This is something my wife and I have learned through counseling as well as just putting it to practice throughout our marriage. I always found it to be very helpful for us, so I figured I'd post it up.
There are, in general, 3 modes of communication.
- How was you day
- What do you want for dinner
- That movie was great, in the second scene they did blah blah blah
- My boss yelled at me over the dumbest thing today, can you believe that?!
- The other day my brother made me really mad, here is what he did...
- My husband is always trying to fix everything and doesn't just listen to me!
- Did you consider that your boss was not upset at you when he told you that?
- Maybe your husband wasn't feeling well at the time he did that?
Those 3 modes do not mix. Each person in the conversation must all be in the same mode to make the conversation remain relevant and smooth. The point at which communication breaks down between couples is when those 3 modes of communication are not established proactively.
For example, if your wife is venting, you the husband can not be in small talk mode and especially not problem solving mode. This causes frustration and makes the other people think that you are either not listening (you were probably in small talk mode while she was venting) or you were just "trying to fix everything" (you were probably in problem solving mode).
Some people are good about reading when a person in is each mode. Women are especially good at this. Women tend to think more emotionally and therefore can detect these modes. Men, however, usually need to be bluntly told what mode you're in. There are exceptions to that rule. However, regardless, it makes the most sense to proactively express which mode you're in verbally. Once that is expressed, the other person in the conversation should click into that mode. It can then be established when that mode has changed.
For instance; the wife is in "Venting" mode. Before she starts to vent or maybe shortly after she starts to vent, she should say "I'm venting now." At this point, the husband should simply listen. He should not try to solve the problems. Even if what his wife is saying is clearly and easily solvable! Put the resolution in the back of your head, write it down, whatever. It's the husbands time to listen and agree. That's all. As the wife vents, the husband should at times repeat what the wife says to show he's listening and that he understands and should also include honest, sympathetic reinforcements. For example: "What? I can't believe he said that to you. That's crazy!", "I bet that pissed you off! That would make me so mad too!"
The wife can continue to vent until she is cooled off. However, at some point, she should establish when she's ready for either small talk mode or problem solving mode. Some times, she may not be ready for problem solving mode yet and she should establish that. When she's done venting, she can say "I'm done venting. Let's talk about something else." For the husband, that does not mean it's time to give his opinion. It means it's time to talk about something else .
If the wife is ready for help or problem solving; she can say "So what do you think?" The wife should be ready for problem solving at this point. She has established she's done venting and is ready to solve the problem. The husband should at this point, go into problem solving mode and give his opinion or help on the situation. He should not change the subject or go into Small Talk mode. If he does, it's up to the wife to say "I'm in problem solving mode now. I want help."
Men need bluntness and specifics. While men can be emotional thinkers, it's not the default. It needs to be "turned on" sometimes. Particularly when they aren't in an emotional state at the time. It's up to the woman to set that state and it's up to the man to remain in that state.
Defining the modes and verbally stating which mode you're in can really help in communication. While it may seem odd at first, it can become sort of second nature if you try it for a while. Both partners should be very patient with each other when starting this practice because it takes time to settle into. For instance, I personally still default into problem solving mode when my wife has already told me that she is venting. She will often just tell me again "I'm still venting." I will check back in and try to remain in Venting mode with her.
It does require practice and cannot really be done every now and then, but must be done in mostly all conversations; particularly when one is venting. However, after a short time, it certainly becomes a part of every conversation and makes it a lot easier and causes far fewer arguments.