Why and How to Improve Communication Satisfaction in Your Marriage


Jamie C. WilliamsonBy Jamie C. Williamson, PhD

Frequent problems won’t ruin a marriage. Instead, the couple’s level of satisfaction with the way they communicate about their problems has a stronger impact on how they feel about their relationship.

If it seems that all you and your partner do is fight about money, the kids, sex, and not making enough time for each other, then your relationship is fairly typical.

Most married adults with children report these topics as issues of distress and dissatisfaction in their marriage. Some also add “interference from in-laws,” “jealously over previous relationships,” and “no time with friends.”

Serious Young Couple Sitting Together, Talking About RelationshipsTroubling as they are, however, these issues are not the ones most likely to lead to divorce.
Instead, a couple’s dissatisfaction with the way they communicate is more likely to lead to divorce than any of these other common problems. In fact, ineffective communication is the most common cause of divorce in America today.

In contrast, couples who are satisfied with the way they communicate about their problems are happy and satisfied with their relationship despite their problems.

Why is Communication Satisfaction So Important?

Most people enter marriage expecting ups and downs associated with finances, raising a family, and supporting each other’s dreams. They know that there will be times when one or both of them is too tired, too preoccupied, or too old to want frequent sex. They know there won’t always be enough money to go around. And they know their families well and know how to predict how their extended families will interfere or try to manipulate them.

None of this comes as a surprise to most married couples today. But what does come as a surprise is that they lack the emotional intelligence and communication skills to work through these predictable issues in a satisfactory way.

This is unfortunate because extant research shows that Communication Satisfaction influences marital happiness more than satisfaction with finances, ability to visit with friends and family, or sexual satisfaction.

For example, couples who feel good about the way they talk through troubling issues about their sex life, are happier than those people who may have a better sex life but have trouble sharing their feelings about it.

Likewise, couples who feel good about the way they work through their financial troubles together, have a stronger, happier marriage, than those couples who have more money, but less cooperative discussions about their budget and financial plans.

When a couple has both a serious problem to solve AND poor communication skills, then their level of distress can become a negative spiral that whips around their home and across nearly all topics in their relationship.

How to Improve Communication

So, how do you develop the type of communication patterns that lead to communication satisfaction and higher levels of marital happiness?

First, you must recognize the communication patterns indicative of marital distress. Then you can begin the skill-building work that will turn your current conflict into productive, satisfying, and relationally enriching conversations.

Dr. John Gottman summarized over 25 years of research into the following list of communication behaviors that distinguish non-distressed, happy couples from distressed couples headed for divorce.

Characteristics of Non-distressed, Happy Couples

• Partners are friends.
• Exchange more positive feelings
• Focus on each other’s positive qualities, good times, etc.
• Interact frequently
• Share power, rather than seek it.
• Engage in problem-solving communication
• Seek understandings that overcome gridlock
• Create shared meaning, values, attitudes, interests, traditions

Characteristics of Distressed Couples Heading for Divorce

• Exchange negative interactions
• Perceive that they have negative interactions
• More sarcasm
• More negative feelings reciprocated
• More complaints
• More interpretations of the other person’s behavior as negative
• Engage in “problem escalation” communication

If you and your spouse display the characteristics of non-distress, happy couples, you are to be congratulated. And, as long as you stay friends and keep up these practices you and your family will likely remain happy, well-adjusted, and in-tack.

However, if you recognize that the communication patterns in your marriage match those of the distressed couples heading for divorce, you should take swift and deliberate corrective

You could start by sharing this article with your partner and suggest that the two of you get help breaking these bad communication habits before you pass the point of no return.
It’s rarely “too late” for people who really want to deepen their intimate connection, work out any current issues, and master the essential habits of couples who stay happily married for a lifetime.

Let me know if I can help.

Jamie C. Williamson, PhD is a FL Supreme Court Certified Family Mediator and Couples Counselor who is part of the Gottman Referral Network. She is an owner and partner at Amity Mediation Workshop, a mediation practice specializing in “friendly divorce” mediation and psycho-educational counseling for couples. Dr. Jamie speaks frequently on relationship topics and authors the blog “Work it Out.” You can find her online at amitymediationworkshop.com.