Does your partner ever accuse you of flirting with others when there is no evidence to support it? Or go along with anything you say, only to resent you for it later? Or are you avoiding necessary but difficult conversations with each other?
If your marriage feels full of drama, incidents like these may be common. Still, you and your partner can learn to create a drama-free marriage by improving your communication with emotional intelligence skills. Often, small keys have tremendous leverage.
What Does It Mean to Have a Drama-Free Marriage?
“Drama-free” does not mean that you will never have conflict in your marriage, but it does mean that when you do have conflict, you will:
- Seek to understand your partner.
- Respond with empathy instead of with knee-jerk reactions.
- Pull each other closer instead of pushing each other away.
- Accept responsibility for your part instead of refusing to take accountability.
- Exercise self-restraint to avoid hurting your partner.
By improving communication with your spouse, you can create a drama-free marriage that is fulfilling, respects your boundaries, and helps you both flourish. Let’s explore five strategies for breaking the cycle of drama and bettering communication in your marriage. But first, how does miscommunication happen?
The Neuroscience of Miscommunication: How Preconceived Notions Affect Understanding
A lot of drama in a marriage comes from miscommunication. Have you ever wondered how your spouse can misinterpret an event or interpret something you said completely differently from how you intended it?
Well, so has neuroscientist Uri Hasson. His research examined what happens in our brains when communicating. For one experiment, two groups listened to the J.D. Salinger story Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes, about a man who loses track of his wife at a party and calls his friend to find out where she is.
Before hearing the story, however, one group was told that the wife was having an affair with the friend. Another was told that the wife was loyal, but the husband was very jealous. These preconceived views affected how participants’ brains responded to the story. Each person’s brain was similar to those who held the same belief (unfaithful wife) but different from those with a different belief (jealous husband). Meaning, our beliefs lead us to interpret and perceive events in different ways.
However, before you assume that this dooms humans to miscommunicate, Hasson’s research also made a promising discovery: “the better the listener’s understanding of the speaker’s story, the stronger the similarity between the listener’s brain and the speaker’s brain.”
In other words, when two people deeply understand one another, their brain responses mimic one another. Literally, they are on the same brain wavelength! This finding gives us hope for settling marital conflict since it indicates that we can improve our understanding of one another by improving our communication skills.
5 Strategies for Improving Communication and Creating a Drama-Free Marriage
1. Break the Cycle of Miscommunication through Curiosity
Breaking the cycle of miscommunication starts with mindfully questioning and interrupting our preconceived notions. Enter interactions with your spouse with curiosity, not judgment. Instead of allowing the fear of “what if this turns into an argument?” to paralyze you, ask positive what-ifs: “what if I express myself and my spouse responds supportively?” or "what if I broach this difficult conversation and create more understanding and closeness?" Get curious about yourself, your spouse, and the positive possibilities!
To disrupt a difficult pattern of arguing or knee-jerk reactions, try the stop, drop, and roll method for more successful communication with your spouse. First, STOP trying to get your point across. Then, DROP your defenses—things like sarcasm, blocking, or minimizing your partner’s perspective. Finally, ROLL into a better experience by asking open-ended questions and pull your partner closer!
Show genuine interest in your partner’s perspective to break the cycle of miscommunication.
2. Take Responsibility for Your Part of Communication
You may also be wondering how to have those difficult conversations, especially discussing what matters most to you. Get curious and observe what stops you from saying your peace or bringing up topics with your partner that are important to you. Perhaps in the past, when you tried, a horrible argument ensued, so you haven't brought the topic up since. Don't be scared off—when a conflict is resolved, understanding results. And good communication begins with you.
Remove the boulders inside yourself, and you will begin to make an effort to bring up things that matter to you more eloquently.
Sometimes our limiting beliefs and conditioning get in the way of healthy communication. If your parents fought all the time when you were growing up or you were raised by a single mom, you may not know what open and loving communication looks like. Or if your parents divorced after months of not speaking to each other or bickered incessantly, you may be reticent to talk about the tough stuff. You may have wounds that still need healing. If so, you'll strengthen your marriage by healing yourself.
You could also have an unrealistic belief that a happy marriage means no conflict or disagreements because your parents never fought. All relationships require understanding. It's just not true that a happy relationship means being happy and getting along all the time!
Approach topics, especially difficult ones, from a vulnerable, honest place instead of blaming or accusing your partner of something. Begin with comments like, "My part in our last disagreement was..." or "I apologize for reacting last time we spoke about... I really want us to be able to talk about things that matter."
Get right with yourself. It's amazing when we get clear inside ourselves and take responsibility for our part of conflicts and communication breakdowns how much better our partner responds.
3. Set Healthy Boundaries
Miscommunication is usually accompanied by the trampling of personal boundaries. Often, these are boundaries we actually haven’t communicated to our partner, but when they cross our boundaries, we feel hurt, misunderstood, or dismissed. Yet, how can we expect our spouse to anticipate boundaries that we have not shared and expressed?
Take my colleague and her husband, for example. She loved going on evening walks with her husband, but he didn’t have the energy at the end of a long workday. Instead of communicating how he felt, he would join her and feel resentful. Or he would give a noncommittal response, prompting her to ask him repeatedly to join her until he got fed up and gave her the cold shoulder.
Finally, he explained what he was experiencing, and they agreed to set a boundary: He would join her for walks on the nights he had the most energy, and if he said no, she would respect his choice and not ask again.
Related Reading: "Do You Want a Happy Relationship? Develop Healthy Boundaries."
4. Practice Mindful Communication
Communication in marriage begins with mindfulness. To release judgment and negative feelings, make it a priority to learn about and practice expressing empathy. Slow down and notice when you’re feeling tense or upset and go back to Strategy 1: get curious. Ask yourself why you feel that way and find ways to communicate the issue in a nonjudgmental, empathetic way. Make mindful communication a daily ritual. When it’s a difficult conversation, sometimes it’s helpful to get very clear and even rehearse what you want to say.
Like any new skill, mindfulness, communication, and empathy take practice. We're not born with them! Until the ability becomes second nature, select a time of day to do a quick 5-minute check-in. Pick a time that works best for both of you and agree on the challenge or topic you will discuss. Go deeper than just the events of the day. Ask questions. Reflect on what’s working well in your relationship and what could be improved.
5. Make Love the Most Essential Ingredient of All Communication
Often when couples disagree or find themselves in conflict, they neglect to remember just how much they love each other. Every exchange is an opportunity to show your partner your love. And what does love look like?
- Listening openly and attentively to your partner's perspective, experiences, and feelings.
- Suspending judgment and asking questions to clarify and seek to understand.
- Letting them talk without interrupting or shaming them.
- Supporting your partner through awkward and reactive moments.
- Cultivating a safe zone for each other: no namecalling, blaming, bringing up past mistakes, attacking with anger, etc.
- Helping them clarify what they're trying to say that may be hard for them.
- Encouraging open and honest communication.
- Setting boundaries and not allowing disrespect to fester and deteriorate your relationship.
- Loving bravely enough to be uncomfortable and require yourself and your partner to have difficult conversations.
Make love the most essential ingredient in every interaction!
Before speaking, get in touch with your love and the vision of the relationship you want, then act in a way that matches the ideal outcome!
Are You Ready for Happily Ever After?
Successful communication is the foundation of every drama-free marriage or relationship. Miscommunication escalates drama, and when we eliminate miscommunication, we can build a stronger, happier, more enjoyable relationship with our spouse. Heartmanity can help. Visit our Drama-Free Marriage page or email email@example.com to learn more about how we can support you along the journey toward better communication and a happy marriage.