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 | By Cathie McDaniel

How to Better Communicate When Arguing Takes Over a Relationship


DEAR CATHIE: My husband and I have zero communication. We argue about many issues, and we cannot have a civil discussion. Are there skills we can use to help us communicate better?

Many believe they have “zero communication” with their spouse. However, arguing, silence, and constant disagreement are all forms of communication, just negative types. Most people want to improve the way they communicate so they can be heard by their spouse. The 21st century has given us tremendous options for communicating with one another. Text, email, private messaging, and Instagram are just a few of these options, but one key piece is missing: nonverbal communication. Good communication between two or more people requires the skill of observation and the ability to respond to nonverbal cues. Nonverbal communication accounts for between 70 and 93 percent of any conversation, and it can include facial expressions, body language, gestures, and tone of voice. If a conversation with your husband occurs mostly on the cell phone, you could be missing most of what he is trying to communicate. This can cause a lot of misinterpretation. Did you realize that texting, “OK,” “okay,” or “O.K.” can all send a completely different message? But you asked about skills to improve dialogue. Here are some simple tips:

  1. Put the cell phones away, look directly at each other, and make eye contact.
  2. Listen to what your spouse is saying instead of forming your response while they are speaking.
  3. Ask for clarification if you don’t understand.
  4. Use “I” phrases. When you state your feelings or requests, avoid starting sentences with “you” phrases.
  5. If the conversation goes from calm to shouting, take a time out to regroup.
  6. Be mindful that each person gets an equal amount of time to speak. One person should not monopolize the conversation.

Just like other skills, such as soccer and tennis, communication skills take practice. We can only change ourselves. Insisting that the other person change won’t work. Pointing fingers at each other is never an effective communication strategy. And, as always, pray for your spouse and your family. God is the perfect communicator, but only if we listen.

Cathie McDaniel is the director of Catholic Family Services in Huntsville. She has a master’s degree in clinical counseling from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, and is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Alabama. If you would like to ask Cathie a question, please send to