Emotionally intelligent couples have stronger marriages
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Unspoken communication – a raised eyebrow, a folding of the arms across the chest, a hand on the shoulder, an e-mail — has the potential to be as powerful as words. It can help build your marriage – or chip away at it.
Communicating without talking can be tricky. You may not always realise what you’re “saying”. And your silent messages may contradict your spoken ones, confusing your spouse.
It’s no wonder why some wives begin to question their husband’s behaviour early in their marriages. “Why does my husband say one thing and act totally different?” Some husbands, on the other hand, ask, “If she’s really attracted to me as she used to be, why does she act like a cold potato every time I approach her?”
The unspoken can be very difficult to interpret properly. Nevertheless, non-verbal communication has its positive side. To help you and your spouse make the most of those silent messages, here are some principles to remember:
1. Go low-tech when possible
When it comes to communicating with your spouse, don’t try to send important messages or work out sensitive issues over the phone or via e-mail. When you read an e-mail or listen on the phone, you’re not getting the whole message. You can’t interpret facial expressions, maintain eye contact, or sense warmth or genuineness. If intimate, relationship-building conversation is needed, have it face-to-face.
2. Don’t be “all talk”
Actions do speak louder than words. You can tell a hungry man you care about him and wish him well, but if you don’t demonstrate your compassion, the words are useless. The same is true for your spouse. Ask yourself whether the messages you’ve been sending your spouse lately have been through your actions – or the lack thereof.
3. Don’t rely on silence to send a message
Silence can be one of the loudest forms of communication, but it’s easily misinterpreted. What does it tend to say in your marriage?
“I don’t want to fight”?
“I’d rather not say anything that could stir up trouble”?
“Don’t bother me”?, or
“I don’t care what you think or what you need from me”?
The trouble with silence is that your spouse may “fill in the blanks” with answers that aren’t correct. Learning to communicate what you feel will help your spouse know what’s in your heart – instead of encouraging him or her to take your silence and assume the worst.
More on emotional intelligence in marriage and how to communicate better with your spouse on the next page.
4. Don’t overreact
What you think your spouse meant may not be what he or she intended to communicate. Ask for clarification: “Remember the other day when I asked you about taking a vacation and you sighed real loud? Were you aggravated with me because I brought it up again, or were you frustrated with yourself for having forgotten about it?”
5. Watch your body language
Your facial expressions and eye contact send messages to your spouse about how interested you are in what he or she is saying. Actions like looking away, cleaning your fingernails, yawning, or flipping channels on the remote say, “I have better things to do.”
To avoid getting distracted when your spouse is trying to communicate with you, turn off the radio, TV, computer, or other electronic devices.
6. Use touch to communicate your love
People need touch. Babies, when left untouched, become ill emotionally and physically. Spouses who fail to affectionately touch each other by holding hands, rubbing necks, putting their arms around each other, and hugging will not be as close – literally and figuratively – as those who make these patterns part of their everyday routine.
7. Use your eyes to express warmth and caring
Most mothers are experts at controlling their children’s behaviour by simply looking at them. Sometimes it seems a mum’s angry look can pierce rows of bodies to reprimand a talking teenager.
8. Practice, practice, practice
Make sure that what you feel in your heart is communicated clearly not just by your words, but also by eye contact, touch, and other “non-verbals.” Don’t assume that since you feel good about what you’re communicating, your spouse must feel good about it, too.
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Used with permission from Focus on the Family Singapore. For more information on family life resources and workshops, visit www.family.org.sg