Marriage Means Communication (Verbal and Non-Verbal)

When couples complain that they're not communicating, they don't realize that wives and husbands can't not communicate. But are you still communicating, even when neither of you is talking? Absolutely! Communication doesn't require either party to utter a single sound. In fact, you can sometimes communicate louder in silence than you ever could with words.

Imagine the following scenario: You are walking down the street, when a stranger knocks you down and steals your bag. You are terribly upset when you arrive home, and very much in need of your partner's attention. However, after you breathlessly finish telling your spouse about your awful experience, he says nothing. Then, he proceeds to bury his head in a newspaper.

Is your spouse communicating something through his wordless response? You bet he is, and there's probably nothing positive for you in that message.

Perhaps your partner is saying that he doesn't really care about what happened to you. Maybe he's too caught up in his own concerns, or he doesn't know how to respond to yours. Maybe he's just too upset to talk, because he feels powerless to do anything to help you. In any case, that kind of silent communication sends a message that is as loud as any shout.

Communication is about a lot more than talking. Many essential messages are transmitted through attitude, facial expressions, and body language — as well as through words that are left unsaid. Communication is also physical. Your spouse can convey a message of affection by gently touching your hand. However, if he squeezes your hand to the point of pain, that may be a very different kind of message.

To become an effective communicator, you have to pay close attention to what your partner is telling you through his moods, attitudes, gestures, movements, and actions. The flip side of this skill is recognizing the non-verbal messages you yourself are transmitting. You can sharpen your non-verbal communication skills by using the steps in the following sections.

Watch for changes in mood and attitude

Is your normally effervescent spouse suddenly down in the dumps? Is he distracted and forgetful in ways you haven't observed before?

These changes can be signs that there are things going on in your partner's life (or psyche) that he doesn't wish to discuss — at least not now. Still, you may want to say something like, "Honey, I've noticed that you haven't been your usual cheerful self lately." If she still won't address these changes with you, make a written or mental note of these shifts in behavior. Try to remain watchful of how they play out in the days and weeks to come.

It can be difficult to see yourself with the same objectivity you apply to others. But communication is always a two-way street, especially in marriage. That's why it's important to monitor your own tone of voice, attitudes, and other nonverbal behaviors with the same sharp eye you use to observe your spouse.

Tune into body language

Is your spouse making direct eye contact or avoiding your gaze? In general, a person who looks you directly in the eye is assumed to be forthright and truthful. On the other hand, a person who averts his eyes may not want you to know what he's thinking.

You can glean similar information by observing the way your partner's body reacts when you ask him a question. Is his body position relaxed and open, or tense and withdrawn?

In general, a person who maintains a relaxed, open bearing when you ask a direct question tends to be forthright and truthful. On the other hand, a person whose body suddenly becomes rigid may be concealing something.

Look for signs of nervousness or tension

If you notice that your spouse is anxious in the course of conversation, note this as a possible clue that some thought or feeling is not being verbally expressed. Uncharacteristic silence or talkativeness may be another sign.

The rules of interpreting body language and other non-verbal clues are well known to salespeople and others who are skilled in the art of persuasion. A good sales agent, for example, may be able to look you directly in the eye while telling a bald-faced lie. He or she may also be practiced in maintaining a calm demeanor and conjuring up sincere-sounding laughter at will.

On the other hand, the non-verbal communications of some scrupulously honest people may give the mistaken impression that they're trying to deceive you. That's why it's wise not to draw any firm conclusion from any single clue. Instead, incorporate each non-verbal clue into the total picture of what your partner is communicating.

Double-check the meaning of gestures

Every gesture is a communication of some kind. But when each spouse assigns different meanings to the same gesture, it can cause friction in the relationship.

For example, a wife may call her husband at work twice a day because she wants to feel connected. However, the husband can interpret this gesture in a very different way. He may feel that his partner is checking up on him or trying to smother him.

You can easily misinterpret the meaning of a particular signal. Avoid such mistakes by taking the following steps:

  • If you're at all unsure, ask your partner to explain her nonverbal communication.
  • After you identify the emotion that provoked the gesture, work at addressing it.
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