This summer marks eight years that my husband and I have been married. Eight years, three houses, two moves back and forth to Toledo (that’s another story), three pregnancies, two kids, one new car, countless home improvement projects, and approximately one zillion conversations. Here are three phrases we use that save our marriage daily. (Notice I said “save”…it’s an on-going process, protecting and strengthening our marriage.)
“How can I help you?”
We started using this phrase after our first very stressful year of marriage. One of us would vent about our day and then the other would respond with his or her own complaints and then we were stuck in a negative loop. Now when one of us expresses frustration about the day or worries about the next day’s task list, we ask, “How can I help you?” (An alternate phrase is “What do you need right now?”) Sometimes the answer requires one of us to take on an additional task or extra childcare. Sometimes it’s encouraging the other one to go to bed early. Sometimes it’s just listening. Even if there isn’t something I can do to help my husband (or vice versa), we always come away from this interaction feeling supported and cared for.
“Can I offer you some feedback?”
This was a phrase I learned from a colleague many years ago. She was becoming an expert on systems theory and healthy forms of communication within teams, and thus our staff was her guinea pigs. There’s some debate in corporate culture as to how helpful this phrase is, and it can become rather irritating if over-used (think Rachel Dratch’s character in Wine Country). However, we have found it to be helpful, especially in shared projects like painting, housework, or you know…PARENTING. Here are some examples of how we might use this phrase:
- “Can I offer you some feedback? When you are giving me directions, it’s helpful to include landmarks, rather than just north or south.”
- “Can I offer you some feedback? The baby sleeps better when she’s rocked first. Could you try that tonight?”
I think this phrase works for us because it tricks our brain into thinking this is a professional conversation, rather than a personal one. So for us, we feel less annoyed or nagged than if our partner were just to say, “Stop doing that!” It allows for a way forward to be established.
Super obvious, super simple, but often overlooked. When I thank my spouse, it tells him I see him, I see what he is doing, and I appreciate his work…as well as him! I may have been doing all that already, but it’s important to communicate that to him. If affirmation is your love language, it may be helpful to adjust this phrase to include “I really appreciate that you _____.”
There are so many other important words and phrases in marital communication (I could write an ENTIRE blog post on “I’m sorry”).
What words or phrases are helpful in your marriage?