Since the theme for this month is on communicating better as spouses, we wanted to share a few insightful words from Everett Worthington. Everett is a clinical psychologist and professor who, just like Susan and me, specializes in counseling couples. And a large part of his focus is to teach people how to communicate their love by listening.

This is a valuable lesson because we typically stop listening to each other when we experience troubles in our marriage. We tune each other out or only listen to a few points before going on the defensive.

When we do this, the message to our spouse is: “I don’t care enough about you to hear you.” (A real trust issue!)

As we said in last week’s blog post, communication breakdowns are 100% normal. They happen to all of us; they impact even the most loving and safe marriages out there. The key is not to allow those breakdowns to last for too long. We need to investigate the root cause and do something about it. Each spouse needs to open their hearts and minds and truly listen. After all, communication is vital in marriage! It’s the only way we can truly get to know our spouse and genuinely respond to each other’s wants and needs.

“Communication to a relationship is like oxygen
to life. Without it … it dies.” — Tony Gaskins

Importance of Reflective Listening

Most of our clients have heard of active listening, which we will discuss later in this post. Well, reflective listening is equally as important. It is where we pay respectful attention to the content and feeling expressed in another persons’ communication. Reflective listening is hearing and understanding and then letting the other person know that he or she is being heard and understood. Examples include:

  • Paraphrasing — “So what I’m hearing from you is …”
  • Reflecting feelings — “For you, it’s like …”
  • Reflecting meaning — “You’re wondering if …”
  • Summary reflections — It sounds like you …”

Worthington’s Exercises on Listening

  1. Communicate love by sharing information — Some people don’t communicate enough. They don’t share their thoughts, emotions, feelings, behaviors, goals, sensations, and affirmations. Set aside a few minutes with your spouse to share that information each day. It could be as you’re preparing dinner, sitting around in the living room with a glass of wine, or even while driving to your next destination.
  2. Communicate love by sharing experiences — This is called leveling, which is communicating truthfully yet sensitively about your experiences. Essentially, you’re communicating “on the level.” Let your spouse know when you feel isolated from them or bored and unable to tell them what you’re feeling. The key with leveling is to avoid doing so when you feel angry or when you’re in the mood to argue, have the last word, or throw around insults.
  3. Communicate love by helping partners share and refuse requests graciously — It’s important to ask your spouse for what you need from them. And vice versa. Take some time to practice making requests and see what happens.
  4. Communicate love by sharing values — Possible topics can include pleasant, shared memories with each other, that time when you emotionally bonded, memories of mutual accomplishments, stories about the children, goals, and dreams, ideas that you’d each like to see come to fruition, etc.
  5. Communicate love by creating time and opportunities — Devote time to one another. Set a time and date free from children or any other distractions. This is dedicated time; you schedule this intentionally to communicate.

Formatting your statements

Once you get the train of positive communication going in the right direction, it’s important to say the right things. This is especially true when discussing problems, and you need a specific way to share complaints constructively. As Worthington says, remember that all good communication involves assertiveness and active listening.

ASSERTIVENESS — Expressing your feelings and asking for what you want and need.

ACTIVE LISTENING — Letting your partner know that you understand them by rephrasing their message how you heard it and asking them for any clarification.

ATTENTIVE LISTENING — This includes eye contact, not being distracted by phones, TVs, etc., being physically and emotionally present, and being non-coercive. For example: “Hey, can we talk about something that’s been on my mind?”

Here’s a format that helps give your spouse specific information rather than a vague complaint. Remember, no defensiveness. Listen to really hear your partner’s need, not just a complaint.  [Read both examples as a sentence]

Example 1:

Behavior (X)       When you won’t talk to me…       +

Situation (Y)       immediately when you come home from work….        +

Feeling (Z)           I feel unloved and rejected.


Example 2:

Behavior (X)       When you keep asking me…       +

Situation (Y)       when I am going to come home from work…       +

Feeling (Z)           I feel you don’t think my work is important to me, and you are nagging.


All we’re trying to say is that couples who can see, express, and feel that they are communicating well will have the marriage they’ve always dreamed of. If you find yourself struggling to communicate, break the problem down into bite-size pieces and truly look at where the breakdowns are occurring. Then, have simple, non-combative conversations to open things up. If you do, you’ll find it easier to resolve those issues and get back to communicating better.

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Did we leave anything out? What are a few ways you are communicating better with your spouse? Did you enjoy the suggestions above? Please send us a quick email and help us keep this conversation going at