Effective Mother-to-Father Communication
Your Lighthouse in the Matrimonial Sea
Two Ships Passing in the Night
Do you feel like a proverbial ship passing your spouse in the middle of the night? Have you two had five minutes of conversation lately without one interruption or another? Have you encountered some storms in the process—unexpected wind and waves, lack of fresh water and reinforcements, or an unanticipated sandbar? Take heart: effective parent-to-parent communication is the lighthouse you’ve been looking for! It will help you successfully navigate through life’s roughest—and smoothest—days.
Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of the bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, claims, “communication is the most important skill in life.” And intuitively we know this to be true. Yet many of us wander into marriage without possessing the foggiest idea of how to sail through its waters. Enter baby: the ocean swells. Baby grows: the waves crash against the shoreline. Your kids turn into teens: well, the tidal waves are just too big to even warrant discussion here!
But let’s face it, marriage and family require personal interaction and interpersonal communication skills par excellence. None of us are interested in barely functioning as husband and wife, or as parents. We’re interested in forming marriages and families of excellence. And that requires advance planning.
The Before and The After
Before you had children, effective family communication was all about “you two.” You were a married unit. You were able to resolve issues and discuss options and opportunities through quiet conversation. But after baby enters your world, it’s becomes all about “us.” And communication takes on a significance previously unimagined. You quickly discover that effective communication within the confines of your new, young family is not enough; communication outside of your family—with its added texture and dimension—is required as well. The opinions and unsolicited advice of siblings, in-laws, pediatricians, school administrators, children’s friends, and caretakers will enter your communication equation whether you like it or not.
Effective Parent-to-Parent Communication Doesn’t Happen by Chance!
Zig Ziglar, popular motivational speaker and bestselling author, says that 85 percent of your success depends on relational skills, or on how well you interact with others.
Building effective communication skills with your spouse does not happen by chance. You need a cohesive plan that will take not only your spouse’s best interests to heart, but your child’s and your entire family’s as well.
Sailing Etiquette: The Do’s of Effective Communication
You greatly increase your chances for enjoying this life journey together if you set some ground rules early on. Just as sailors throughout history have navigated the seas based on laws of nature and sailing etiquette, there is a proper code of conduct for effective parent-to-parent communication.
As kids enter your world, and more importantly, as you help raise these kids toward adulthood, you will encounter more parenting issues than space allows us to discuss. How much structure and routine do you want in your family? How do you feel about discipline? Who will absorb the role of police sergeant or family task master? Who will pay the bills, allocate funds, and make investment decisions? Will you allow your spouse to smoke or drink in the house in front of the children? What kind of diet will you follow and how will you prepare meals? Will you allow your kids to choose their own friends? How much time will each one of you allocate to your kids? These and a multitude of other dilemmas will take up an incredible amount of your interpersonal communication.
To discuss these issues more effectively:
- Do listen to your spouse carefully. With focused attention. Make sure your spouse is able to give this to you before you start a dialogue.
- Do establish eye contact. If you must, point to your eyes—as you do with your children—and say “Look at me.” After twenty-something years of marriage, I still do this with my husband, and it is generally enough to get his undivided attention.
- Do use honesty in all conversations. Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Effective parent-to-parent communication requires an underlying current of trust, and practicing consistent honesty is the best way to ensure it.
- Do show respect for your spouse’s feelings, principles, and ideals. Remember: he was not raised in your family. He will bring to your marriage different life experiences, a different perspective, and a different personality. And, given that opposites attract, there is huge built-in potential for conflict and opposition at some point or another.
- Do honor appropriate times for meaningful conversation. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends refraining from engaging your child when he is hungry or tired. The same holds true for your spouse. Breezily informing your hubby that you just enjoyed lunch out with your favorite girlfriend as well as a shopping splurge at the mall may not be well-taken if his stomach is empty.
- Do be kind. It sounds so simple, yet when the storms of life enter your days, practicing kindness to your spouse may be the hardest thing to do. Running from one end of the sailboat to the other to catch the wind with the sails generally requires some yelling between the skipper and the first mate, after all. When the winds hit your own family, try to navigate with graciousness. With warmth and gentleness. And extra smiles.
- Do use touch. Sometimes, all it takes to communicate effectively with your spouse is an impromptu hug. Or a back rub. How about a foot massage? Touching is not just physically therapeutic; it helps you ease into communicating freely and openly.
- Do appreciate your different communication styles. While my husband is very to-the-point, I have a more abstract communication style. I have an urge to tell him about all of the aspects of my day. My anecdotes are both fascinating and amusing (or at least I think so!) but he has little time for details and just wants to know “the bottom line.”
Hitting the Sandbar: The Don’ts of Effective Communication
- Don’t start the conversation being angry. Angry words and angry scowls have no place in effective communication. Yes, they may build up throughout the day, but get rid of them before they become utterly destructive. Take a walk around the block, enjoy a hot bubble bath, or eat a dark chocolate bar before you attempt to communicate.
- Don’t insult your communication partner. Putting down other people with ugly words, rudeness, criticism, or sarcasm is never acceptable behavior. Telling your husband that he’s lazy when he watches a football game on TV or fails to pitch his underwear into the hamper will never be effective; letting him know that you feel frustrated by these things is a much better alternative.
- Don’t interrupt. Let your husband “have the floor.” Wait until he’s finished making his point before you jump in with your thoughts. And, by the way, attacking is inappropriate too. If your mind races ahead and you can practically finish the sentence for him, bite your tongue.
- Don’t lecture. Your spouse will simply tune you out and nothing you say will get into his or her head. Save lecturing and preaching for after you’ve earned your Ph.D. and landed that plum job at the university.
- Don’t give the “silent treatment.” You hate it when it’s done to you. Speak your mind clearly and with sensitivity. Take turns talking until the issue gets resolved.
- Don’t pout, put your hands on your hips, or stomp your foot (no matter how much you feel compelled to do so). It’s childlike, unattractive behavior. If the conversation doesn’t go your way, continue talking until you can sort things out. Or follow the wisdom of my grandfather John Lehoczky, Sr. If he wanted to argue with my grandmother, he’d “put the water in the mouth.” He’d pause the conversation, walk calmly into the kitchen, pour himself a glass of water, and drink every drop. Only after he “put the water in the mouth” would he re-enter the dialogue. I’ve tried it. Lots. It works.
Effective parent-to-parent communication is not necessarily an inborn gift; for most people, it is an acquired skill, taking years of daily interactions to nurture to maturity. Problems are sure to knock your marriage around every once in a while; you wouldn’t be fully human if things were always perfect. But with the help of these interpersonal communication tips, most days you’re certain to sail with the wind at your back.
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