For a Happy Marriage: Speak With Kindness — Especially When You Want to “Tell It Like It Is”

By Shaunti Feldhahn
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on print
Share on email
In this second article of a three-part series, Shaunti Feldhahn explains how speaking with kindness in all the day-to-day bustle of married life can make for a happier marriage.

I was standing with my family in a packed line for an amusement park ride when the couple in front of me began looking at their watches and arguing. “Oh, great.” The wife’s voice could be clearly heard above the noisy environment. “It’s almost 2 p.m. already. At this rate we’re going to miss the show with the kids.”

Her husband shook his head. “Well, that sort of thing happens.“

“Well, it wouldn’t have happened at all if you’d gotten the show tickets when we first got to the park. But no, you had to spend all that extra time looking at the map, even though the kids asked you to hurry. If we miss the show, they’re going to be really upset with you.”

Just as I couldn’t help overhearing, I couldn’t help wincing — not just at the woman’s words, but at her piercing and sarcastic tone of voice. I found myself thinking, Would you ever use that tone of voice with a close friend? If not, then why on earth would you ever speak that way to your husband?

Years later when I finished a major research study to identify what makes the happiest couples so happy, I learned that my initial concern at the amusement part wasn’t just a rhetorical question. It turns out that how we speak to each other day to day is one of the most important factors in marriage.

The problem is, how we speak is also one of those things we simply don’t think about — or feel we shouldn’t have to think about. We figure that after years of marriage, we should be able to drop our guard and not have to watch every word. That’s a great point in many ways, but all too often we take it too far. Perhaps without realizing it, we take intimacy for license.

So what does that look like? Well, for example, “telling it like it is” is highly valued in our culture today. As is “brutal honesty.” As one man earnestly told me, “In marriage, you have to be able to be brutally honest with each other.

I hear that sort of thing a lot. But I have never heard those words from the happiest couples. Instead, for them, speaking kindly has become a way of life. As one husband put it, “Yes, you need to be honest. You need to share the real deal. But those times are also when you need to be the most careful. You’ve got to be sure that you’re speaking in a way that doesn’t hurt the feelings of the person you love most.”

The old adage is true: So often what matters most is not what you say, but how you say it. In fact, I’ve discovered that one of the key factors that can change a marriage from tough to terrific is a purposeful effort to speak with kindness in all the day-to-day bustle of marriage.

So whether you are sitting down to discuss a life-changing issue or simply trying to hurry your slow-moving spouse out the door, ask yourself: How can I speak with kindness right now?

Shaunti Feldhahn is a social researcher and the author of The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. For more on Shaunti’s research, visit

©2015 Shaunti Feldhahn. Originally published on

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

About the Author

Shaunti Feldhahn

A graduate of Harvard University and a former Wall Street analyst, Shaunti Feldhahn is a popular speaker, best-selling author and social researcher. Her books include For Women Only, For Men Only, Through a Man’s Eyes and The Good News About Marriage. Shaunti and her husband, Jeff, reside in Atlanta and have two children. Learn more about Shaunti by visiting her website, …

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.