6 Tools for Healthy Communication in Marriage

By Mike Bechtle
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Thinkstock

Couples often don’t have a lot of communication tools when they enter marriage. When conversations get tough, they may need better tools than they have. Here are some basic skills they’ll need.

“Could you please bring home a few apples?” my new bride, Diane, asked.

I was headed to the store, and Diane made this simple request as I was leaving. “Sure,” I said. It felt good to help her out.

I like apples that are a little tart, so I purchased some small, green apples on sale. When I arrived at home and presented her with my gift, Diane said, “I wanted apples for eating, not for baking.” Her voice was tense, filled with frustration. “Just regular, red apples.”

I had expected her to be grateful for my effort, but she wasn’t — and I was angry. I thought, She didn’t tell me what kind of apples, and I gave her exactly what she asked for.

In the early days of our marriage, we realized that we each brought an individual view of life to the relationship and that neither of us was a mind reader. We had to learn ways to find out what the other was thinking.

Typical newlyweds are not fully equipped for marriage and need help from the community. For example, newlyweds usually don’t have furniture or cookware to set up a home, so wedding guests bring gifts to get them started. In the same way, couples often don’t have a lot of communication tools when they enter marriage. When conversations get tough, they may need better tools than they have, but they don’t know where to find them.

What if a couple registered for communication tools instead of toasters? Here are the six tools I’d want to see on their list:

Focused attention

While Diane and I were driving though central California during a cold winter day, we had to climb a winding mountain road in the fog. I could barely see the white lines in front of the car as we crawled along, and my attention was laser-focused on my driving. But an hour later we came down the other side and into the bright, warm sunshine. I relaxed, and within minutes I was drowsy and inattentive.

That’s a recipe for disaster in both driving and marriage. Over time, we can become inattentive to our spouse’s needs. We can take our opportunities for communication for granted, as if we expect the road to always be smooth and straight. The solution? Becoming intentional about our connection:

  • Give direct eye contact when talking.
  • Press “pause” or “mute” on the remote when your spouse approaches. This habit will be a reminder of what’s more valuable. (Cellphone etiquette will be discussed later.)
  • Initiate conversation about your spouse’s concerns instead of waiting for him or her to bring them up.

Clear expectations

When I look at an issue through my own lenses, I assume that my spouse sees it the same way. That’s a common source of irritation and conflict because that assumption ignores her unique perspective. Get in the habit of clarifying meaning early in each conversation. Otherwise, you’ll wonder why your spouse brought home the wrong kind of apples. Ask questions like:

  • “So you prefer a relaxing vacation. What does ‘relaxing’ look like to you?”
  • “You’ll be gone for a while. Can you give me a rough time frame when you’ll be back?”
  • “Sure, I have a minute. Or if we need longer than that, may we connect in a half hour instead?”

Second questions

During a conversation, it’s easy to be focused on forming your reply to your spouse rather than listening to seek understanding. Instead, develop a curiosity about what’s under the surface of your spouse’s statements, and the practice will bring you together. If you respond with your thoughts first, it’s often an indication that you’re not focused on the other person. But if you simply listen and ask a second question to explore what your spouse has said, it demonstrates caring and builds trust. Just take what he or she has said to the next level:

  • “So, what were you feeling when your boss took credit for your work?”
  • “You said that was one of the best books you’ve ever read. What about the book affected you the most?”
  • “That seminar sounds really interesting. What would you be looking to take from it?”

Refined technology

Technology can be a powerful tool for effective communication. But like any tool, it can be misused. Holding a conversation is tough when someone is distracted by a screen, so when your spouse is present, you need to turn your attention toward him or her. Try these ideas for taming your tech:

  • When you go out to dinner, leave your cellphone in the car.
  • When you’re apart, send several quick, fun text messages during the day to let your spouse know you’re thinking about him or her.
  • Remove your television from your bedroom so it can be a retreat from tech.

Streak connecting

A streak is something you do consistently over time. You pick something you want to do every day (exercising, flossing, etc.) and then put a big red X on the calendar every day it happens. Once you see the streak of X’s on the calendar, you won’t want to break it. Plan for streaks in your marriage and track them:

  • Say “I love you” to your spouse every day.
  • Make the bed every day.
  • Pray with your spouse every day.

Growing wonder

During courtship all you can see is how amazing your partner is. After the wedding you see things you didn’t notice before and think, Wait — I didn’t sign up for this. Actually, we become more realistic as we learn more about the person we married. That’s healthy — unless we see only the negative and lose sight of the amazing. It’s still there, but we have to intentionally keep it on our radar:

  • Write down one thing each evening about your spouse that you’re grateful for. Do it for a month, then show it to him or her.
  • In conversations with friends, never describe your spouse’s faults. Share something specific that you’re still amazed by (it’ll get back to your spouse).
  • Reaffirm your relationship during conflict: “Right now, I’m really frustrated with you. That doesn’t change the fact that I adore you, and I’m not going anywhere. But I’m still frustrated …”

Communication is the foundation on which we build world-class relationships. The more valuable the relationship, the greater the need for effective communication. If the tools you have on hand aren’t working, it’s time for better tools. Try some of these suggestions and watch your relationship grow!

Did you know couples are 30 percent less likely to get a divorce if they get some sort of premarital training? If you or someone you know is planning to marry, check out Focus on the Family’s Ready to Wed curriculum, and then prepare for a marriage you’ll love!

© 2018 Mike Bechtle. Originally published on FocusOnTheFamily.com.

Share:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email

About the Author

Mike Bechtle

Dr. Mike Bechtle is a writer, public speaker and senior consultant for FranklinCovey. He has authored five books, including Dealing with the Elephant in the Room.

You May Also Like

Thank you [field id="first_name"] for signing up to get the free downloads of the Marrying Well Guides. 

Click the image below to access your guide and learn about the counter-cultural, biblical concepts of intentionality, purity, community and Christian compatibility.

(For best results use IE 8 or higher, Firefox, Chrome or Safari)

To stay up-to-date with the latest from Boundless, sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter.


If you have any comments or questions about the information included in the Guide, please send them to [email protected]

Click here to return to Boundless

Focus on the Family

Thank you for submitting this form. You will hear from us soon. 

The Daily Citizen

The Daily Citizen from Focus on the Family exists to be your most trustworthy news source. Our team of analysts is devoted to giving you timely and relevant analysis of current events and cultural trends – all from a biblical worldview – so that you can be inspired and assured that the information you share with others comes from a reliable source.

Alive to Thrive is a biblical guide to preventing teen suicide. Anyone who interacts with teens can learn how to help prevent suicidal thinking through sound practical and clinical advice, and more importantly, biblical principles that will provide a young person with hope in Christ.

Bring Your Bible to School Day Logo Lockup with the Words Beneath

Every year on Bring Your Bible to School Day, students across the nation celebrate religious freedom and share God’s love with their friends. This event is designed to empower students to express their belief in the truth of God’s Word–and to do so in a respectful way that demonstrates the love of Christ.

Focus on the Family’s® Foster Care and Adoption program focuses on two main areas:

  • Wait No More events, which educate and empower families to help waiting kids in foster care

  • Post-placement resources for foster and adoptive families

Christian Counselors Network

Find Christian Counselors, Marriage & Family Therapists, Psychologists, Social Workers and Psychiatrists near you! Search by location, name or specialty to find professionals in Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselors Network who are eager to assist you.

Boundless is a Focus on the Family community for Christian young adults who want to pursue faith, relationships and adulthood with confidence and joy.

Through reviews, articles and discussions, Plugged In exists to shine a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving you and your family the essential tools you need to understand, navigate and impact the culture in which we live.

Have you been looking for a way to build your child’s faith in a fun and exciting way?
Adventures in Odyssey® audio dramas will do just that. Through original audio stories brought to life by actors who make you feel like part of the experience; these fictional, character-building dramas use storytelling to teach lasting truths.

Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored all-inclusive intensives offer marriage counseling for couples who are facing an extreme crisis in their marriage, and who may even feel they are headed for divorce.