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Dealing with Challenges, Get Close & Stay Close

4 Poor Communication Patterns That May Be Hurting Your Marriage

When I first got married, I’m pretty sure that everyone and their dog wanted to give me marriage advice. And you know what? For the most part, I happily took it. Who wouldn’t want to learn, right?

Some advice was practical. Some was silly. And some was just plain wise! As the advice poured in, I began to notice a simple but common theme: communication. The need to communicate openly, to talk about emotions, to make decisions together, to speak kindly to each other — these and more came up as important needs to address in marriage.

Most people who gave me advice had little to no qualifications (other than being married themselves). But perhaps not surprisingly, research backs up the importance of communication in marriage! A 2014 study found that both how much couples communicate as well as how they communicate can affect relationship satisfaction (Elena-Adriana et al., 2014).

Through one longitudinal study, Dr. John Gottman found four communication patterns that can be really damaging to a marriage and even lead to divorce (Gottman, 1993). Watch this *short video clip from the Gottman Institute for an intro to them:


1. Criticism

No matter how wonderful your spouse is, you’ll probably always find things you could complain about. Maybe they forgot to take out the trash, maybe they leave their socks on the floor, or maybe they forgot to tell you they’d be home late. Whatever it is, I’m sure you’ve had something come up that rubs you the wrong way. (And if you haven’t yet . . . just wait!)

While complaining isn’t the healthiest of practices, it can be outright damaging when you let it shift into the realm of criticism. Dr. Gottman explains that while complaining “focuses on a specific behavior or event,” criticizing “expresses negative feelings or opinions about the other’s character or personality” (Gottman & Silver, 2015, p. 30). A complaint would say, “I’m upset that you didn’t take out the trash like we agreed.” On the other hand, a criticism blows up the issue by making it a personal attack, saying something like, “You never remember to take out the trash! I have to do everything around here.”

So how can we avoid this damaging criticism in our marriages?

The Antidote: Express your needs and feelings using “I” statements.

Instead of criticizing your spouse, try to let him or her know what your needs are. Next time you’re feeling frustrated about the garbage (or anything else, for that matter), say something like, “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and it would really help if you could take the garbage out. Can we figure out a plan together?” It’s okay to tell your spouse what you need; what’s not okay is turning your frustration into an attack.

2. Contempt

If criticism goes unchecked, it can turn into outright contempt for your spouse. Dr. Gottman says that when issues go unresolved in a marriage, you’re more likely to experience these negative thoughts that have boiled up (Gottman & Silver, 2015).

In the garbage example, let’s say your spouse continues to forget to take out the trash. You started out complaining, then criticizing. As the issue isn’t addressed properly, you start to view your spouse differently. When your spouse tries to suggest a solution to the garbage problem, you just laugh and say, “Oh, like that’s going to change things! You’ll never step up and help.” This contemptuous response shows a level of disrespect and a lack of affection.

Clearly, contempt isn’t a healthy communication pattern to have. So what’s the best way to prevent contempt from seeping into our relationship?

The Antidote: Treat each other with respect and show appreciation.

Instead of rolling your eyes or answering sarcastically when your spouse suggests a solution, take a moment to acknowledge his or her efforts. Remember, your spouse is a person too and deserves the same respect you do!

3. Defensiveness

I think most of us are familiar with the deadly horseman of defensiveness. It can be all too easy to respond defensively, especially if we’re feeling belittled or hurt. Being defensive is a natural way to respond to criticism or contempt in an effort to protect ourselves.

In the garbage scenario, a criticism such as, “You never remember to take out the trash!”trash-can may be met with a defensive response such as, “Well if you didn’t keep nagging me all the time about it, maybe we wouldn’t have a problem!” Defensiveness only escalates the problem and pushes blame onto your spouse.

But what can we do instead when we start feeling defensive?

The Antidote: Accept responsibility for your part.

This antidote takes a huge amount of humility. While it doesn’t always seem like it, most problems aren’t caused by just one person. Your spouse may be freaking out too much about the trash, but you can take a deep breath and acknowledge your part in the conflict: “I’m sorry, I should have taken out the trash today. I totally forgot.”

4. Stonewalling

The last of the four horsemen is perhaps the most deadly. After a long time of repeated negative patterns, a partner can get really overwhelmed. In fact, one study shows that damaging communication can lead a partner to become emotionally flooded, leading the partner to try to avoid the conflict altogether (Liu & Roloff, 2015). In order to steer clear of a total explosion, the partner may simply withdraw and disengage completely.

If this garbage scenario has been going on for long enough, along with frequent use of the other horsemen in communication, then stonewalling could become a problem. When one partner tries to bring up the issue, the other partner may turn on the TV or just tune out altogether.

While taking a break can be good, stonewalling isolates partners from each other and can get in the way of healthy and positive communication. So how can we overcome stonewalling?

The Antidote: Take a break and cool off, then come back to the conversation.

When a situation gets too emotionally charged, taking a break is a good thing. Let your spouse know you need to calm down a little, but that you do want to figure out how to solve the problem together. Odds are, a break will help both of you.


The Challenge

It turns out that no couple has perfect communication all the time — even those people giving me marriage advice. But as you look for the four horsemen in your own communication, and then try to use the antidotes instead, your communication can improve. And better communication really just means a better marriage!

Your challenge this week is to keep a log of the four horsemen in your marriage. Keeping track of when you fall into those patterns will help you be aware and start to make those changes.

We’d love to hear about your experiences! Comment below to let us know how this challenge goes for you.


*Watch the rest of the video here for an explanation of the four horsemen and their antidotes according to the Gottman Institute.


Continue reading “4 Poor Communication Patterns That May Be Hurting Your Marriage”

Dealing with Challenges

His Way Or Her Way…Or Our Way??

ConflictWhen was your last dispute with your spouse? Was it over something small or something that required a little more discussion and compromise? When my husband and I first got married, we wanted to keep the peace in our marriage and in our home. We knew that Gottman’s words hold true: “Anger is destructive to marriage” (Gottman, Coan, Carrere & Swanson, 1998, p.6). We understood that if we wanted our marriage to last, we needed to keep our emotions in check and learn how to quickly adjust and talk things through when conflict came.

So how do you handle conflict in marriage? What are good techniques to use to resolve the tension that may arise?

1. Avoid Negative Interactions

Negativity is contagious and demands attention. Being negative only brings hostility and contention in your relationship. This pattern may cause you to be more negative in conversation, saying things that tear your spouse down instead of build them up (Donnellan, Conger, & Bryant, 2004). When you start to see your spouse in a negative light, you are focusing on things that annoy you, that could be discussed when tension is low. Conflicts start in patterns of escalation (Gottman, Coan, Carrere, & Swanson, 1998). As you allow negativity to enter your mind, you will start to only see the negative as it overshadows the good or redeemable qualities your spouse possesses.

On the other hand, optimism and gratitude have a power unlike anything else. It transforms your outlook and keeps you focused and constant in your ambitions (Izard, 2007). Build each other up! Focus on the positive things about each other and appreciate what they bring to the relationship! Trust your spouse and give them the benefit of the doubt. You should never assume or guess what someone else is thinking.

Keep the mood light by not taking things too seriously. Laugh more! This minimizes the chance for emotions to get too involved, because as we know from above, our emotions tend to make situations more sensitive than they need to be (Bytheway & Bytheway, 2000).


2. Keep Your Emotions in Check!

Isn’t it interesting how sometimes even the smallest disagreement or annoyance can set off our emotions, and if we don’t say or do anything about it right away, it festers and quickly grows into something bigger? It’s been proven that your emotions can and do lead to more conflict (Izard, 2007). After learning this the hard way, I soon realized that in order to keep the peace my husband and I wanted in our marriage, I couldn’t delay saying something. I made sure I wasn’t super negative or mean, but I addressed the problem. Doing so made such a difference for me and my husband, especially since he can’t read my mind! Most of the time, I just needed to feel understood and make sure I understood what my husband was thinking as well.

Finding the area of tension and taking 10 minutes to talk it out can be powerful (Lavner & Bradbury, 2010). Problem solving isn’t always easy. It takes effort and patience, but it’s worth it in the end!


3. Remember You Are a Team

It’s not about who is right and who is wrong; it’s about coming together and understanding your goals and working together to accomplish them. Unspoken expectations is an area where communication is needed (Barich & Bielby, 1996). Once your expectation is voiced, there is a sense of unity and teamwork.Resolution

So, here are some tips that can help your marriage develop greater unity.

  • The more agreeable and open you are with your spouse, the more your marital satisfaction will increase (Donnellan, Conger, & Bryant, 2004).
  • Your marriage is more important than the dispute that is at hand.
  • Your self-control, or the lack thereof, can either bring resolution to your conflicts or destruction.
  • Conscientiousness can influence your emotions for the better (Izard, 2007). Your careful analysis, of yourself or your spouse, may help you see the true intent behind things being said or done, thus preventing hurt feelings for either party.    
  • Self-awareness helps you know what you can do to change versus trying to change someone else.
  • Your humility and love can make all the difference.

All these tips are meant to increase love and unity in your marriage. Don’t let the conflicts in marriage drive you apart.



Be quick to speak up! Be the first one to say something to repair the disagreement.

Take 10 minutes to talk through something — the earlier the better!

Fix yourself before you seek to fix your spouse; you will have better results!


Continue reading “His Way Or Her Way…Or Our Way??”

Dealing with Challenges

In-Laws Joke


What is the difference between outlaws and in-laws?

At least the outlaws are “wanted”! 😉

Ok, so this is not true for all in-laws. How is your relationship with your in-laws? Do you live near to them or is there some distance? How do you keep in touch: Group messaging, Facebook, Instagram, or frequent visits?

Check out our post, “Fall in Love with . . . Your In-laws???” for more ideas about how to strengthen that relationship.

Get Close & Stay Close

A Newlywed’s Guide to Emotional Needs in Marriage

Do you ever find yourself asking your spouse, “How is it that I could make you happy while we were dating and now that we are married I can’t? I seem to do everything wrong. What changed from when we were dating to now?” These were some questions my husband and I experienced soon after being married. When you get married, the amount of time spent together increases. It’s just the two of you who serve as each other’s comforter, listener, and comedian.

On the other hand, when you’re dating you have others you naturally turn to to balance out your emotions and have your needs met. The increased time with just each other demands a better understanding of what your spouse needs emotionally. Doing so will avoid a hostile or emotionally destructive environment in your relationship. Understanding the root problems that bring out different emotions will help in meeting each other’s needs.


Lavner and Bradbury (2010) list some specific factors that affect marital satisfaction, such as personality traits that develop and change over time. Adaptation throughout the stressful and hard times in life will test your emotions and ability to respond to different situations (Donnellan, Conger, & Bryant, 2004). Stress usually brings out the worst traits. As a spouse, we need to be ready to roll with those changes and be supportive during the hard times.

So, how well do you know your spouse? Who is the introvert and who is the extrovert in the relationship? Who is more direct and who is more sensitive when communicating? These traits become a big part of your relationship as you attend social events or try to communicate your feelings and desires. If you don’t understand how your spouse will react to different situations, it’s easy to feel like a failure in meeting each other’s needs. There’s a personality quiz listed below in the challenge that I recommend taking to learn more about each other. Who knows, you might learn something new! Naturally, you choose to marry someone who is complimentary to your personality. The blend in personalities shows in the way you interact with each other.


When you go through life not feeling loved, you feel lonely and unappreciated. Over time, these feelings can continue and create distance in your marriage. According to Dr. Gary Chapman (2015), we each have a love language to give and receive. Even if a couple loves each other, it’s possible for them to feel unloved because they don’t speak the same love language. The first thing you should do is learn your own love language.

To find out your love language, take the quiz online: http://www.5lovelanguages.com/.  Just click on ‘learn your love language’ to start! Once you’ve taken the quiz, have your spouse take it too! That way, you can speak their love language and help them feel truly loved.lovelanguages

Chapman (2015) explains that these five love languages are how we “speak and understand emotional love” (p.1). Each person has a primary love language. When he or she receives love in that particular way, it fills their “love tank,” making him or her emotionally satisfied. It’s common for one spouse to speak his or her own love language to their spouse. Be mindful of this in understanding that your spouse may not receive it as positively as you would if it is not his or her primary love language. Speaking your spouse’s primary love language is what is going to fill his or her love tank.


In order to have a secure relationship, you and your spouse should have a high level of trust. This is built through good communication. Openness in communication is also helpful when it comes to subjects like intimacy that may seem awkward to talk about. You should be able to ask for and receive what you need. Doing so will truly bring you closer.

“Active listening” is essential to a successful marriage (Gottman, Coan, Carrere, & Swanson, 1998). A comical video called “It’s Not About the Nail” is a great example of helping a spouse feel listened to and supported. The husband at first is trying to tell his wife to see things his way and goes on to tell her what she needs. She doesn’t want him to fix the problem; she just needs to be listened to and consoled. This is a great example of being there for your spouse and supporting them through their hard times. Watch the video below!


Here’s an online personality test you and your spouse can take to better understand what makes each of you tick! https://psychcentral.com/personality-test/start.php

Also, take the love language quiz above and feel free to share your results. Speak your spouse’s love language and see if it makes a difference in your marriage! I know it makes all the difference between me and my husband!

Continue reading “A Newlywed’s Guide to Emotional Needs in Marriage”

Dealing with Challenges

Don’t Break the Bank . . . Or Your Marriage!

When I was growing up, my parents would sometimes laugh and joke about how poor they were as newlyweds. Somehow, hearing about their tiny apartments and endless canned vegetables seemed magical! (Don’t ask me why a tiny living space seemed appealing . . .  I really don’t understand my childhood self. 😉 )

When my husband and I moved into a bright yellow and red trailer home (which we fondly called “The McDonald’s House”), we had to laugh. We thought, “Now we can tell stories to our kids!”

Unfortunately, sometimes financial stresses can make it hard to laugworried-moneyh. With the average student loan being $23,186 and the average American credit card debt being $8,377, this stage of life can bring a lot of monetary challenges (Elkins, 2017Zuliani, 2011). And according to a survey of over 1000 newlywed couples, debt brought into marriage can be a real problem (Schramm, Marshall, Harris, & Lee, 2005).

Whether it’s pre-existing debt or other financial difficulties, often times these challenges can cause real marital issues for a couple — including divorce (Arguello, 1989). So how can we make sure finances don’t damage our marriage? And how can we learn to laugh and love in spite of it all?

1. Be willing to sacrifice

Saturday Night Live teaches this important principle: If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it!

Maybe you love eating out. Maybe you just have to have the latest iPhone. Maybe you can’t survive without going to the midnight premieres of all the latest movies. Whatever it is, odds are you have some guilty pleasure.

While it’s okay to spend money on wants sometimes, part of making a marriage work means being willing to sacrifice. In fact, according to a study done at UCLA, when couples are willing to sacrifice for each other they’re much more likely to have a happy marriage and avoid divorce (Wolpert, 2012). As you’re trying to save money or pay off that debt, think about cutting back on eating out, making do with the phone you have, or only going to one midnight premiere. And remember the wise words from SNL: If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it!

2. Make a budget

Making and sticking with a budget can be a daunting task. In fact, according to a 2013 Gallup poll, only one third of Americans makes a detailed household budget (Jacobe, 2013). While it can be scary, budgeting is a key to decreasing the financial strain on your marriage.

Budgeting doesn’t have to be complicated! Businessman Dave Ramsey suggests four simple steps (n.d.).  

Write down your total income: Add up all the income you and your spouse bring home after taxes. This includes full-time work and any side jobs or other regular income you’ll receive.

List your expenses: Include both monthly bills (like rent and utility) and irregular bills (like insurance or tuition). Then of course there’s the regular expenses like groceries, gas, entertainment, etc. And perhaps the most important expense is savings! Whether it’s saving for emergencies, a down payment, or a vacation, make sure to factor savings into the equation.

Subtract expenses from income to equal zero: If things don’t add up, rework your budget until it comes out to zero.

Track your spending: This is essential if you want your budget to actually work. Keep track of what you spend and how you’re doing on your budget!

3. Decide together

When it comes to money, it can be really easy to let one spouse take care of the finances. Unfortunately, making the money decisions without your partner can actually damage your marriage!

In order to truly be able to laugh about money struggles, a couple needs to be working together. This means that when you make that budget, it shouldn’t be just one of you! In fact, caring about your spouse’s ideas when you make decisions can make your marriage happier. Through a study of 130 newlywed couples, Dr. John Gottman found that accepting influence from your spouse leads to a happier relationship and decreases the chances of divorce (Gottman, Coan, Carrere, & Swanson, 1998).

As you deal with finances, make sure to include your spouse. Talk together about what things you can give up and how you’re going to make and keep a budget!

The Money Challenge

Now that you know a few ways to deal with finances, it’s time to practice! Carve out some time with your spouse this week to create a budget. (Dave Ramsey has some great budgeting tools on his website, including budget forms you can download.) Work together to make something that will help you both make your financial goals and strengthen your marriage! We’d love to hear about how it goes — what was hard, what helped you, or what questions you have. Comment below and share!

Continue reading “Don’t Break the Bank . . . Or Your Marriage!”

Get Close & Stay Close

1 Easy Way to Keep the Love Alive!

When was the last time you told your spouse you loved them?

i love you

This is an easy way to each share ways of how you love each other. All you need is a picture frame, paper, and a dry erase marker! Keep it in an area you both will see frequently so you can write your notes of love and appreciation for each other.

Feel free to try this or share your own ideas! What are you doing to help each other feel loved?