10 Communication Strategies That Can Dramatically Improve Your Marriage
While mutual attraction and romance come naturally in the early days of dating and marriage, this “honeymoon phase” doesn’t last forever. Eventually, the daily stresses and routine of career, parenting, bills, and household demands set in. And when they do couples often find themselves disconnected and fighting unless they purposefully develop emotional marriage communication skills.
Common pitfalls like talking over each other, perpetual conflict about the same issues, lack of quality time together, or avoiding difficult conversations altogether can slowly erode intimacy over time. This is why learning tools to communicate effectively and caringly is so vital to maintaining marital fulfillment decade after decade.
However, there is hope. Relationship research shows that communication skills can be learned and improved through mindfulness, practice, and couples therapy or relationship coaching. By expressing vulnerable emotions, validating each other’s perspectives, arguing constructively, and sharing joy, couples can sustain lifelong friendship, passion, and respect.
Why Are Marriage Communication Skills So Important?
Effective communication is the backbone of marital harmony. According to decades of research by relationship expert Dr. John Gottman, certain communication patterns and skills can predict greater relationship satisfaction, intimacy, and lower divorce rates. By learning the following research-backed marriage communication skills, you are in a better position to strengthen mutual understanding and cultivate a lasting lifelong relationship.
Fortunately, any couple can learn and practice these powerful marriage communication techniques.
10 Communication Strategies to Fortify Your Marriage:
Give Your Spouse Your Full, Undivided AttentionBeing fully present and attentive when your spouse is speaking conveys respect, care, and interest. Research has repeatedly found partners who deliberately give each other complete focus without distractions report higher relationship quality and satisfaction.
So how do you shift your communication habits to give your spouse focused attention?
Here are some tips to help:
a. Sit face-to-face and maintain consistent eye contact without scanning the room or fidgeting.
b. Eliminate multitasking and focus 100% on your partner. Avoid interruptions or device distractions.
c. Be mentally engaged in the conversation, not just passively hearing. Concentrate fully on what your spouse is saying — verbally and non-verbally
Giving your undivided attention establishes the foundation for meaningful dialogue, emotional intimacy, and feeling valued. When you show your spouse they have your full focus, they will feel more connected with you.
Practice Active ListeningActive listening entails fully absorbing what your spouse expresses and reflecting it to them with your communication and actions. Gottman’s research has demonstrated that reflecting back what you heard helps partners feel intimately “known,” understood, and cared for.
Active listening requires focused attention, nodding, and giving other subtle physical cues that you are engaged in the conversation.
To make sure you heard what your spouse is attempting to communicate, paraphrase what you heard in your own words. For example, “It sounds like you feel overwhelmed juggling work and caring for your aging parents all at once.”
Asking open-ended follow-up questions like “What worries you most about the situation?” can help to draw out more details from your spouse.
Partners who listen actively with presence and without judgment feel closer emotionally. They feel seen, heard, and valued. So, they are more willing to open up and reveal their inner world.
Articulate Your Needs and Feelings DirectlyExpecting your spouse to just know what you need or feel, or hinting at your needs will eventually erode your relationship. Over time, this type of behavior can easily lead to resentment and miscommunication.
Instead, by directly and constructively voicing your wants, thoughts, and feelings, research by psychologist Dr. Amie Gordon shows that you will foster greater intimacy with your spouse.
“I” statements are key to this marriage communication skill. They allow you to take ownership of your emotions and be specific about behaviors or situations affecting you without attacking your partner’s character.
“I feel concerned because it seems like we’re both stressed and not connecting lately.”
“I feel sad when you don’t ask how my day was.”
By using “I” statements, you each allow the other to better understand your inner worlds without getting side-tracked with determining right or wrong.
Openly communicating in this way promotes vulnerability, emotional safety, and deeper connection. Speaking your truth directly but non-critically can help keep your relationship fulfilling over the long term.
Validate Your Partner’s PerspectiveOver time, seeing marital issues only through your own lens can damage your relationship. But simply validating your spouse’s point of view and emotional experience, even when you have differing opinions, strongly predicts greater relationship satisfaction, closeness, and empathy between spouses.
Validation can sound like this:
“Given your past experiences, I can understand why you would feel hesitant about the idea.”
“I get why you feel overwhelmed when we have weekend houseguests on top of our busy week.”
When you purposefully and compassionately validate your partner’s perspective, they are more likely to feel genuinely respected, heard, and cared for – all of which facilitates open and trusting communication.
Discuss Problems Calmly and ConstructivelyIt’s tempting to avoid having difficult conversations with your spouse and sweep things under the rug to keep the peace. However, decades of Gottman’s research reveals that discussing issues early in a calm, thoughtful manner leads to greater relationship fulfillment and intimacy over the long haul.
The first step to constructively address conflict is to set the stage. You will want to set a clear time to talk where you can give the issue your full focus without distractions or time pressure.
You will also want to establish ground rules before getting into the meat of the issue. These ground rules could include things like taking turns sharing things openly, using “I” statements, and taking breaks if emotions escalate.
After setting the stage, you and your spouse can begin your difficult conversation. Just remember to follow the marriage communication skills listed above to ensure that you both feel understood.
The final piece for calmly and constructively discussing problems is to remember you are on the same team. When couples do this, they are more likely to come up with compromises and solutions that meet both partners’ core needs.
Express Appreciation, Affection, and PraiseAccording to Gottman, there is a “magic ratio” for balancing complaints and criticisms in a relationship. For every negative interaction, aim for 5 positive. These positive interactions are readily accomplished by remembering to express sincere appreciation, affection, and praise.
By developing this habit, you will be nourishing intimacy, uplifting your partner’s spirit, and building goodwill to help you both better weather the tough times.
Infuse Playfulness and Humor When AppropriateDrs. John and Julie Gottman often advise thoughtfully injecting playfulness, humor, and light-hearted moments to ease tension – even during serious conversations. Shared giggles and joy in appropriate doses can help to sustain friendship and emotional connection through all of life’s ups and downs.
Cultivate an Attitude of Curiosity and DiscoveryEsther Perel suggests approaching your spouse with sincere curiosity and wonder like you did when you first met. This enables you to continually discover and appreciate your partner. She advises asking open questions with a learning mindset versus seeking to persuade or push your own viewpoint.
A spirit of curiosity allows you to unveil new dimensions of your spouse over a lifetime.
Practice Self-Reflection and Personal ResponsibilityBe willing to take an honest look at your own role in communication breakdowns with humility. Instead of playing the blame game, sincerely reflect on how you may be contributing to problems through your own patterns, biases, or unmet needs. Taking personal responsibility opens the door to understanding, even when you feel your partner is mostly at fault. This self-awareness facilitates empathy and conflict resolution.
Remember, as we grow more self-aware, we gain the power to change the course of our relationships, steering them toward understanding, connection, and satisfaction.
Stay Calm in Heated MomentsNo marriage is free of arguments, but how skillfully you manage yourself during conflict determines whether it harms or helps your bond. By purposefully staying calm by taking slow, deep breaths, speaking slowly, and taking breaks if needed, you are more likely to respond thoughtfully versus reacting destructively in the heat of the moment. This prevents emotional flooding and enables you and your partner to hear each other and de-escalate anger.
(And if you need additional tips for fighting fair in marriage, you can find them here.)
The Art of Communication is a Lifelong Endeavor
Like any skillset, consistently implementing positive marriage communication skills requires mindfulness, courage, and practice. However, mutual understanding and empathy between you and your spouse will allow your marriage to flourish through all of life’s ups and downs.
All it takes is small daily efforts. When these small efforts are compounded over decades, they will build (or rebuild) connection and satisfaction.
If you need additional help improving your marriage communication skills, consider couples counseling, a private marriage counseling retreat, or relationship coaching. There are also many different books and online courses that provide ready-made guidance.
At the end of the day, remind yourself that you and your partner are on the same team. With compassion, commitment, and vulnerability, your communication can deepen in ways that enrich your marriage and equip you to grow old together.