You can transform our nation ... one family at a time!
Choose the monthly amount
you'd like to give.
You can transform our nation ...
one family at a time!
Choose the monthly amount you'd like to give.

Positive Communication in Marriage

Husband and wife engage in positive communication at a cafe

Couples can build a healthy marriage when they offer encouragement to bring about change, growth and the fulfillment of potential.

After more than 40 years as a counselor, I’ve learned to ask couples, “What do you like about the way your spouse communicates?”

One man explained that he needs to hear continual affirmation that he’s a good father and husband . . . even if he doesn’t quite measure up to all of his wife’s desires and expectations. He wants to be given physical affection and assurance that she’s glad she married him. Sometimes he even worries about that issue.

A wife told me that she appreciates that her husband listens without trying to fix things and supports her in pursuits that make her a better person and draw her closer to God. She said he frequently encourages her and carefully chooses his words.

What do these comments have in common? Both people expressed their need for encouragement.

We have the power to build a healthy marriage by offering our spouse encouragement rather than criticism. This form of positive communication involves some basic habits: being intentionally gentle, listening intently and validating our spouse. Through encouragement, we can bring about change, growth and the fulfillment of potential. We awaken the feeling, Someone believes in me!

You may think of encouragement as praise and reinforcement, but it’s more than that. Praise is limited; it’s a verbal reward. Praise emphasizes competition, has to be earned and is often given for being the best. Encouragement is given freely. It can involve noticing something in a person that others take for granted or affirming something that others notice but never think of mentioning.

Encouraging your spouse through positive communication can change his or her entire approach to life. Here are some tips to help you become an encourager so your spouse can become all he or she was meant to be.


One of the character qualities of an encourager is gentleness. This quality means that when you discover where another person is vulnerable, you’re not hard, harsh or forceful. When you discover a tender, sensitive place in your spouse, you protect it rather than step on it.

The opposite of encouragement is criticism. That’s usually destructive, but critical people often say they’re just trying to remold a spouse into a better person by offering some “constructive criticism.” Too often, criticism demolishes. It doesn’t nourish a relationship; it poisons. Criticism that is destructive accuses, produces guilt, intimidates and is often an outgrowth of personal resentment.

Remember that every time you have a thought — and before the words come out of your mouth — you have an opportunity to evaluate how you use the power of what you say. Consider this paraphrase of Ephesians 4:29: “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift” (The Message). Could what you say to your spouse be thought of as a gift? It could be if you choose words of encouragement.

Intentional listening

True encouragement involves the art of listening. It means paying attention when your spouse is sharing with you and listening in a way that lets him or her know he or she is heard. You can show you’re listening by putting down what you’re working on, looking at your partner and repeating in your own words what you understood him or her to say.


Encouragement also includes letting your spouse know, “You matter to me.” You intentionally rephrase negatives into positives by identifying strengths and focusing on efforts and contributions instead of failures or things that weren’t done well. Encouragement recognizes your spouse as having worth and dignity in spite of imperfection. This means that you find something of value to recognize in your spouse, even when he or she can’t see it. Encouragement builds up your spouse. It focuses on any resource that can be turned into an asset or strength.

Exceptional couples understand how their strengths and weaknesses help them become better people. While no spouse wants his or her mate to have shortcomings, none of us is perfect. Even if we’re working to overcome our flaws, from time to time our partner is going to become frustrated with us. In such times, it’s a mature spouse who can see the opportunity for growth.


Encouragement Through Listening

One of the greatest gifts you can give your spouse is the gift of listening. It can be an act of connection and care, but far too many people only hear themselves talking. Few listen. If you listen to your spouse, he or she feels, I must be worth hearing. If you ignore your partner, his or her thought could be, What I said wasn’t important or He doesn’t care about me! Here are some tips to help you become a better listener:

Stay focused. When someone else is talking, most of us are concerned about what we’re going to say when the other person stops talking. This is a violation of Scripture because James 1:19 tells us to “be quick to hear, slow to speak.”

Watch your body language. When you communicate face to face with your spouse, your message is made up of three parts: content, which is only 7 percent; tone of voice, which is 38 percent; and nonverbal communication, which is 55 percent. What does this mean in your marriage? When your spouse shares with you, make sure your body language communicates openness and listen with your eyes because that’s as important as listening with your ears.

Be aware of gender differences. How we listen needs to be tailored to the person speaking. Women tend to give more response and feedback while they’re listening. Their responses aren’t necessarily agreement; they usually mean, “I understand” or “I’m connecting with you.” Men say less when they listen, and their feedback usually means, “I agree with you.” A woman often learns that when she’s listening to a man, he may not need as much feedback as a woman would. When she listens quietly to a man, he may respond with words like, “Thanks for really listening to me. It helps me keep my mind on track when I’m not interrupted.” On the other hand, when a man listens to a woman, he may need to remind himself to give her verbal reassurance that she is being heard.

Dr. H. Norman Wright is a grief and trauma therapist serving on the staff and faculty at the Talbot School of Theology. He is the author of Communication: Key to your marriage.

Dynamic CTA Template Below

Focus on the Family Plugged In logo

Entertainment Reviews Your Family Can Trust

Plugged In shines a light on the world of popular entertainment while giving families the essential tools they need to understand, navigate, and impact the culture in which they live. Let us help your family make wise and informed choices about movies, TV shows, music, video games, and more!
Close up of a young, pensive Asian woman listening to someone talking to her on her phone

Talk to a Counselor

If you need further guidance and encouragement, Focus on the Family has a staff of licensed, professional counselors who offer a one-time complimentary consultation from a Christian perspective. They can also refer you to counselors in your area for ongoing assistance.
Reach a Focus on the Family counselor toll-free at 1-855-771-HELP (4357).

Understand How to Respect and Love Your Son Well

"Why doesn’t my son listen to me?" Have you ever asked yourself that? The truth is, how you view your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. We’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.

Focus on Parenting Podcast

Mom or dad, could you use some encouragement and support? Put your ear buds in for this Christian parenting podcast and get practical, faith-based inspiration through all stages of parenting. Hosted by Dr. Danny Huerta, in every 8 to 15 minute episode, you’ll hear parenting experts share Biblical truths, effective parenting techniques, and useful resources that will help you feel equipped as a mom or dad in today’s culture.
Parenting a strong-willed child resource promotion

Learn How to Speak Your Strong-Willed Child's Language

In this free 6-part video series, Cynthia Tobias, author of many popular parenting books including You Can’t Make Me, explains why your strong-willed child thinks in certain ways and gives you effective tools you can use when communicating with him or her. Start today!

Get Equipped With the Truth So
You Can Bring Light to the Lies

Abortion is not an easy subject to talk about. You want to defend the truth, to expose the realities so easily confused during these times. Yet, it is so easy to tense up, to get nervous, to get so concerned with wanting to say the “right thing” that you end up saying nothing at all. If you feel at a loss when these conversations come up, this video series, “8 Lies About Abortion,” can help equip you with the truth, and the confidence to engage in the discussion.

Next Steps: Marriage Assessment

We want your marriage to be thriving and healthy. Take the free Marriage Assessment from Focus on the Family to learn how to strengthen your bond with your spouse and get the tools to help you need to grow closer together. 

Next Steps: Fruit of the Spirit Devotionals for Couples

The Fruit of the Spirit Devotional is a free series of nine short videos to get you into God’s Word and inspire you to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in loving your spouse.


About the Author

Read More About:

You May Also Like

young couple laughing
Communication Styles

What Is Intimacy?

What is intimacy? What is the definition of intimacy? Sometimes people will do just about anything to get close to someone they find interesting, intriguing or just plain irresistible. Is that being intimate?

Picture of 50 Guilt Free Resolutions upload
Communication Styles

50 Guilt-Free Resolutions

Resolutions can enrich and enliven your family life. Try these (guilt not included).

Smiling husband and wife sitting together on their front porch step
CEO Forum

6 Tools for Healthy Communication in Marriage

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.