4 Really Good and Really Bad Ways to Communicate With Your Spouse

Good communication is a skill. No one is naturally perfect at it. What can make matters worse is when two less than perfect people come together in a relationship and fail at communicating with one another. It is one of the most frustrating things out there. One person is frustrated about this and the other person thinks they are saying that and then you get into an argument over this and that and keep shouting past each other.

Not only can you be on different pages, but when one person gets frustrated, the other person can get defensive. It’s like both of you are saying “Say hello to my wall. It is here to keep you out and me from getting any closer to you than I have to.” The wall can manifest in withdrawing or shouting at the other person. When bad communication is present, there is little to no chance at making a significant connection.

Dr. John and Julie Gottman have done a lot of research discovering what makes marriages work and what doesn’t. When it comes to communication they say that there are four patterns of communication (The 4 Horseman) that can indicate the end of a relationship. These four ways of communicating are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.

Criticism – Criticism is easy to spot when you hear words like “always” or “never” during conflict. An example of criticism would be “You always forget to clean up after yourself. You never take responsibility for anything around the house.”

Defensiveness – Defensiveness is the tendency to avoid blame for any part in a conflict. An example of defensiveness would be “I was too busy to get to that today, why you didn’t just do it?” You push all of the blame onto someone or something else.

Contempt – Contempt is an attack on your partner’s sense of self. Each horseman is damaging to your partner, but contempt can be one of the most painful forms of bad conflict processing. An example of contempt during conflict is “You are such a worthless person. I can’t believe I’m married to you.” Contempt is incredibly harsh and can produce a lot of destruction within a marriage.

Stonewalling – Stonewalling is the easiest to spot because it involves few words, if any. When your partner is stonewalling they stop speaking and sometimes leave the room to avoid conflict. This signals that they have become hopeless about resolving conflict or feel too overwhelmed to handle conflict. The more that stonewalling surfaces in a relationship, the more it damages the marriage.

If you’re human you have probably used a couple of these in the past or maybe even today. No one grows up in a household where conflict is managed in a perfectly healthy way, so we bring those conflict strategies into our friendships and marriages. It is okay to mess up, but let’s get to work on using healthy conflict strategies. Here are a few alternatives to The 4 Horseman that allow healthy communication and encourage a healthy marriage as well.

Have a Gentle Posture – Instead of telling your partner what they always or never do, try to focus on the reason what they have done has upset you. In the process use more “I” statements than “You” statements. An example of having a gentle posture would be “Whenever I ask for help cleaning around the house and don’t get it, I feel burdened and stressed. Would you mind helping me clean up?”

Take Responsibility – Instead of placing blame on others or something else, take responsibility for your wrongdoing. An example might be “I completely forgot to do that. I apologize and will take care of it.”

Show Care and Respect – Using contempt within a marriage is the one of the worst things that can happen to your relationship with your partner. Instead of attacking and breaking down your partner, make it a priority to compliment and elevate them. An example of showing care and respect would be, “I really admire how much effort you put into spending time with the kids. You are a really great mom/dad”

Take a break, then come back – Stonewalling is giving up on the conflict and avoiding any sort of resolution. When you get frustrated or upset, take a break until you have calmed down. Once you have calmed down, go back to your partner and try to find a resolution or compromise. This signals that you do care and you do want to work through your disagreement.

When you reach a roadblock in communication with your partner, it can become very straining on your relationship. Instead of communicating in a hurtful way, try some of these healthy alternatives to The 4 Horseman out. If you continue to struggle with issues within your marriage, it might be helpful to reach out to a local therapist. Some therapists have years of specialization in marriage work and might be able to help. Sometimes working through conflict can seem impossible, but there is hope.


The Key Ingredient to Creating a Lasting Marriage

There are many pieces that work together to create a positive, fulfilling, and healthy marriage. If those pieces made up a puzzle, emotional intimacy would be the centerpieces. They are the pieces that are the most difficult to put together, but are oftentimes the most colorful and beautiful part of the puzzle. Without them the puzzle would be dull and incomplete. With them you have a beautiful piece of art. You can have a relationship with little to no emotional intimacy, but it will be hardly bearable at its best and completely intolerable at its worst.

So what exactly is emotional intimacy?

These two words get thrown around so much, sometimes the meaning can get lost in translation. Emotional intimacy can be described as the feelings of love, trust, acceptance and respect created by the willingness of each person to share personal and vulnerable thoughts and feelings. The more open and transparent each person is, while maintaining a non-judgmental and accepting posture with one another, the more emotional intimacy is created. Emotional intimacy doesn’t just happen between two people in a romantic relationship, but can also happen in other types of relationships. Although this blog focuses on emotional intimacy within a marriage, it is crucial to every relationship, not just between romantic partners. Emotional intimacy is powerful and a critical part of any trans-formative relationship.

The Power of Emotional Intimacy

The power of emotional intimacy is that it transforms relationships and creates stability, empowerment, freedom, and deep fulfillment.


When emotional intimacy is created within a relationship it provides stability and grounding for each person. To be able to share our deepest insecurities and painful past with someone, who doesn’t run away or shut us down, provides an unbelievable amount of security. The simple truth is that most people aren’t willing or able to provide that. We usually have our defenses up because we have all encountered painful rejection in the past and we try our best to avoid that by keeping things surface level. Sometimes we don’t share because we don’t want to drive the other person away.

If you are able to share those deep, and sometimes painful, parts of yourself without being rejected or abandoned, then it draws you closer to your spouse. Over time you and your spouse begin to realize that you aren’t going anywhere and you’re both willing to stick together no matter what. This closeness gives you a sense of peace and security that is incredibly satisfying and undoubtedly hard to find.

Freedom and Empowerment

Our deepest pains and insecurities are infamous for holding us hostage. Maybe one of yours is that you think and feel that you are boring and uninteresting. Feeling that way can keep you from reaching out to people and connecting with others because you think you don’t have anything interesting to offer. When you add emotional intimacy to that insecurity (a spouse who takes the time to listen to you and your ‘boring’ thoughts and feelings while being non-judgmental and accepting) then you might start to question how boring and uninteresting you actually are. I mean if someone wants to sit with you and listen to what you have to say, then that contradicts the belief that you are boring and uninteresting. In fact, it might mean that you are kind of a catch.

That process is freeing and empowering. Emotional intimacy gives you the courage to share more and express yourself in ways that you never have before. Once it is created, its effects reach far outside of your marriage and influence your experience at work, within the family, and even while engaging in your hobbies. Emotional intimacy can help you realize that you matter.

Deep Fulfillment

Emotional intimacy leads to deep fulfillment. The fulfillment is, among other things, a love and acceptance that transform us. It is satisfying and comforting to know that someone accepts you for all of you, not just the good parts. It’s also something that can continue to grow within the marriage. The more that you commit to being vulnerable and open with one another, while being willing to listen and accept one another, the greater your love for one another grows. This can be the bedrock of your marriage and one of the most satisfying and rewarding feelings you will ever experience.


It is so easy to be swept away by our every-day routines. Work has a way of carrying into your off time, the list of errands you need to run is endless, and maintaining a social life on top of everything else is difficult, to say the least. All of these things are important, but spending quality time with your spouse is crucial. Whether you choose to go out on a date or have some time for yourselves at home, use the time to share with one another. Don’t use the time to just share facts about your week, but also your feelings about things. Be there for one another by being accepting, generous in your assumptions, and willing to listen. As you perfect the process, you add centerpieces to your puzzle. What once was a puzzle with missing centerpieces will become a beautiful piece of art.

Why Relationships Are Important

Why Relationships Are Important

Whether you struggle with anxiety, anger, stress, perfectionism, depression, or anything in between, there is hope.  Developing more healthy relationships, or transforming current relationships into more healthy and positive ones, is a big piece of the healing process. This oftentimes means fighting the feeling of loneliness and I won’t pretend that it’s easy. It’s not. In fact, it’s really hard at times. Creating or maintaining healthy relationships in our society today has become more difficult than saying no to Girl Scout cookies. We are constantly being dragged from one thing to the next with little to no time to develop relationships. In order to make relationships work, they need quite a bit of time and effort. In order for them to get time and effort, most of us need to know that they are going to pay out. Is the time spent investing in relationships able to produce a high return on investment?

Relationships and Your Physical Health

The proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study suggesting the number and quality of social relationships a person has impacts their health just as much as diet and exercise. Having less quality relationships has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and other serious health concerns across different parts of a person’s lifespan. The mortality rate for older adults significantly increases the less a person is socially connected, and the risk for obesity among adolescents significantly increases the less they are socially connected.

The physical response to being less connected to people is burdensome. Not only can it decrease your lifespan, but it can also affect your quality of life.

Relationships and Your Mental Health

Not only is a lack of relationships bad for your physical heath, but loneliness has a negative impact on your mental health as well. Loneliness has been linked to depression and increases a person’s risk of committing suicide. Loneliness can also increase stress and decrease motivation which can make it incredibly difficult to cope with everyday stressors and accomplish tasks.

Living life without meaningful relationships is hard. It becomes more difficult to deal with the hard times and enjoy the good ones.

If there is one thing worth adding to the top of your to-do list, connecting with people should be that thing. Make sure to invest time in people that are important to you and possibly even creating new relationships. If you notice that most of the things you set aside time for throughout the week are tasks related to work or running errands, and you end most weeks feeling stressed out and empty, then commit to taking some time to nurture and build relationships. That could be taking your spouse on a date, or going out with friends. Regardless of how you do it, make an effort to connect. If loneliness is something that you struggle with often and don’t see a way out, then reach out to a professional for help.

Making Marriage Last

In the United States, nearly 300,000 couples get married every month, and there are 2.4 million formal weddings every year. The institution of marriage is alive and well. The caveat is that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. So nearly half of the couples that promise to remain together no matter what break that promise at some point during their relationship. Marriage is difficult, in fact, it’s just plain hard. Staying committed to one person for the rest of your life may seem impossible at some points in the relationship, but the effects of staying committed to your spouse make it worth it.  Marriage is associated with a number of important health benefits. Married adults are happier and healthier, live longer, and have lower rates of a variety of mental health concerns than do adults without committed partners. If that is the case, how can you make your marriage not just work, but thrive?

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Make Time, Quality Time

If you don’t set aside time to spend with your spouse and connect, then there is no way to create intimacy in your marriage. Without connection and intimacy, you are bound for excessive conflict and misery within the relationship. The person that you chose to marry has a life independent of yours and experiences a whole different set of thoughts and feelings than you do. It takes effort to make time to connect, but it is worth it. They want to share those thoughts and feelings with you, whether it is conscious or not, and we all want to be known and loved by our partners. Whether you have one night a week that you go out for dinner, or you pick up an activity together, the consequence of having quality time together is invaluable. With the 10,000 things that we have going on every day it is hard, but spending time to invest in your relationship is far more valuable than crossing ten things off of your to-do list.

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Do Conflict Well

Research shows that, among newlyweds, the frequency of arguments about in-laws is exceeded only by the frequency of disagreements about financial matters. Although in-laws and financial matters can be hot-button issues, they aren’t the only ones. Arguments and conflict will happen. The important thing is that conflict is done well. The more that hurtful remarks are made and issues are “swept under the rug” the more difficult it becomes to resolve conflicts and create intimacy in your marriage. The goal isn’t to get rid of conflict, because I don’t know that it’s possible. Instead, the goal is to approach conflict with patience and generosity. Getting there isn’t easy, but the road is well worth the travel.

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If you want your marriage to last, it takes an incredibly large amount of commitment. A commitment which perseveres through the thick and the thin. There will be several days full of tears. Some of those days the tears will be from laughter, and others will be from sadness. Regardless, it is helpful to remember that you made a commitment to your spouse. That commitment leads to a love that runs deeper than the feelings you had when you first met. You will have days where you don’t like your spouse, you will question your love and commitment, and might even grow eager to have a life with less conflict and more simplicity. Commitment is a choice. It is a choice to grow together and not away from one another. It is a choice to listen to what your spouse has to say, work through your pain and hurt, or simply go to the movie they have wanted to see that isn’t at the top of your list. That choice, as difficult as it sometimes can be, moves you closer to the person you chose to be with, for better or for worse.

The effects of a healthy marriage far outweigh getting a promotion or making enough to get that beach house. Take time, work through conflict, and commit. If you get stuck, then reach out for help. Some problems are too difficult to deal with on our own and getting help is okay. Reach out to your friends for support, pastor for spiritual guidance, or counselor for relationship guidance and emotional healing. Your relationship will have ups and downs, but sticking with it will bring unexpected joy, some of the deepest love you will ever know, and a lasting friendship.

I want to add that these tips for making a marriage last are all within the confines of a relationship without abuse. If you are physically or sexually abused, separate from your partner immediately. Staying with a partner who is abusing not only keeps you from moving forward, but it is also enabling to the partner who is committing the abuse to continue hurting people. For help with protecting yourself from an abuser call local authorities or 911.

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