Communication is complex, and how we present our words through our communication is important. After all, if your goal is to be heard and understood, then how your message is being received matters. Right? This means that YOU have a role in the delivery. It doesn't mean that you're entirely responsible for all of it, but it doesn't negate your responsibility either.
It's much easier to place blame on your spouse for not understanding what you're saying, than it is to look at yourself and your delivery.
Your spouse certainly isn't off the hook for listening intentionally, but you are the one with the goal to be heard, AND, you are the only one you can control.
We tend to get the biggest "bang for our buck" when we work on ourselves, so that is generally the best first step. It's always good to determine what you are able to do to help positively impact the situation first. In the case of communicating, it's important to know that if you choose to speak sharply and with condescension, you will likely influence the conversation in a way where you are probably not going to have your message heard. The same goes for your tone, your volume and your body language.
Here are 4 ways you can positively affect having your message heard and understood:
Choose the proper place and time. You don't want to have conversations when your spouse is distracted, busy, tired, or trying to settle from a hard day. This may involve letting them know that you'd like to talk when things calm down or whenever they get a chance. You also don't want to choose a time with children or other people around, if it is a serious conversation.
Preface what your goals are when you start off the conversation. “I’m hoping to figure out how to fix this”, “I don’t want to start an argument, but I'd like to share this with you”, “I’m not sure if I’m going to say this correctly, but I want to let you know...”. These are ways you can let your spouse know where you are hoping to go with the conversation and allows them to lay any defenses down. This, with practice, will help you work as a team to get there.
Change the way you present your thoughts from something definitive to something that is open to discussion. Try adding phrases such as; "It seems like", "I am pretty sure", "It might be". Adding in an “I was thinking” or “I was wondering” to a statement will free your spouse to respond without feeling they are challenging what you are saying or that they don't have a voice in the conversation. You may actually be on the same side of a point, with just some slight variations. This kind of talk allows everyone to feel as if they have input and are a part of the bigger picture.
Use “I feel” statements. I know you've heard this one before, and that's because it works. “I feel” statements move you from being entrenched in incidental details and they allow you to focus on the issue instead of the symptom. The exact time, day, or year something happened, what they were wearing or what was on tv when it happened, are not detrimental details in what is being discussed. This will keep you focused on the actual issue and not starting another argument on trying to convince each other who is right.
As you keep these steps in mind, also keep in mind that communication is a journey in and of itself. You will not always execute it perfectly, in fact, it will mostly be done a little messy. That's ok. Just keep the intention to deliver your words well, and the heart to listen to one another as the foundation, and you will make your way through it. The journey gets a little bumpy, but the ride can still be enjoyed!