1. Be present
When you sit down to dinner with your partner, put away your phone, and turn off electronic devices. Don’t scroll through Facebook or watch the news at the same time as you are catching up with your spouse about how their day has been. Instead, ask questions. Show interest and curiosity about the things they are telling you. Listening is an active process, not a passive one.
2. Don’t listen to reply, listen to understand.
Often when we listen to our partner talk, we are planning our response to their statement in our mind. The problem with this is that it means that we can miss valuable information. Try to listen to everything your spouse is telling you before you respond. Better yet, ask questions to make sure you are fully understanding them. Listen for how they feel about what they are telling you, not just to the facts.
3. Express empathy
Empathy means putting yourself into your partner’s shoes and really trying to understand their experience from their perspective. It is easier said than done. Often in marriage, it is hard to see our spouse suffer, and so we have a tendency to jump in with possible solutions. However, what really makes something better is connection. Behind every complaint is a deep, personal longing. If you can connect with your spouse about what they are really feeling, it helps them feel valued and understood.
4. Call a timeout
Conflict is inevitable in any marriage. Our spouse knows us so well, that they have the ability to push our buttons like no other person on earth. It is normal for anger to push us into physiologically heightened states. When fighting with your spouse you might feel your heart start to race and your breathing become faster as you enter into fight or flight mode. When that happens, it is best to take a break. I recommend that you make a timeout plan with your spouse ahead of time during a time when you are not in conflict. Agree on a signal you will give your spouse when you need to take a break. The timeout signal used by coaches of making a “T” with your hands works great, for example. Then separate into different rooms of the house for at least 20 minutes. During that 20 minutes, do something that helps you feel calm. Take a walk, do some deep breathing exercises, or maybe take a shower. When you feel calm again, return to your spouse to continue your conversation. You are likely to find that the conversation goes much more smoothly after a break.
5. Have some fun
Marriage is work. There is no doubt about it. But you know what they say about all work and no play? That doesn’t work either. Make sure you set aside time to have some fun with your spouse. Laugh together. Go on a date night. Watch a funny movie. Do something you enjoy doing together. Put it in your calendars to make sure it happens. Make it a priority.