How to Communicate With Your Spouse

Three Parts:Building a Solid FoundationManaging the Day-to-DayAvoiding Communication Pitfalls

Relationships of all kinds are built on communication. Because marriage is a unique relationship with specific goals and expectations, many common problems can be avoided or mitigated through intentional communication strategies. Strong communication in marriage is linked with overall marital satisfaction, so it pays to put in the hard work to learn to properly communicate with your spouse.[1]

Part 1
Building a Solid Foundation

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    Establish healthy patterns early on. Humans are creatures of habit, and once we fall into relationship patterns, it can be hard to change later on. Establishing healthy communication patterns when dating or even just friends can set a pattern for success later on.[2]
    • Our standards and expectations for relationships are formed early in childhood, and it is important to recognize influences on our communicative styles. Think about the type of family dynamics in you and your partner's homes growing up. Did your parents tend to yell every time they disagreed? Did they quietly fume and let resentment build up over time? Did they rationally and calmly debate through disagreements? While each couple has its own style for arguments, these styles can become patterns for their children, who carry them over into their own relationships down the line--whether or not they are healthy.[3]
    • View every relationship as a chance to model health communication patterns. Friendships and dating relationships, even those that are not serious or long-term, can be great for shaping our communication personalities.
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    Practice self-respect first. While we often think about the importance of respecting others, in relationships respect has to extend to ourselves first.[4]
    • Learn to ask for what you need. We enter relationships because we have social, emotional, and physical needs. Those needs cannot be met fully unless your partner knows what they are, and although they may seem obvious to you, they may not be obvious to your partner.
    • Learn to say no. If you are being asked to overextend your time or resources, or if you are being asked to do things you are not comfortable with or that do not interest you, it is ok to say no. A good and loving partner will respect your "no" answer as much as your "yes," and will not pressure or coerce you to do things you are not comfortable with. It's ok to need a break or time to yourself.
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    Set ground rules for interaction. Both partners must be on the same page in order to develop healthy patterns of communication, so these rules should reinforce mutual respect and reciprocity in communication and need to be enforced strictly. Some examples might include:
    • Absolutely no physical violence, pushing, or altercations. This must be non-negotiable!
    • No cursing or demeaning language. This includes any basic insults and curse words, but also particular phrases or terms that are particularly offensive because of the context in which they are used (for instance, a woman who has a poor relationship with her mother might find it particularly insulting to be called "just like her mom," or a man who struggles with his self-confidence because of his body might find it hurtful to be said he is "weak").[5]
    • Studies show that couples who use abusive language report less satisfaction with their marriages and less accurately recall each other's behavior after a fight.[6]
    • Learn to *not* say what is on your mind. Editing your thoughts before you speak is an important sign of maturity, but something that can be very hard in relationships with those we are close to. We tend to feel that we are safe to say all the things on our mind. But sometimes those things are hurtful and would better be left unsaid. Personal jabs and hurtful comments are almost always better edited out of your comments.[7]
    • Make it a habit to say "I love you" every day. It might seem cliche, but saying "I love you" daily is a great habit to reinforce the relationship on a regular basis.
    • Accept "time-outs" or cooling off periods as a matter of course. If two people are angry, many things can be said in the heat of the moment that will be regretted later. Instead, agree on a cooling off period if things get heated, and revisit the issue later when cooler heads prevail.
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    Use assertive communication. Assertive communication is an effective and diplomatic form of communication that is based upon a mutual respect for one another. It is direct and respectful. [8] When you use assertive communication, you create win-win situations, improve communication, and build honest relationships. To communicate assertively, use "I" statements, keep your voice calm and firm, and maintain eye contact.[9]
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    Get to know your spouse as a unique individual with a unique communication style. There are endless combinations of possible histories, personality traits, intelligence levels, cultural discrepancies, pet peeves, tendencies, and styles that can contribute to the way two people relate.
    • It is often (but not always) the case that men and women have distinct communication styles. Men are often said to be quiet, logical, and contemplative, while women are considered to be more emotional and prefer to speak their minds. Of course this is an oversimplification, but points to the unique styles individuals often have: one spouse may prefer to communicate by saying everything on his or her mind, while the other may prefer to think about the issues and then briefly discuss the pros and cons. Neither way is "right," but because spouses are partners, they will need to openly discuss expectations for communication and come up with strategies that will work for both partners.
    • Similarly, cultural differences between two people can lead to differing communication styles, which can create difficulty if both parties don't understand the differences. In some cultures, men are expected to be standoffish and gruff, and displays of emotion are considered weakness and the purview of women. In other cultures, men as well as women are expected to relate on emotional levels, and sharing feelings is not a sign of weakness.
    • Learn to appreciate the distinct things about your spouse that make them who they are, instead of viewing it as simply obstacles to greater marital harmony.

Part 2
Managing the Day-to-Day

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    Try new activities together. Couples who engage in novel activities by trying new things together report higher satisfaction even after the end of the "honeymoon period" (or early marriage).[10] These couples also have things to talk about that don't involve the mortgage payment or problems at work, which can make interpersonal communication more enjoyable and less stressful.
    • Some exciting activities to try can include couples painting sessions at a local art studio, picking up a new co-ed recreational sport, exploring a new type of ethnic cuisine through cooking lessons or restaurant excursions, dance classes at the local YMCA, or volunteer work at the local food bank or animal rescue center. Activities don't have to be expensive or adrenaline-inducing to keep up interest in a relationship; they just need to be novel.
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    Eliminate negative comments to each other. Instead of saying negative things to one another, strive to communicate positively, assertively, honestly, and respectfully with each other.
    • Common niceties like "I love you," "Good morning," and "Have a great day" count toward the positive total, so building natural and encouraging talk into your day can be a good way to increase these positive interactions.
    • Try a positive text message or voicemail once a week to boost your spouse's mood and increase your positive interactions.
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    Realize that healthy relationships do have fights and disagreements. Even in the heat of an argument, try to include positive statements and compliments. Some examples of positive statements are:
    • "I appreciate that you cook dinner after a long work day."
    • "I value your patience with my parents."
    • "I was very grateful that you were able to go to the parent-teacher conference without me when my meeting ran late."
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    Prepare for a new baby. Certain life situations are known to cause strain and stress on a relationship, so open communication in anticipation of these times can help to prevent significant turmoil. The number one cause of marital struggle is not money, as most people think, but actually the addition of a baby to the family. This is due to a combination of lack of sleep, disruption of family schedules and routines, hormonal disturbances (for both men and women), and the uncertainty and fear that can come with such an enormous responsibility.[11] Strategies to fortify a relationship during strained times include:
    • Arrange counseling sessions during the prenatal period. Counseling services should be obtained through licensed counselors. Having a trusted third person can help you to talk through your expectations for the postnatal period and the parenting relationship. Many couples find that they are unprepared to deal with differences of opinion about baby-rearing; for instance, in those early days when everyone is suffering from a lack of sleep, many couples find themselves fighting over who should get up for a middle of the night feeding or whether or not to allow the baby to cry itself to sleep. Discussing these scenarios beforehand and deciding how to handle disagreements in the heat of the moment can ward off unnecessary fighting.
    • Counseling can also help both partners understand their roles in a changing relationship. As a baby is added to a family, dynamics necessarily shift. For instance, a father may not understand the physical and emotional toll that giving birth puts on a mother, and a mother may not understand the emotional and psychological changes that take place in a new father.
    • If counseling is not available or out of the budget, read through a trusted parenting book (get recommendations from friends, family, or clergy). Highlight parts you particularly agree or disagree with for discussion, and talk through these and any discussion questions in the book.
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    Engage in intentionally learning about one another. Humans change constantly throughout their lives, so its important that you keep up with who your spouse is becoming. Because just living with someone is not enough to guarantee that you truly get to know them, you must be intentional about this process.
    • Ask each other questions like "What goals do you want to accomplish in the next year?", "How do you see yourself differently now than when we met?" and "What fears do you have about the next ten years?"
    • Set aside time each week for a date -- it does not have to be out of the house! Even 30 minutes during the baby's nap can be a great chance to reconnect.

Part 3
Avoiding Communication Pitfalls

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    Avoid reactive communication. Reactive communication describes a common tendency during arguments for one or both partners to "shut down" mentally and stop listening to the things the other person is saying. It is an automatic response that becomes a habit because it tends to be easier to simply disengage than to engage in meaningful discussions on hard and emotional topics.
    • Avoid making decisions or pronouncements during reactive communication. Your brain is on autopilot and you might say things you don't mean, sometimes hurting your spouse or even ending a relationship.
    • If you feel yourself disengaging, ask for a brief cooling off period. Collect your thoughts, calm down, and re-engage in the conversation when you are feeling more in control of yourself.
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    Attempt to empathize. Remember that your partner does not view the world through the same lens you do, and is likely to perceive problems and situations in a very different way. Some things that are issues for you might not even be on your spouse's register.
    • Imagine the scenario from your spouse's perspective. Think, "How would I view this situation if I were him/her, and how would I want my spouse to talk to me about it?"
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    Recognize that relationships change. As individuals change and relationships move through stages, you might find that your needs or your spouse's needs change over time as well. Be sure to check in periodically to reassess whether your relationship is meeting one another's needs.[12]
    • Does your spouse feel that they are heard? Do you? What factors prevent you from feeling fully heard and understood?
    • Does your spouse feel satisfied with the amount that you share about your thoughts, experiences, and emotions? Do you? When and what might they share more?
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    Reassess what it means to "win" a fight. In a marriage, if someone "loses" in a fight, both people lose. A marriage is a partnership and both people need to feel validated and valued.
    • Fights and disagreements are inevitable, but train yourself to think that the optimal result is a "win-win" situation-- one in which both parties feel heard.[13]
    • Sometimes winning will look like a compromise. Other times your spouse will concede to your point, and sometimes you will concede to theirs. Its important that one person is not always "winning" fights by getting their way.


  • Recognize that all relationships go through rough patches. Our response to difficulties and disagreements should not be to avoid them, but to work through them and come out stronger.
  • Seek a qualified therapist or counselor if the relationship does not improve. They can help sort through the particular dynamics in your relationship to find what is working and what is not. With willingness and effort, even those who struggle to communicate can learn.

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Categories: Married Life