Communication Currents

10 Communication Strategies to Keep Marriages Strong

June 1, 2009
Interpersonal Communication

When couples promise to love, honor, and cherish their spouses until death do us partthey are making a commitment they hope will lead to a strong marriage. Most people want to be in relationships where they care about and are cared for by their spouse, where they intend to persevere through the inevitable ups and downs, and where they have a long-term view of the relationship. One mechanism through which these goals are met is communication. Through the utilization of verbal and nonverbal communication strategies couples in committed marriages develop a sense of we-nessthat sustains them through difficulties and over time.

A wealth of research has shown that communication plays an essential role in maintaining committed, satisfying marriages. In our research over almost two decades, we have asked a large number of couples in a variety of ways what things they do or say to show commitment to their partners. Their responses have led to the identification of ten communication strategies that keep marriages strong.

1. Make a conscious effort to communicate – Research has shown that it is not only the big important moments, but also the small day-to-day, seemingly mundane interactions that form and sustain relationships. These day-to-day conversations reinforce marital commitment. It is critical that couples share personal thoughts, feelings, and goals with one another on a regular basis.

2. Express commitment verbally - Behaviors in which partners specifically tell one another of their commitment and intention to remain in the relationship reinforce satisfaction with and confidence in the relationship for both partners. Couples express commitment when they say things like: “I am committed to our marriage” and “I am in this for the long-haul.”

3. Behave with integrity – Integrity deals with communicating in an open, honest manner and involves keeping promises, remaining loyal, and being honest and trustworthy. Having integrity builds trust and confidence in partners and the relationship.

4. Show affection – Affection is an important aspect of commitment and refers to verbal and physical displays that demonstrate partners' positive feelings toward one another. Spouses telling each other that they care, giving gifts and surprises, and engaging in physical expressions of affection (hugs, kisses, touch) are examples of behaviors couples engage in to show their affection for each another.

5. Share companionship - Companionshiprefers to the enjoyment couples find in spending time together and including each other in valued activities. The old adage that couples who play together stay together is applicable. Mutual liking as well as enjoyment of time spent together is critical to commitment.

6. Give emotional support – Emotional support deals with being there in difficult times, providing support and encouragement, offering direct assistance and help when needed, building up self esteem and showing interest in one another's well-being. Emotional support strategies provide a safe, nurturing environment in which partners are encouraged to grow and reach their potential.

7. Show respect – Doing and saying things to show respect, accepting partners for who they are, and allowing them space and independence when needed are ways spouses communicate consideration for one another. Interacting in respectful ways conveys the message that one's spouse is valued and important.

8. Create a positive atmosphere - Behaviors spouses use that create a positive atmosphere include: being courteous to each other, trying not to complain, and speaking well of their partner to others. These behaviors encourage an optimistic tone in the relationship that leads to positive feelings between partners and toward the relationship.

9. Celebrate the relationship - Behaviors that celebrate the relationship reinforce the long-term prospects of the relationship by emphasizing important events in the past, present, and future. Couples mark relationship milestones and anniversaries, make preparations for special days, and plan the future of the relationship together. When spouses interact in ways that celebrate the relationship they reinforce how important the marriage is to them.

10. Work through problems – Conflict inevitably arises in relationships. Actively engaging in strategies to manage and, where possible, resolve conflict prevents problems from becoming issues that undermine commitment and ultimately the relationship. Successful couples listen, hear their partners out fully, express their needs and issues clearly, remember that no one can read their minds, and look at the bigger picture rather than focusing on winning or losing. The critical issue is to focus on the problem rather than to attack.

In conclusion, research has shown that marriages are stronger when couples communicate in ways that deepen and sustain commitment to one another and the relationship. When couples use communication strategies like those above, they tend to have higher levels of relationship commitment and satisfaction, experience greater feelings of love, passion, and trust. They are also more positive about the long-term prospects of their relationships. In short, couples who communicate to maintain their marriages are more likely to be able to love, honor, and cherish one another for the long haul.