Better Couple Communication: Be Careful What You Say

Honest couple communication – especially between husband & wife – is essential for creating connection and lasting joy. But should you be able to say whatever you want to your mate?

I’ve always tried to be careful what I say to My Beloved. But many folks – mostly women, it seems; but some men, too – believe you should be able to say whatever you want to your mate. They call it “just being honest.”

On the other hand, some are too careful about what they say because they’re trying to get a particular response from their partner. Actually, that’s manipulation, and I’ve never seen it work to create true connection in any relationship.

The Psychology of Better Couple Communication

As a Couples Psychologist, I’ve seen both extremes.

“letting it all out” or
“tiptoeing around”

The saddest thing about those who’d like better couple communication is that most don’t even realize what they’re actually doing!

So here are my 5 Reasons for being careful what you say.

1. Words can hurt.

Think before you speak: Could what you are about to say be experienced as attacking, blaming, or criticizing? Just because your feelings are hurt does not give you the right to hurt someone in return.


Two “wrongs” never make a “right.”


A counterattack will not get you the response you’re hoping for when you are hurt, but will instead elicit a defensive response from the one who hurt you. Consider these two options and you would respond to each:

What you just said really hurt.

versus …

You’re such a jerk!

2. Words can heal.

Be kind and gracious toward one another. You may have heard that “hurt people hurt people.” Consider what might be behind the other person’s behavior. Chances are he is acting defensively by being offensive … like I just warned you against doing (see above).

If you’re partnered with someone you love, it’s probably because you really like the person he normally is. So if he is behaving in a way that is “out of character,” it makes more sense to assume he has a good reason for that.  Not an excuse, but a reason. Why not find out what it could be?

You seem really tense today. What’s happening?

If you don’t get an answer that makes sense, you can follow up with …

Ok. I’m sorry I burned the toast, but it seems like it’s more than that. I care about you, and I’m here if you want to talk about whatever else seems to be going on.

Then stop talking. Go on about whatever you would be doing under less stressful circumstances, remaining open to hear what’s troubling him when he’s ready to talk about it. (See also When You Love a Broken Man.)

NOTE: Please know that I am not talking here about anyone who is in an abusive relationship, which requires a different strategy. Here is a quick way to evaluate your situation, and if you are in an abusive relationship, please seek the help of a local mental health professional or Christian Care Connect for additional types of care providers.

3. Words can curse.

Assuming the worst about your mate and saying it aloud is essentially the same as pronouncing a curse upon him. Trust me. You don’t want to speak out that kind of potentially self-fulfilling prophecy! (James 3:10)

You know you’re cursing if you begin with “you always …” or “you never …”

It’s also wise to be aware that saying those things to your friends or relatives – with earshot of your spouse or when he’s not around – still register as curses.


The wise woman builds her house,
But with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. (Proverbs 14:1)


4. Words can bless.

better couple communication be careful what you sayPaul’s admonition to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:5) does not give you permission to tell your mate everything you think is wrong with him.

I believe what Paul means is that you should speak the Truth about how God him: as His Dearly Beloved Child.

The most important thing you can do for your mate is to learn to see him as God sees him. Jesus loves him as the man he is, as well as the man he is becoming. Let’s partner with that!


“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3


5. Words can create.

What we think – and especially what we say – impacts the world around us. And that includes the people you love – as well as the people you don’t.

We all believe the world is in more trouble than it’s ever been. So use the creative power of your words to make the world a better place.


For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17



Here are a few more words from the Word about words … and reasons to be careful what you say.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
    Oh, praise the greatness of our God! (Deuteronomy 32:3)

As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.” (Revelation 19:9)

Do I Matter to You?

When your mate talks about something that you find boring, what do you do? Do you keep doing what you are doing? Interrupt with something you find more interesting? Wait for him/her to take a breathe & then chime in? Or do you make eye contact & actually listen?

In studying couple communication, Dr. John Gottman & his team of researchers observed that partners continually make “bids” for one another’s attention, closeness, and reassurance.

do i matter to you?

These bids were made through comments, questions, glances, and/or gestures.

The couples seemed to be asking, on a regular basis:

Are you there?
Do I matter to you?

Sometimes they got the responses they wanted.

If they didn’t, they tried again.

You’ve watched it happen, right?

It’s most obvious with children.

A few moms are relaxing at the park while their toddlers are playing in the sandbox. One particular mom is engrossed in conversation with her friends, and her 3-year-old tries to get her attention.

If he’s unsuccessful, he doesn’t give up.

If at first you don’t succeed try, try again!

He’ll keep calling her; and if she doesn’t respond, he’ll get closer to her … and louder! He may even resort to attacking her to get her to pay attention to his needs.

Couples communicate like that, too.

If a hello or a smile gets no response, partners intensify their bids.

Like the toddler, they may get louder, even attacking or criticizing.

However, strategies like criticism will naturally elicit a negative response (defensiveness) and launch a negative pattern of interactions that could escalate into a full-blown argument.

Not exactly what you were hoping for, right?

A Word (or Two) About Sarcasm

Sarcasm is a common method of asking for attention without seeming to really need anything. Your needs for attention (and your vulnerability) are hidden behind a screen of purported humor.

Sarcasm is also a very effective way of shooting yourself in the foot. It sends a mixed message. In reality, you’re asking for attention. But the message your partner gets is that he or she is dumb, clumsy, or lacks value — not a great way to get the positive attention you’re really looking for.

When a man’s partner doesn’t respond to or even recognize? his bids for attention, he may simply give up trying.

QUESTION: So what can you do with this information? Get involved in your own research by observing your own behavior.

  • How many times and in what ways did you ask for your partner’s attention today?
  • Did you get the response you wanted?
  • How can you increase the effectiveness of your bids?

A Negative Cycle & Life in The Box

simple solutions for the negative cycleThe Negative Cycle reminds me of a poster my dentist has on the ceiling at his office. He put it there so his patients would have something to look at while they’re in the chair. I think about it sometimes because it reminds me of myself. It’s a picture of a tiny kitten looking up helplessly from the bottom of large cardboard box.

The caption reads,

“I’m much better at getting myself into things than I am at getting myself out of them.”

Maybe you can identify? Isaiah put it this way:

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way… (53:6a)

Kittens, sheep, people. Sometimes there’s not much difference. No one plans to get himself or herself into a pickle (Sorry. I like to mix metaphors), yet we all do at one time or another.

Many couples start backing themselves into The Box early in their relationship. Something happens and one of them feels disappointed or hurt. Maybe it’s the woman. (Sometimes it’s the man.) If she says something to her partner about it, he might minimize her feelings or get defensive about his actions or intentions. He means well, but it doesn’t help her feel better.

At first, it seems like a simple thing. Each tries to forget what happened, to move beyond it because it feels so childish to them both. However, the outcome of those early hurts starts a cycle of negative interactions that will continue to grow and solidify over time. Before long, they’re trapped in The Box.

Life in The Box: Trapped in a Negative Cycle

In The Box, he believes that she is overly sensitive and avoids sharing his own thoughts and feelings with her. She believes that her feelings don’t matter to him, and she withdraws, too. It’s lonely. Being in The Box together.

Getting out of The Box is simple, but it isn’t easy. The Good Shepherd is there to help. Just ask. He may suggest you find a local “shepherd” to walk with you through the process. If He does, let me know. I’m here to help you get out of The Box.

Learn the step-by-step process here > How to Resolve Couple Conflict.

In the meantime, I’ll be praying for you both!

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