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Communication in Marriage and Relationships

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How you doing, partner?…

None of us think anything of regular check-in meetings to track projects at work. Even when collaborating as volunteers, we take it as a matter of course that we should talk regularly about progress towards a shared goal. Yet, when it comes to marriage, there seems to be a blind spot on the communication front. In fact, Divorce.com lists “communication” as the number two reason for divorce in the United States. It follows financial problems, but is ahead of family problems.

Communication problems can happen for many reasons within a marriage, of course; but I find it encouraging that communication seems like an area in which improvement is possible. Unlike family problems (we cannot “change” who our families are,) or even financial problems, communication feels like an area where a little awareness and effort might be enough to help a relationship get onto more solid ground. It goes without saying that good communication would help all ten of the top reasons for divorce: financial problems, family problems, sex problems, friend problems, addiction, abuse, personality problems and time problems.

I am not suggesting that we should be married as if we were running a business or managing a big project, but maybe some of the same discipline, courtesy and shared goal setting could be applied to our personal lives when it comes to communication. There are so many words that exist in both our business and our personal lives; I can’t help but see this as an important coincidence. We throw these words around casually without really thinking about what they mean.

The word “partner” is an example. What does it mean to be a partner? The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word partner this way:

: someone’s husband or wife or the person someone has sexual relations with

: one of two or more people, businesses, etc., that work together or do business together

: someone who participates in an activity or game with another person

Of all of these definitions, my favorite is one I found in my computer’s dictionary:

dated or dialect: a friendly form of address by one man to another: how you doing, partner?

This last definition is my favorite because it embodies the courtesy we should be practicing in our relationships. Of course we understand what it means to be a partner in a business sense, but what does it mean to be a partner in life? What should we expect from a life partner and also be prepared to give? And how on earth are we expected to know any of this if we do not communicate about it? If marriage were a job, we would be painfully clear about our “deliverables,” and our responsibilities to the company. In marriage, the lines get blurred. Sometimes we get a little off-track.

Our roles change out of necessity and we forget to talk about it.  I know my role as a newlywed changed when we had children. It is hard to anticipate how we will change, and how a relationship has to evolve to survive because of these changes, but I feel safe saying that healthy communication between couples has got to be a part of weathering change and a way to make sure that both partners are going in the same direction and “pulling” for the same team. The same concept that applies to our professional lives can be applied to our personal lives.

With Valentine’s Day coming, perhaps it is a time to re-prioritize communication in our marriages and personal relationships. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it can be frustrating to not feel heard when you are trying, but these are things we take in stride in the business world and persevere through. Shouldn’t our most personal relationships merit the same consideration?

So…. How you doing, partner?

[AUTHOR: Hilary Doubleday]

February 8, 2015

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