Happy Marriages: Communication Skills

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By Karim Serageldin

Excellent communication is an essential tool for any type of relationship. There is not one couple that I have encountered whose issues are not rooted in a lack of solid communication. These basic tips are a great way to keep a smooth exchange of ideas and needs flowing insha'Allah!

1) Eye Contact: keep it as much as you can!

There is a saying that the "eyes are the windows of the soul" and there is so much truth to that. When we look at each other while speaking it creates a sense of presence and allows the listener and speaker to stay engaged. One can "say" so much through the eyes and this can provide important awareness around gauging sincerity and transparency when we share messages with one another.

2) Body Presence & Mirroring: empathy in practice.

Part of what makes us human is empathy, the ability to relate to someone's experience and feelings. Without it we can become cold and distant and our partner's will begin to feel disconnected and resentful. If your wife is sad and sharing a story about her work day, you should comfort her as you listen. If your husband just got into Harvard, your body and face should reflect the joy he is feeling. When we do not appropriately mirror the non-verbal communication of the body, this reduces a sense of connection and understanding necessary for healthy relating to one another. Furthermore it was a practice of the prophet Muhammad, (peace and blessings upon him) to turn his whole being to someone while being addressed. This Sunnah shows courtesy and presence and it is a powerful way to connect as humans. When we face one another or stand chest to chest, our hearts are aligned, making our human connection deeper.

3) Reflect and Paraphrase: ensures listening and validation.

This means you should summarize what you understood from the message. This is a powerful tool because it ensures the speaker you are actively listening and helps validate the speaker's experience. Often times, especially men, we say things like "okay honey" without actually listening. Next time your partner asks you to do something try summarizing it back. As we repeat the information we heard it is more likely to be internalized. When it comes to deeper discussions make sure any dialogue you have includes each of you paraphrasing the messages that are coming across. This will likely lead to less heart ache and clarify poisonous assumptions many of us have without actual evidence.

“I heard you say (summarize content)"
“I understand that you (paraphrase what you understood)"
“I get why that makes you feel (reflect emotion)"

I can see how (content) makes you feel (reflect emotion)”

4) Package needs positively: stop criticizing!

 "You never listen!"
 "You never do anything around the house!"
 "Your always get angry with me for no reason."

Sound familiar? Criticisms attack one's character and tend to use absolute terms like "never" and "always" leaving us with no hope to change. If we feel like our very "being is bad" we will naturally get defensive or angry and we will bite back, causing an argument to be born and escalate. Try using subjective I feel statements. This allows you to express your needs without targeting your partner and putting them down.

I feel (emotion) because of (behavior)

"I feel disrespected when you tend to argue with what I say.

"I would feel more appreciated when you help me around the house.

"I feel scared and unsafe when you raise your voice and when we are trying to have a simple conversation."


5) Surrender: stop trying to control each other.

Every human being wants to feel a sense of security, dignity and value with the person they are with. When we feel insecure or unsafe we get afraid and angry. Often fear causes us to want to control our partner in order to alleviate the fears we have. You can't change people because of your fear but you can improve together through faith. Surrender to how they are and improve things by requesting in a way that moves your partner towards what you want. Anything packaged in a negative way will result in negativity and trying to control will cause resistance in your partner.

"It would be great if you got up from time to time to help me when you see me cleaning" verses "you never help" or "why don't you help me?"

"I would love to spend this Saturday with you, just the two of us honey, I trust you can make that happen"  verses "can you not make plans with your friends again this weekend, I want to spend time with you" or "why are you making plans without me again."

"I'm so looking forward to your cooking this week, you are the best chef I know" verses "are you going to cook this week or not?" or "why haven't you cooked, we can't afford going out again."

{This article integrates some of the points of Dr. Gottman and Laura Doyle}