Keys to Effective Communication in Marriage

Improving your skills is great for your relationship!
By Julie Baumgardner
August 16, 2017

What are the keys to effective communication? Well, research on what makes marriage work shows that happy and healthy couples have a ratio of 5:1 positive to negative behaviors in their relationship.1This means there are five times as many positive interactions between happy couples (i.e., listening, validating the other person, using soft words, expressing appreciation, affirmation, physical affection, compliments, etc.) as there are negative (i.e., raising one’s voice, stating a complaint, or expressing one’s anger).

Tips for improving the effectiveness of communication in your relationship:

Be intentional about spending time together.

Couples often spend very little time in meaningful conversation throughout the week. To change this, turn off the technology and make it a point to spend 20-30 minutes a day catching up with each other.

Use more “I” statements and less “You” statements.2

This decreases the chances of your spouse feeling like they need to defend themselves. For example, “I wish you would acknowledge more often how much work I do at home to take care of you and the children.”

Be specific.

When issues arise, be specific. Broad generalizations like, “You do it all the time!” are not helpful.

Avoid mind-reading.

It is very frustrating when someone else acts like they know better than you what you were really thinking.

Express negative feelings constructively.

There will be times when you feel bitterness, resentment, disappointment or disapproval. These feelings need to be communicated in order for change to occur. But how you express these thoughts is critical. It’s one thing to say, “I am really disappointed that you are working late again tonight.” But if you say, “You clearly do not care one whit about me or the kids. If you did, you would not work late every night,” will convey something entirely different.

You’ve had conversations with your spouse, even arguments, and maybe straight-up fights about this issue or that problem, BUT those interactions often don’t lead to any solutions. But why is that exactly?

Join us for this 20-minute webinar to find out!

Listen without being defensive.

For a marriage to succeed, both spouses must be able to hear each other’s complaints without getting defensive. This is much harder than learning how to express negative feelings effectively.

Freely express positive feelings.

Most people are quicker to express negative feelings than positive ones. It is vital to the health of your marriage that you affirm your spouse. Positive feelings such as appreciation, affection, respect, admiration, and approval are like making deposits into your love account. You should have five positive deposits for every one negative. If your compliments exceed your complaints, your spouse will pay attention to your grievances. If your complaints exceed your compliments, your criticism will fall on deaf ears.


1Gottman, J.M., & Levenson, R.W. (1999). What Predicts Change in Marital Interaction Over Time? A Study of Alternative Models. 
2Rogers, S. L., et al. (2018). I understand you feel that way, but I feel this way: the benefits of I-language and communicating perspective during conflict.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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  1. Jeremy Hoffman
    Jeremy Hoffman says:

    Very good info and spot on for what we are going through. Do you have more info or additional resources to share with me?

  2. Alexander Palmer
    Alexander Palmer says:

    This was very helpful. Do you have more information I can read. Trying to salvage my marriage and any additional information will help

  3. Vivian Black
    Vivian Black says:

    I loved how you pointed out that positive feelings that are expressed are making deposits into a “love account” with your spouse. It is true that people express negative feelings more than positive ones. In my marriage, we need to work on those positive expressions on both sides. I think it is a good idea to seek marriage counseling to help us with this important habit.


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