As a little girl I always envisioned a fairy tale love story. You know, where Prince Charming comes to the Princess’s rescue, a white dress and a happily ever after. But what those fairy tales don’t tell you is that marriage isn’t always a stroll through the meadow with whimsical creatures, full of sunshine and songs. Your Prince Charming is HUMAN with flaws (like never turning their socks the right side out before throwing them in the dirty clothes hamper). After 12 years of marriage, here is the one piece of relationship advice I am going to give you for a strong marriage.
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My husband and I went to a marriage retreat at the end of October. It was just a one night stay at a local hotel with two break out sessions led by a local pastor. We did not know one single person who attended, I saw an ad on Facebook and signed us up. I was desperate for a night away with my husband and I knew any relationship advice we could get in the marriage department would do us some good.
Can you guess what he said the #1 thing most couples need to get better at?
Communication in Marriage
The lack of good communication will lead to marriage problems. Problems about money, priorities, hurt feelings and misunderstandings. It will lead you down a path of growing apart, rather than together. This ONE thing can literally make or break your marriage.
These past 4-years my husband and I have been slacking in the communication department. It has led us down a path of being more like “roommates” and not husband and wife. Life happens and priorities get out of order. But that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel and quit. Any relationship takes work, a marriage more so than others.
In order for a marriage to have good communication you need to make sure you are building a strong marriage foundation.
4 tips on How To Build A Strong Marriage Foundation
When you build a house you want to make sure the foundation is solid before you start building up the walls and adding a roof. The same concept goes for a marriage, you want a strong marriage foundation to hold the weight of what is yet to come. I wish someone would have given me this advice 12 years ago!
Strong Marriage Foundation Tip #1: embracing conflict
Conflict is seen as a negative thing to most. In fact, most people will avoid conflict at all cost! I hate to be the barrier of bad news, but conflict cannot be avoided. It is important to start viewing conflict in a more positive light, think of it as a way to grow and learn. Start embracing it.
Marriage problems will come up and you don’t always have control over the situation. However, you do have control over how you act towards the problem. The pastor talked about responding vs. reacting.
If I am being honest, I tend to react. Thinking of only my feelings and with a one flesh mentality. He says we need to respond with truth and humility. In order to resolve a conflict, both your spouse and you need to come together with level heads and hear each other out. You will never resolve a conflict if you are only thinking of yourself.
Embracing conflict can be a challenge, but doing so will lead to a strong and healthy marriage.
strong Marriage Foundation Tip #2: Compromise
Have you ever heard that marriage should be 50/50? You know, wife does this and husband does this, it’s a give and take situation. How do you know who gives and who takes at any given moment? What happens when it turns into a 75/25, one is giving way more than the other? Neither one of those things will lead to a strong marriage.
A marriage should be 100/100! Both, husband and wife, should always be willing to serve each other without keeping a tally of who has done what. A successful marriage will require compromise from both sides.
strong Marriage Foundation Tip #3: Forgiveness
I think it goes with out question that forgiveness is a key component in a strong marriage. The pastor said, “forgiveness is first biblical, second choice, third feeling”. Not only is this marriage tip good advice for anyone seeking a healthy marriage, it is a very important foundation in a Christian marriage.
Colossians 3:13 13. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the LORD forgave you.
Ephesians 4:31-32 31. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Why is it so hard for us to forgive someone else? It is simple, we let our own emotions and pride get in the way. You have to choose to forgive someone despite your feelings. Forgiveness will provide YOU with freedom, and shows your humility.
Forgiveness also allows you to move on with the situation and allows you to solve the conflict that has been presented. Remember, you can’t see who the other is becoming if you are always looking at who they have been.
Strong Marriage Foundation Tip #4: Each Others Needs
One thing I am guilty about doing it listening long enough to know when my husband is done talking so I can go ahead and let my own voice be heard. I am listening so I can react right away, I am not listening to UNDERSTAND what it is he is NEEDING. Learning how to share your own needs and then listen for the needs of you spouse is another important component of good communication and a strong relationship.
You have to remember, that just the same way you want your fears and desires to be heard, and how you want to be excepted. Your spouse feels the same way. Most conflicts in your marriage will be started because one or both of you don’t feel loved and excepted in your marriage.
Meeting each other’s needs shows an act of selflessness. It is an affirmation to your spouse that they are worthy of your time and affection.
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I mentioned before that the number one problem in a marriage is communication. You built a strong marriage foundation but now you need to maintain it. Even a strong foundation will crumble in time if not taken care of.
7 Tips to communication In Marriage
How do you communicate effectively in marriage? Here are 7 tips for communication that my husband and I learned at the marriage retreat.
Strong Marriage Communication Tip 1: delivery over content
How you deliver the message is way more IMPORTANT than the content of the message. Someone could give you a box full of gold but if they dropped it on your head it isn’t going to matter what the content of the box is because it was delivered in the worst way possible. There will be times in your marriage that there will be hard conversations to be said, be mindful of how you are delivering the message.
Strong Marriage Communication Tip 2: Share vs Tell
Think back to the last time you were TOLD how awful you were, and/or how you can’t do anything right. How did it make you feel? Your spouse feels the same way when you tell them everything that they are doing wrong. Instead SHARE your hurts, not the other person’s actions. No one wants to be told what to do or told how they can’t do anything right. When you SHARE why you are feeling hurt (not appreciated, not heard, etc.) you are opening up the conversation and inviting your spouse in to connect with you, building a strong and healthy marriage.
Strong Marriage Communication Tip 3: Off-Limit Forms of Communication
When communicating with your spouse you need to remember to NOT do these things. Don’t criticize them, I think that goes without having to explain. Try not to be so defensive. This is a sign that you are trying to make up excuses, are guilty or just letting your pride get in the way. Showing signs of disrespect will come across that you feel like the other is below you and not worthy of your time. And last, no stonewalling. In other words do not give the other person the silent treatment or avoid them at all cost. You need to be communicating in a way that is strengthening your marriage.
Strong Marriage Communication Tip 4: Non-Verbal Communication
Be aware of your body language, your body language can cancel out the words you are saying. 93% of communication is not spoken words, it is 55% body language and 38% tone! ONLY 7% is actual words spoken. If someone is screaming at you, “I LOVE YOU!” with their hands raised in fists, how do you think you are going to perceive that message?
Strong Marriage Communication Tip 5: Power of Patience
Use the 3-second rule! Purposely count to three before you respond. Remember to THINK before you speak. This holds true for any relationship you are trying to strengthen. Do you think that a lot of marriage problems could be solved if we just had a little more patience with our spouse?
James 1:19 19. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:
Strong Marriage Communication Tip 6: Always Give Benefit of the Doubt.
Let them prove you wrong, stop preparing for the worst. Don’t just assume that the conversation is going to go downhill before one word has even been spoken. If you do, then you are going to go into the conversation with a hard heart and unwilling to listen. Don’t assume anything but the best.
Strong Marriage Communication Tip 7: conflict resolution rest on intentional communication
You have to be intentional with your marriage, every day you should be doing something to keep your marriage in shape. It is important to plan and be proactive instead of reactive. A quote that stuck out to me was,
“If you are not actively working on your marriage then you are working on your divorce.”
It is vital that you are always checking in on each other and the other’s needs, needs can change. How do you plan on intentional communication in your marriage? There are three practical areas of planning.
Priorities - You will make time for what is important to you. Your priorities should look like this: 1. God, 2. Spouse, 3. Kids, 4. Everything else. (From a personal stand point I think you need to throw YOURSELF in that list, behind God and in front of Spouse… you can’t give when your cup is empty.)
Remember, we will be a reflection of what we spend the most time on and we WILL make time for what we feel like is most important.
Pursuit - Are you just existing, coasting to nowhere in your marriage? Or are you being intentional and driving your marriage to where you want it to go. Just like you were pursuing your spouse when you were dating, you need to do the same thing in marriage.
Boundaries - You have to place boundaries in your marriage, you and your spouse can come up with these together or there might be some you just place on yourself. For example, if you know that going out with a certain friend leads to a late night out on the town and your spouse isn’t to fond of this, then you should probably say no to any more invites from this friend or set yourself a curfew when out with them.
The point of boundaries isn’t for you or your spouse to say what the other can and cannot do. But there are things in your life that can get you to close to the fire and more chances to get burned. Have you ever built a campfire? Once it is built I highly doubt you keep getting closer to the fire testing the moment until you finally get burned from it. You most likely stay a good distance away without testing your boundaries. This same concept goes for your marriage.
bonus: Marriage Counseling Questions
The pastor that put on the marriage retreat is also a family counselor. He came up with these marriage counseling questions in order to get each couple to open to each other and get the communication dialogue going.
Every couple at the marriage retreat was given this worksheet. His plan was for each couple to start that communication process, not to fight. The worksheet allowed my husband and I to open up the dialogue and really take a look at each other’s needs.
I recreated the worksheet, you can get a FREE printable PDF below. I highly suggest you print off two copies, one for you and one for your spouse. Plan a quite time to sit down, fill out the worksheet and go over the answers together.
This worksheet opened my eyes to things my husband needed that I had no idea was a need for him. Communication is the ONE thing you need to have a strong marriage. Print this off, have a conversation with our spouse and let me know now it went!
Another piece of relationship advice that goes hand in hand with good communication is planning goals as a couple. I wrote a post about it here: Couple Goal Planning.
There is no fairy tale marriage here. However, I am so grateful for that spur of the moment marriage retreat. We learned so much that we have been able to bring back and start applying into our lives. It is very important that you build a strong marriage foundation to withstand the storms that will be blown your way.
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