Dinma Nwobi

Marriage coaching

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Stop Complaining! Start Connecting! – How to communicate your feelings and needs to your spouse without fighting.

Research shows that the reason most couples seek help is related to ineffective communication. “My husband doesn’t understand me?” “My wife doesn’t respect me” Such complaints can be traced to communication gaps.

If communication is the bedrock of marriages,

Why do couples fight when they should be communicating?

How can a couple communicate without fighting?

Where did couples learn how to communicate?

Your communication style is influenced by 

  1. Your Parenting: How you saw your parents and other adults communicate while growing up.
  2. Your Personality: How your unique behavioral traits influence how you communicate.
  3. Your Perception: How your environment, experiences, and emotions influence how you communicate.

Irrespective of how you communicate with your spouse, the conversation degenerates into a fight if there is a violation.

It is either a violation of a core human need or a core human right.

Let me explain.

As humans, we have core needs for love, connection, and belonging. When your style of a communication violates any of these needs, your spouse may get defensive, feel attacked, or resist what you are saying and that can turn the conversation into a conflict.

Secondly, every human being has the right to speak, to feel, and to need and to protect his/her personal boundaries. When a spouse is speaking or sharing his feelings and needs and this fundamental human right is violated – a spouse makes the other feel he should not speak, should not feel, or should not express a need, such a conversation can also turn into a fight.

How can a couple then communicate to avoid conflicts?

First, fights are sometimes inevitable. Have a positive, solution-focused mindset about communicating with your spouse rather than avoiding communicating with your spouse to prevent a fight.

Some issues only get resolved when it has first resulted in a first.

If you don’t get this, ask that married woman in your neighborhood who understands this.

To live in a relationship avoiding fights, rather aim to communicate your feelings and needs to your spouse without fighting. Should a fight ensue, fight the issue, not the person.

Seek then to connect with your spouse rather than to complain, criticize, blame, or speak in a contemptuous manner to your spouse.

Every attempt to communicate is a bid for love, connection, and belonging and a reminder to the spouse of your right to speak, feel, need, and protect personal boundaries.

Why should you communicate with your spouse?

I would say it’s because you are aware of who you are, you are compassionate to yourself and you care for your wellbeing and happiness.

  1. Self-Awareness; Nedum and I are increasingly aware of who we are, our worthiness as a person, our needs and rights, and remind each other of these compassionately when we communicate. If you believe less of yourself, you may struggle with expressing your needs and rights to your partner. We both understand that it is okay for each of us to feel what we feel, need what we need, and make a bid for love, connection, and belonging when we want to.
  2. Self-Compassion: To communicate your feelings and needs to your spouse are you being kind to yourself knowing you are worthy and deserve to express your feelings and needs. How you communicate to your spouse without blaming, criticizing or complaining is also an indication that you extend the kindness to him too. You cannot be kind to yourself by choosing to speak up for your needs and rights and speak unkindly to your spouse with your harsh words and contemptuous body language.
  3. Self-Care: I like this one. Sometimes couples avoid communicating with their partners because of past experiences that trigger shame, guilt, fear, and hurts in them. But does that solve the problem? Do you feel loved and connected to your spouse when you choose not to express yourself? Do you have your needs met by keeping quiet? Do you exercise your personal power and responsibility to protect your boundaries when you swallow your pain and keep mute? Choosing to express your feelings and needs to your spouse is self-care. It is the action taken because you know you are worthy – lovable, important, valuable. Self-care is asking yourself “What do I need to do today to love myself?” And it could just hear you say to yourself, “I’m going to communicate my feelings and needs to …………(insert your spouse’s name)

Effective communication is a compassionate, collaborative effort. As much as you have the right to speak, your spouse has the right to be spoken to kindly. Your right to speak is not your right to complain, criticize, blame, and speak contemptuously to your partner. Take this to heart and apply it when next you want to communicate with your spouse.

Sometimes it can be hard to speak kindly to your spouse especially if it is over an issue you have spoken about over and over without any significant improvement. I remember once telling Nedum how I didn’t like it when we are conversing and I say something and he will scoff and say, “na wa for you o.” That remark made me feel insulted. This pattern continued until one day during our quarterly vision retreat where I brought it up and accused him of always insulting my intelligence.

Speaking kindly to your spouse can be hard. At such times, you can pause, connect to yourself first before seeking to connect with your partner.

When I accused Nedum of speaking to me thins way always, what do you think happened? He apologized but reminded me that I was unfair to him for accusing him of speaking to me like that always. Was that how he always remarked when I said something? Of course, not but I had generalized his responses to be “Na wa for you,” when in his own perspective, he was joking and didn’t intend it as an insult.

Couples can communicate without fighting if they embrace what Marshall Rosenberg calls ‘Non-violent Communication aka Compassionate Communication aka Collaborative Communication 

This model of communication is helping my husband Chinedu communicate better and share our feelings without the other person feeling attacked, criticized, or blamed.

This model of communication helps the speaking spouse express his/her feelings and needs without blaming or criticizing and the receiving spouse listens to the speaker without hearing blame or criticisms.

Non-violent communication is a model of communication that prioritizes the connection between spouses. It enables you to honestly express how you feel and request for your needs with compassion for yourself and your spouse. By communicating this way, you take responsibility for your feelings and actions and choose to exercise your personal power to communicate these feelings without judging, blaming, or criticizing your spouse. 


There are 4 components of non-violent communication.

  1. Observation: What you observed about your spouse, his words, actions, and inactions are your opinions not usually the truth. When communicating with your spouse, it is important you treat the ‘facts’ as observation so your partner does not feel judged. For example, take the story of Nedum and I. “Every time when we are discussing and I say something, you always scoff and say “na wa for you o” because you think I’m saying stupid things.” Nedum may have made this statement sometimes when we are having a conversation but not always. How the heck do I assume that is what he meant? Statements like this sound accusatory and can make the receiving partner resist and get defensive. The non-violent communication model discourages couples from generalizing and taking things out of context or giving meaning to what your spouse did. Conversations can easily escalate to a fight when taking the behaviors of your partner you do not like out of context or use generalizing adverbs like always, never when sharing your feelings about what your spouse’s action or inaction. Instead of saying ‘You always………,” you say “When I see, hear,………….
  2. Feelings: After sharing what you observed with your spouse, the next step is to share how you felt about that. Spousal communication can turn into a fight when rather than expressing how you feel about what your spouse did, you talk about the thoughts you had as a result of your observation or the stories you told yourself about it. We are storytellers and story finders. When something happens, thoughts race in our minds and we find stories to tell ourselves about what happens. Stick to how you felt(feel) not the thoughts or the stories because what matters here is how you feel. Those thoughts and stories are often inaccurate because they are based solely on your perspective which is not the whole picture. You are entitled to your feeling. Your feelings are valid and should be expressed but you are responsible for your feelings not your spouse. When communicating your feelings, take responsibility for them. Say “I feel insulted” not “You insult me. “I felt angry” not “You make me angry.” Taking responsibility for your feelings leads to deeper empathetic connection and intimacy in couples. 
  3. Needs: Your feelings are an aftermath of your unmet needs or violated values. The next step then in non-violent communication is to enlighten your spouse about your needs and values. We experience negative feelings when our needs. Collaborative Communication is not only about you. It is also your chance to elicit from your partner his/her need that was unmet or value that was violated that led to the observed behavior. For example, “When I hear you say to me ‘Na wa o,” (observation) I feel insulted (feeling) because it sounds disrespectful of my perspective (value)
  4.  Request: When you have expressed your feelings and needs compassionately, the next step is to present a request. This can also spiral a conversation to a fight if the request is not made compassionately. Your spouse is a whole human being. Make your request as a suggestion not a command. Also focus on what you want not what you don’t want. I hear some couples in coaching sessions say to their spouse, “Don’t you ever say that to my again.” That may sound threatening. Rather than say what you do not want, make a compassionate request for what you want and give room to take willingly choose to improve rather than shaming, demanding or guilt tripping your spouse into accepting your demands. For example, ““When I hear you say to me ‘Na wa o,” (observation) I feel insulted (feeling) because it sounds disrespectful of my perspective. (value) I would feel encouraged when you listen to my opinions without interjecting. (request

Compassionate Communication is not about right or wrong. It is about maintaining empathetic connection with your spouse as you share your feelings and needs without blaming, criticizing or attacking your partner. To complete the empathetic cycle, the receiving partner can paraphrase what he/she heard by repeating the conversation. For example, “What I hear you say is that When you hear me say to you ‘Na wa o,” (observation) you feel insulted (feeling) because it sounds disrespectful of your perspective. (value) I hear you say you would feel encouraged when I listen to your opinions without interjecting. (request)


This paraphrasing makes the speaking spouse feel heard.

The objective of communication met, both spouses feel a deeper connection, intimacy, and love.

So instead of complaining, start connecting compassionately with your spouse using this model and your relationship will become happier and more satisfying.


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