the problem on the first thing that becomes apparent in that moment.

“It’s the way you put the dishes in the dishwasher!”
“It’s your mother! You care more about her than you do me!”
“It’s your job! I feel like you’d rather be at work than at home with me!”

“It’s…” you name it! Every disgruntled partner has something they think is the problem!

But THAT PROBLEM IS NEVER THE PROBLEM!

The problem is not feeling connected.

Nagging, criticizing, cajoling, or giving the silent treatment might get you what you’re asking for…

…but it will never get you what you want – the restored feeling of connection with your partner that you’re really longing for.

2. Emotional connection produces feelings of full-aliveness.

If you repair the rupture and feel connected again, defenses come down, the happy chemicals start flowing. There’s nothing more pleasurable than the rush of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin into your system!

This results in feelings of safety, connection, passion, and full aliveness .

When you feel connected again all the “problems” you’re struggling to solve simply dissolve.

“Chuck that sounds like a fairy tale!”

No it’s true! When you feel connected things just aren’t such a big deal.

Like the way your partner puts the dishes in the dishwasher, the love he has for his mother, or her commitment to her job. These are just the things we complain about when we feel disconnected.

With a close emotional connection, these things simply dissolve, as overwhelming feelings of well-being flood you and your partner and the space between you.

3. Emotional connection lowers your stress level.

When criticism is replaced with appreciation, and frustrations are translated into positive requests for things that make us feel loved, anxiety abates, defenses come down, safety is achieved, and relaxed joyfulness is experienced.

That’s when you’ll notice a whole lot less stress even when your life is otherwise very stressful.

Everytime you give your partner a hug, your pituitary gland releases oxytocin which lowers your heart rate and lowers cortisol levels.

Why is this important?

Cortisol is a hormone largely responsible for stress, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

It’s a fact that partners who regulate stress with regular physical embracing and ongoing physical intimacy have fewer life-threatening diseases.

There is no better stress remedy than a close connection, and regular hugs, and other physical contact with your intimate partner.

To come home after a hard day to a warm embrace has more value than you might think.

Intimacy with your marriage partner can reduce stress better than anything you can do on your own, such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, or you name it.

But wait…there’s more!

4. Emotional connection results in more and better sex.

When a relationship is predictably stable and safe, more and better sex is usually the result.

Aside from the health benefits of a regular sex life, there is the fun, and feelings of full aliveness that come with complete vulnerability, safety, and intimacy that only couples can enjoy.

“Ok Chuck, you had me at ‘more and better sex’!”

5. Emotional connection unleashes your creativity.

So, what is it about an intimate partnership that brings out the best in men and women?

There is no greater uplifting feeling than to have someone who loves you unconditionally. Someone who is there for you when things are at their worse. Someone who can look you in the eye, and remind you of who you are when you are doubting yourself.

When you’re emotionally connected you HAVE EVERYTHING. You DON’T NEED THE OTHER STUFF.

Not from your job, or from success, or from a bigger bank account, or from anything.

It’s only when we feel emotionally disconnected that we look to all those other things for our significance and fulfillment. And it never really lasts.

A stable, secure, and deep emotional connection is the key to not only succeeding but also finishing well in this life.

The passion, the joyful relaxation, and the full-aliveness that overflow from your marriage into your life work is the number one key to having the greatest impact and  influence you can possibly have.

And when you fail, it simply doesn’t matter. Because you already have what your heart really longs for – a deep connection with your intimate partner.

This can make you bolder and more willing to take risks than you would otherwise. Why not? There’s nothing to lose!

It’s like Chloe Kim, the 17 yr. old snowboarder who won olympic gold in Pyeongchang 2018.

She she scored enough on her first run to win the gold medal.

Since she had already secured the gold, she realized there was no way she could fail on her last run.

So she pulled out all the stops, and went for the record books. As a result she got an almost perfect score, nailing back to back 1080s, in other words, three full mid-air revolutions!

I want my “last run” in life to be like that!

How about you?

This kind of confidence begins and ends with an emotional connection with your partner.

Work on that first…and then let your feelings of connection and full-aliveness overflow as you launch that blog, write that book, create that new program, start that new business!

Access your dreams and unleash your creativity!

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My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week!