The Ultimate Complete Guide to Creating a Strong, Long-Lasting Relationship
- What communication is
- Why communication is important in relationship
- What you can do to make your communication better
- Common mistakes couples do when communicating
- How great couples communicate
Note: I will be using gender terms freely. This is not about women vs men. It’s not about heterosexual couples. All relationships may they be heterosexual or homosexual, monogamous or non-monogamous, in a marriage or in a committed or less-then-committed relationship face similar communication issues.
Marriage Communication Fundamentals
What if You Need Some Help
Marriage Communication Fundamentals
What is Marriage Communication and the Dreaded Filters that Keep Screwing It Up?
The figure above is a simple illustration of communication, as defined by Dr. John Gottman and colleagues in their book, A Couples Guide to Communication. I love this illustration because it’s simple and easy to understand.
On one side, there’s the Speaker and her Intent for the message.
On the other side, there’s the Listener and the Impact the message has on him.
Between them, there are layers of filters.
The speaker is filtering how she’s communicating the message.
The listener is filtering how he’s hearing the message.
We’ll get to the filters later on.
Communication in intimate relationships is made between a speaker and a listener, through a message. The speaker is delivering a message to the listener. The speaker has an intent he wants to deliver through his message. The listener will be impacted by the message.
Good communication is when Intention Equals Impact.
How does good marriage communication work?
The speaker tries to clarify his intent, and states what he is thinking, feeling or asking for. It’s best if he does not assume the listener knows what’s going on in his inner world. The listener is not a mind reader.
As we all know, many times it’s not that simple, and Intent does not equal Impact. That happens because the message goes through the speaker’s filter and the listener’s filter.
Filters are affected by the speaker and listener’s state of mind. For example, when I’m hungry I might sound harsh even if that’s not my intent. The filter through which I’m sending my message changes it. When I’m hungry my physiology is under stress, so the tone of my voice sounds stressed. I may ask my wife if she’s seen my bag, and because my physiology is under stress, this simple question may sound like I’m blaming her.
Another reason why Intent doesn’t equal Impact is the listener’s filter, which is affected by her state. Sometimes the listener doesn’t hear the speaker’s intent correctly. For example, when I am angry with my wife and she asks me something, I may not understand her intent, and presume she has a negative intent.
Filters are also affected by a person’s life, especially by his relationship with his family of origin, that created a template for communication. This template includes many unchecked assumptions about himself and others. For example, if he grew up in a family that had a culture of airing discontent as it arises, he might be used to speaking out loud quickly without checking how it feels to the listener.
The listener’s filter is based on her past relationship with her family of origin. She has her own set of assumptions about herself, others, and ways of communication. If she grew up in a family culture that was more reserved, quiet and avoidant of communicating feelings, especially hard ones, she might get overwhelmed when the speaker delivers a message that is much harsher than what she has been used to.
Fillers can affect the wording of the message, the tone of it, and how we understand it.
Aligning Words with Body Language so that Your Partner will Understand Your True Intent
So, the state of my body-mind conveys much more than the words I use.
I can say “Babe, have you seen my bag?” in a manner that conveys impatience, because I’m late for work, and she might think I’m upset at her.
Probably, if I say the same words with a softer tone of voice (or explain my state of mind), she will understand it as a simple inquiry and be more willing to help me.
Recently, I was working with a couple in which the wife was accustomed to speaking in an impatient tone. It was a habit of communication that was formed in her childhood; she couldn’t explain why. Her husband was a good guy, who cared a lot about her. He often perceived her intent as criticizing, and felt she was scolding him. Even though he cared a lot about her, he frequently felt threatened, became over-defensive, and all but stopped listening to the content of her words. He was reacting to protect himself from a threat he thought he perceived, which turned out to be misinterpreted body language.
A lot of my work with her was to stop her when she sounded impatient and check in with her on how she was actually feeling. Many times it wasn’t impatience or discontent, and thanks to her checking in, she could speak her message again, in a more calm, relaxed manner. Her softness encouraged her husband to come towards her, and listen to what she was actually asking him to do.
In one of our podcast episodes we interviewed Jed Diamond, an international leader on men’s health.
He realized he needed to understand what he was doing wrong and went on a journey to learn about relationships. He married his current wife, Carlin, more than 40 years ago(!) and they are proud parents of five grown children and twelve grandchildren.
Jed is living proof that you can learn how to be in a relationship and get better at it, until you become a master of relationships.
Voicing More Than One Complaint at a Time
Try instead focusing on one topic: “Honey, it’s really hard for me when you don’t do your share of the house cleaning. It makes me feel frustrated and lonely. I love it when I feel like we’re on the same team. Could you make sure you do the dishes after dinner, like we discussed before?”
Correcting Your Partner Too Often
Instead try saying: “I hear you. I appreciate you trying. It’s just that I’m afraid you’ll forget.”
When you start with affirmation, your partner can feel heard, and lower his defenses. After giving him the sense of being heard, you can add your concerns. Take a breath before you add your concerns. If you add them too quickly, it won’t give a
feeling of actually listening to him.
Your partner says “You left the kitchen dirty again.” You answer “Well, you woke up late and I had to prepare the kids for the day.”
This kind of communication leaves both of you unheard and frustrated.
Mind Reading – Using Assumptions Instead of Feedback
When you are listening to your partner, and you’re not sure you understood what she said, don’t try to fill in the gaps. Instead, ask for feedback. That’s especially true when you feel attacked or criticized.
Or “It seems to me like you’re criticizing me, and I’m noticing I’m getting defensive. Can you rephrase it in a softer tone, so I can hear you better?”
Interrupting Your Partner in the Middle of the Sentence
On this kind of occasion, you might interrupt your partner in the middle of the sentence, assuming you know what he is about to say. That can be very frustrating for your partner and might escalate the conversation into a fight.
If self-regulation doesn’t help, and you’re still too flooded to listen, you can try co-regulation: letting your partner know what’s happening and asking for their help: “Honey, I’m noticing it’s hard for me to listen to you right now. I’m triggered and my heart is closed. Can you help me feel like we’re a team and that we can solve this together?”
If this doesn’t help either, you should probably take a time out: “Honey, I’m sorry, I’m too triggered to listen to you properly right now. I’m going to take a break to take care of myself, and I’ll get back to you in an hour so we can finish this discussion when I’m calmer and more open to you.”
Almost everybody does this sometimes, but the truth is that criticism only triggers defensiveness; it doesn’t make your partner come closer to you and understand your point of view.
For example, instead of telling your partner he or she is such a slob, because they left the living room messy last night. Try telling them: “Waking up to a messy living room makes me feel tense. Would you clean up after yourself? It will make me feel cared for and relaxed.”
While this is a common strategy, it is also a very ineffective one. The reason most men do it is because they want to avoid escalation. Unfortunately, their withdrawal usually just makes the problem worse, and doesn’t really help to down-regulate the fight.
The way out of this cycle is communication. If you’re in a heated discussion, and you’re noticing you’re getting flooded, and you know you’re going to close up soon, try communicating that. Tell your partner: “I’m sorry, this discussion is getting too intense for me. I’d like to take a break and take care of myself. Can we continue talking about it in an hour?”
While taking the break from the discussion, try to do something that helps you relax – take a walk, do some gardening, do some breathing exercises, even surf the web, but make sure not to keep on fighting with your partner in your head.
Also, make sure to come back and finish the discussion. Do not use this as an excuse to avoid your partner. Avoiding them will not get you closer. It will just hurt your relationship and your chance of getting the peace and quiet you long for.
Contempt is when someone uses hostile humor, name-calling, mimicking, or body language such as eye-rolling and sneering.
Over-defensiveness doesn’t make your partner feel seen. It makes your partner feel rejected. He or she probably bears some responsibility for your reaction. Perhaps they really did attack you. Even so, on a good day, you might be able to hear a complaint and not defend yourself in a way that deflects your partner’s needs.
Always try to remember that your partner is on your team. Even when what your partner is saying is unpleasant to you, try to hear what’s true in the message. Affirm that truth first, and only later correct the part that is inaccurate to you.
For example, if your partner is complaining that “You never do the dishes,” you can answer “You’re right, I didn’t do the dishes last night, even though it was my responsibility. I’m sorry about that. And, I want you to know I found it hurtful that you said I NEVER do the dishes. I take care of them often, as you know. It would feel good to me if you acknowledge that, even though you’re mad.”
Righteousness often comes up in response to feeling criticized. The problem with righteousness is that it feels like blame to your partner. Your partner is critical to you, and you answer with righteousness. Which makes them feel blamed and misunderstood, and often leads to more criticism or blame. Another vicious cycle.
How to Improve Marriage Communication
Effective Marriage Communication that Enables Falling in Love Again Every Single Day
The speaker’s responsibility is to use tone of voice, body language and words that align with the intent he is trying to convey with the message.
The listener’s responsibility is to make sure they understand what the speaker is trying to say. If the listener is not sure they understood the message, they should ask for clarification.
When you know you want to talk about a topic that might get your partner upset, it’s good to start the conversation with a soft tone of voice. You want to help your partner feel safe, not criticised or under attack. Starting the conversation gently, with your partner’s nickname (“honey,” “babe,” or “Johnny,” instead of “John”…), will probably help your partner to feel safe, and encourage them to stay open.
Add a request at the end: “Honey, there’s something I’d like to talk to you about, but I’m worried you’ll get triggered or offended. Is it ok if I bring it up slowly? Could you try listening to me without getting triggered?”
Ask for Permission
If your partner is not available right now, ask them when would be a good time to talk.
Avoid Flooding Your Partner
One Topic at a Time
One of the ways conversations get sidetracked, is when we bring up one topic, and then add to it other topics. Try to stick to one topic at a time.
If your partner answers with another topic, tell them you do want to discuss the other topic as well, but that you prefer to finish processing the one you brought up first, and then moving to the topic they brought up later.
Conversations escalate into a fight when one or both people get flooded and shift into fight-or-flight mode. Take care of yourself to make sure you don’t lose your temper.
When you notice you’re getting angry, defensive, or shut-down, it means you’re getting flooded. Breathe deeply and slowly a few times. Remind yourself you’re talking to your partner, and that he or she wants the best for you. Remind yourself you want the best for them as well.
When you notice you can’t control your temper and stay in your mature self, call for a time-out. You can say “time-out” or use the hands gesture of the letter T. What that means is that YOU need to process how YOU are feeling. This is not about your partner. This is about you knowing that you are too triggered, too flooded, to be able to talk in a constructive way, and YOU need to take a break to down-regulate, and come back to your senses.
“I need a time-out because I’m too triggered to talk. I understand this is an important topic for us. I want to keep discussing it, but not like this. I will come back when I’m in better shape so we can process it further”.
When you go for a time-out, take your mind off the fight. Do something soothing – take a walk around the block, do some gardening – whatever helps you calm down.
Use “I” Statements
“I” statements are a style of communication that focus on the feelings or beliefs of the speaker rather than the thoughts and characteristics that the speaker attributes to the listener.
Talking about yourself will have a better chance of getting you what you want: “I get annoyed when you come back home late. I feel abandoned because I don’t know where you are. Can you let me know when you’ll be late so I don’t get so worried?”
Use Requests rather than Demands
When talking about needs with your partner, you should ask for what you need. Make sure you don’t demand what you need. People don’t like being ordered around; it puts their egos on the defensive. Requests, on the other hand, are easier to accommodate.
For example: “I need you to look after the kids instead of going to the gym tonight, because I have an important meeting at work” might make your partner feel resentful and resistant.
Try: “Honey, I have an important meeting at work tonight. Can you help me find a solution for the kids? Is there a chance you can give up going to the gym?” This kind of phrasing might invite your partner to be more cooperative.
He may answer: “Sorry, Dear, it’s really important to me to go to the gym tonight. But I can ask the babysitter to come and put the kids to sleep. Can you remind me to call her when you’re on your lunch break?”
This way, you find a collaborative, creative, win-win solution, so neither of you needs to compromise, and both of you can feel supported and nourished.
Nonviolent Communication (NVC) – the Counter Intuitive Tool to Show Vulnerability and Overcome Fights (Big or Small)
A popular and effective way of communicating is NVC, which was founded by Marshall Rosenberg in the late 1960s and is now used in over 65 countries around the globe.
The NVC model has 4 components of expression: Observation, Feeling, Need, and Request.
- “Observation” messages should be free of our judgments, labels, diagnoses, or opinions. It starts with “When I see/hear/notice…”
- “Feeling” messages should be free of thought – “I feel…”
- “Need” messages refer to universal human needs, and must be free of strategies and manipulations.
- “Request” messages should be free of demand. Your partner doesn’t have to fulfil your request. It would be great if they listened to it and acknowledged hearing it, even if they can’t (or decide not to) fulfil it.
- When you and your partner can express your observations, feelings, needs and/or requests, you can negotiate and problem-solve in intimacy, looking for creative, collaborative, win-win solutions that will make both of you feel satisfied and closer to each other.
For example, “When I see you playing on your phone while I’m talking, I feel frustrated because I want to be fully heard. Would you be willing to put away your phone for 5 minutes and listen to my idea?”
It’s highly recommended for couples to look deeply into NVC and practice this valuable mode of communication. There are a lot of good, free resources on the web. Here is one: a video of Marshal Rosenberg himself facilitating an introductory workshop on NVC.
Examples of Using Nonviolent Communication to Resolve Marriage Conflict
Many couples have differences in the way they handle time and value punctuality. For example, sometimes for one partner, it’s very important to arrive on time to social events, while the other partner cares more about showing up stress-free.
On a bad day, one partner might tell the other: “Hurry up, we’re always late because of you,” which would probably bring a defensive response. “Get off my back,” The other may reply. “You’re stressing me out. You’re such a drama queen.” This will obviously not bring closeness and cooperation. Both will be stressed and hurt by the time they reach their destination and it won’t matter so much whether they’re late or not, because their evening will probably be ruined.
Instead, they could have used the NVC model.
“Honey, it’s 6:30pm and I’m worried we will be late. It’s important to me to be respectful of other people’s time. Would you make an effort to help us to be there on time?”
To which the partner might answer: “Yes, Dear, I can see you’re stressed. When you get stressed, I get stressed and lose my focus. I need a moment of quiet to finish up. Could you wait in the living room for five minutes, and then we’ll go?”
From here, they can find a solution that will, at least, keep them on the same team, and at best, get them there both on time and stress-free.
On a bad day, that partner might say: “You are such a slob, you never clean up after yourself. You don’t care about anyone.”
Which will probably cause a defensive reply or some other sort of avoidance.
On a good day, the angry partner could use NVC and say:
“Honey, when I wake up to a messy kitchen I get a headache and I get angry. It makes me feel hurt because I need to feel like you care about me and what’s important to me. Would you please make sure you clean up after you finish your midnight snack?”
To which the other partner might reply: “Of course dear, I’m sorry, I know it’s important to you, but I was too tired to take care of it. I thought I would wake up before you did and clean it then.”
Or if they disagreed they could say “Dear, I hear you. I understand you need the kitchen to be cleaner. But for me it’s the cleanest I could get it to be. Can you show me what’s important to you? I’ll do my best to do it.”
From here they could negotiate further. Perhaps the level of cleanliness of one partner is too high for the other partner. But they could make each other feel heard and find another solution. One partner will make a better effort to learn what’s important to the other, and the other might agree to lower their standards on some things but not on others.
How to Repair Communication That Has Been Broken
When you and your partner fight, it causes a rip in your connection. When you reach back to each other, reconnect, and recreate emotional intimacy, the rupture repairs.
Through this process of ruptures and repairs, you learn about yourself, your needs, your sensitivities, and what’s important to you.
The cycle of rupture and repair also strengthens your trust in each other and reminds you that your partner will not leave because of a conflict.
How to Stop a Fight
It’s important to learn how to fight and how to stop a fight.
Before a fight, there’s usually an escalation – a disagreement becomes an argument, which turns to a heated argument, which escalates to a fight. Stop the fight before you’re too triggered to be respectful to your partner.
Tell your partner “I want to talk to you about this, but not in this manner. Let’s take a time out. I’m going to take a walk around the block, and we can talk about it in half an hour, when I’m calm and able to regulate my emotions.”
It’s also great to promise when you’ll talk about it again. It doesn’t have to be in half an hour, it can be any other time, only make sure you follow through on that promise.
What to Avoid
For example, it’s ok to say “I’m in a bad mood this morning, because I woke up to the mess in the living room. I get a headache from the mess. Could you please clean up after yourself before you go to sleep?”
Most important is to avoid contempt. Contempt is poisonous for the relationship. According to research, it’s the number 1 predictor of divorce.
Contempt is when we communicate to our partner that we feel we are better than them. We can say it with words that express their inferiority to us, and we can show it in our body language. By rolling our eyes, a one-sided mouth raise, or looking dismissively at our partner, we shame them. There should be an agreement from both partners to avoid those words and body language.
Become a Repair Artist
Repairing is an art.
It starts with reconnecting. Slowly. A short look in your partner’s eyes. A quick touch on your partner’s hand. Offering tea, or a sandwich. Any gesture towards your partner that shows you’re trying to reconnect.
Full Apology Includes:
- Acknowledging your partner’s pain
- Taking ownership on your side of the fight
- Saying you’re sorry
- Explaining why it happened, and
- Describing what you learned from it, so it won’t happen again.
Your heart opens. Your chest widens. There’s an impulse to get closer to your partner. To touch, hug, kiss. You exchange loving words. Emotional intimacy is recreated.
What if You Need Some Help
(More Resources – Podcasts, Books, Courses, How to Find an Effective Couples Therapist)
13 Podcast Episodes You Must Listen to With Your Spouse (on Your Way to Your Weekly Date Night)
In the second season we interviewed experts about relationship issues.
And in the third season we focused on men, and what they can do the better their relationships.
Here are a few great episodes you should probably check out. Listening to them with your spouse can be a lot of fun, and can facilitate meaningful conversations, that can make your relationship more generous.
Season 1 Episode 1 – Love Languages
Season 1 Episode 7 – The Power of Vulnerability
Season 1 Episode 9 – Small Moments of Generosity
Season 1 Episode 10 – Healthy Erotic Tension
Season 2 Episode 2 – Your Hottest Sexual Movie
Season 2 Episode 1 – No More Fighting
In this episode of the Generous Marriage Podcast we talk with Alicia Muñoz, LPC, the author of No More Fighting: 20 Minutes a Week to a stronger Relationship; about The benefits of working on your relationship; How a committed relationship can be an opportunity to heal childhood wounds; and why taking ownership on your part in the relationship is key for a generous relationship.
Season 2 Episode 6 – Mindfulness in the Bedroom
In this episode we are interviewing Dr. Cheryl Fraser, a clinical psychologist, sex therapist, couples therapist and a Buddhist Dharma teacher. Very impressive woman! Dr. Cheryl Fraser published Buddha’s Bedroom – The Mindful Loving Path to Sexual Passion & Lifelong Intimacy, a great book that applies Buddhist teachings to sexuality, passion and intimacy. It’s packed with practical wisdom, and fun exercises you can do on your own or with your partner to rekindle the flames of passion in your relationship.
Season 2 Episode 11 – Feeling Felt
In this episode we are interviewing Gal Szekely, a relationship expert, a senior couples therapist, and the founder of The Couples Center in San Francisco. These are some of the topics we covered in the interview: Does a relationship depend on communication? (surprising answer: no!); What do people want from their partners?; How do you help your partner feel felt?
Season 2 Episode 15 – Turning Talk into Conversation
Season 3 Episode 1 – Rules For Good Men
Season 3 Episode 6 – Investing in Your Marriage is Easy
Season 3 Episode 9 – Making Your Spouse Your Best Friend
Season 3 Episode 15 – Sizzling Sex in Long Term Relationships
In this episode we talk to Michael Castleman, a journalist and author of best-selling books on sexuality and health. He recently published a comprehensive book about sexuality Sizzling Sex For Life. We had an exciting talk with Michael, packed with jams about sexuality you can use today in your relationship.
These 5 Books
(and a Blog) Might Make Your Marriage the Most Fun Relationship in the Universe
The Queen’s Code
Alison Armstrong is one of our favorite teachers about men, women and relationships. The Queen’s Code is one of her most popular books, in which she teaches women how to understand men, and relate better to them.
The Way of the Superior Man
12 Rules for Good Men
Jordan Grey’s Blog
How to be a Couple and Still Be Free
No More Fighting: 20 Minutes a Week to a stronger Relationship
by Alicia Muñoz, LPC. We love this book because it’s packed with practical exercises that you could do with your partner to help you gain more closeness, understanding and generosity.
6 Online Courses
That Will Make You Into a Relationship Jedi
Reset Your Marriage
a course for men that need to invest in their relationship and are not sure what to do. 21 short videos that give you easy to implement ideas that will make your wife happy, and your relationship more satisfying.
Generous Marriage Foundations – Trust
many couples suffer from corroded trust, which makes it hard for them to feel safe with each other, be close to each other, and enjoy healthy, nourishing sexuality. That’s why we developed the Trust course and the Trust Game within it. In this course you will find a way to reverse the corrosion and enhance trust in the relationship. This course can be done individually or as a couple, and will get you amazing results after applying the principles for 21 days.
Love Made Simple
a couples workshop by Gal Szekely and Liron Cohen, founders of The Couples Center in San Francisco. In this online workshop Gal and Liron will teach you the theory and tools to: Stop the fighting, Communicate better, Feel understood and appreciated, Fall in love again, Make your relationship extraordinary.
The Orgasmic Woman Course: Pleasure as a Way of Life
a great online course by Michal Maayan Don. In which she explains about feminine sexuality, and how to own it and become an empowered woman.
an online course for women by Belah Rose. If you’ve struggled with having desire for your husband, this is the program for you! How to create a culture that causes you to desire him. Create a place where you would actually want intimacy and want to make him feel so loved through intimacy.
Supercharge Your Sex Life
an onilne course for men by Jordan Grey. As a man, the quality of sex you’re having affects every aspect of your life. Your physical health. Your career. And of course, your love life. When you are turned on and powerful in the bedroom, you become powerful in every other area of life. The world FEELS it from you. Take this course to learn how.
Making Your Relationship Generous
In this chapter we give you some great guides on making your relationship more satisfying, loving and fun.
In this guide we present 7 practices you could do to transform your relationship and make it a more generous, loving, and empowering one.
- Daily Venting Conversations
- Daring to Be Vulnerable
- Non-Violent Communication
- Weekly Date Nights
- Love Dates
- Becoming a Repair Artist
We made a podcast episode about gratitude, and with it a quick guide with some of our favorite ways to practice gratitude, like Gratitude Post-it Notes, Gratitude Jar and other fun ways to see what’s good in your partner. You can download the Gratitude Practices guide at the bottom of the page.
A healthy venting conversation at the end of the day can be relieving and de-stressing. Taking time to connect and share with each other struggles and successes is a great way to reduce stress, reconnect, and strengthen the feeling of partnership.
We prepared a guide with some recommendations that can help you develop this healthy habit.
What Makes You Feel Loved Conversation
In long term relationships, it could be problematic if we show love in a way that doesn’t work for our partner. It is much more effective to express love in gestures that make your partner feel loved, right?
So we made a quick guide on how to conduct a conversation about the ways that both of you feel loved.
High ROI gifts
In this guide we compiled some ideas for great gifts that don’t cost much, and deliver a meaningful message – “I see you, I know you, I care for you”.
How to Stop a Fight, and How to Repair After the Fight
It’s important and healthy to fight in a long term relationship.
This statement is true only when you know how to repair after the fight. The art of repairing, of recreating intimacy is a super-power in relationships.
This topic is so important we made a podcast episode about it https://www.generousmarriage.com/episode-3-fighting-is-important/
We also prepared a bonus guide with information on
- ^Why fighting is important
- ^Reaching full repair – recreating intimacy
- ^How to stop a fight
- ^Becoming a repair artist
- ^The healing power of an apology
- ^What to avoid when fighting
Using Non Violent Communication to Manage Conflict
In episode 5 of the Generous Marriage Podcast we told the story of a loving couple who had hard time managing conflicts, and how learning basic nonviolent communication (NVC) skills transformed their relationship.
As a free bonus for the episode, we prepared a guide with tips on how to manage conflict using NVC.
Find Your Core Erotic Theme
Jack Morin, a sex therapist from San Francisco, surveyed hundreds of people for their favorite fantasies and the most intense point of excitement they had had, using the Sexual Excitement Survey. He received more than 1000 stories of peak sexual experiences, which he uses in his book The Erotic Mind, to present a theory on how eroticism works.
Jack Morin developed a concept called Core Erotic Theme, which is the internal blueprint for arousal we all have, which can transform old childhood and adolescent wounds and conflicts into excitation.