Fixing the most hazardous communication pattern in marriage

Communication in marriage is often difficult, but can be the #1 factor in a healthy or unhealthy marriage. Our 4-Step Approach to Improvement can help you improve communication throughout your marriage.

This process can be used to learn and improve almost any skill both in marriage and for individuals. We hope you’ll give this a try if you’re seeking to improve your communication in marriage!


Our 4-Step Process:

  1. Learn (learn truths, patterns and ways to improve)
  2. Plan (Align your plan and goals)
  3. Act (Do It)
  4. Review (Review what worked and improve; discard what doesn’t work; Continual Progress)


How to Apply Aligned Marriage’s 4-Step Process to Improve Communication

Learn- Marriage is Important, Learn how to Improve it!

People spend a significant amount of time learning about hobbies, business, fantasy, or other interests, but rarely spend time learning about marriage. This is surprising considering the impact a marriage has on people’s lives.

Consider how many books you may have read on how to improve your marriage. Write the number down and then consider how many books you have read about business or marketing? How about your favorite hobby or pleasure? Or self-help, fiction, etc.?

Now that you’ve written these down do a little self-analysis: 

Ask yourself three questions.

  1. “Have I given a balanced effort to learning about marriage improvement?”
  2. “How important is my marriage to me?”
  3. “Does the level of importance I documented reflect my learning efforts?”

If you aren’t happy with your answers, don’t worry! There is an abundance of valuable information available to help marriages improve, and that’s what we’re here for!

Although a couple may feel that they would be able to solve their communication problems if they only had more willpower and diligence, this may not be the truth. It is very likely that they may not have learned the traps and problems that are preventing them from communicating in a more healthy way.

It can be quite difficult to find people to help a couple improve their communication; opening up that they are struggling is difficult in itself. We advise against opening up to family members and friends. Family members can unintentionally cause more harm or harbor negative judgments about a spouse long into the future, and reaching out to friends may cause awkward relationships.

We are not saying this should never happen. Sometimes, there are friends who are good listeners with skills to share that could greatly enhance the relationship. We’re just encouraging you to be thoughtful when choosing to discuss marital problems with friends and/or family members. Selecting someone who is an advocate for marriage is a good starting point. Do not seek out someone who is sour about relationships. Also, be careful that you’re not only seeking those who will provide confirmation and answers that an irritated spouse might be seeking.

To avoid having to make a difficult decision about who might be appropriate, we simply suggest that a professional be sought to help. A professional can help a couple to recognize harmful communication patterns and can train them on how to replace such patterns with more positive habits. A professional is expected to be an advocate for both the marriage and the individuals.

If abuse is occurring, a professional is absolutely advised.

There is a wealth of information available for helping marriages succeed. Significant research has been done and helps to give solid guidance for improving marriage. Unfortunately, many couples do not take advantage of these resources. Learning is a great place to start.

Plan – Making an Intentional Plan Shows Commitment

Make a plan! Simple enough, right? Surprisingly, people will make plans weekly for improvement in their work and business, but rarely do they make a plan for improvement in marriage. Now is a good time to make an improvement plan!

Don’t overthink the planning process, it does not need to be complicated. In fact, ten minutes is a good start and probably sufficient time to make a plan for improvement.

After a couple has learned ways to identify destructive communication habits and start to learn healthy communication replacements, they can implement these skills into their marriage. Couples do not need to be rocket scientists to make a plan to rid themselves of the bad communication habits and replace them with new efforts.

Writing down a plan and communicating it are critical to solidifying the plan.

Plan to compromise. Realize that improvements take effort from both spouses.

Find healthy ways to divert your attention and maintain self-care so that you can also find individual peace, even when the relationship is tenuous. Though this may seem selfish, it can help you bring a healthier self into the relationship and can improve communications.

Consider getting a therapist or mentor to help you learn to regulate things in the beginning until you’ve developed healthier communication patterns.

If conversations get easily heated, make a plan to write down thoughts and emotions for each other to read. This might help to decrease emotions and allow the individuals to absorb the information before reverting back to ineffective communication habits.

ACT- Knowledge Applied is Power! Put the Plan into Action!

There’s a quote that’s often overused: “Knowledge is power.” Consider replacing that with “Knowledge is potential.” Knowledge does not become powerful until it is put into action. If a person can read and listen, then a person has the potential to learn. If a person has a desire and is ready to put a plan into action, then they are ready for a change!

The best time to put your plan into action is when emotions are low and both partners feel safe. This is when the brain does its best work. This is also when spouses are better able to listen and absorb communications from each other.

Implement the following very important ratio in your marriage:

5:1 Positive to Negative Experiences

This was developed by an excellent researcher and psychologist, John Gottman. He found that when we have a 5:1 Pos/neg ratio in our marriage- That is five positive experiences to every one negative that marriages can thrive.

This ratio works very well for someone who finds their communications sabotaged by Anxious Clinger and Detached Avoider patterns. Oversimplified, a spouse acting as an anxious clinger wants to work things out as fast as possible (anxiously) and clings to the other trying to solve the problem quickly. The detached avoider tries to avoid tenuous conversations by avoiding the other spouse. Both are usually trying to act in the best interest of the marriage, but both can unintentionally cause more friction.

When a spouse experiences five positive experiences they are more open to listen and participate. They are also more likely to reciprocate similar love and communications.

With only one negative per five positives, now the Avoider will have less dread about conversing with their partner. The Clinger can feel like their problems are now being addressed because they are able to present the problems at least on occasion.

NOTE: It is important to try your best to communicate the one negative observation as a complaint or problem and not a criticism. Criticism leads to defensiveness and anger, whereas if presented as a problem, it can be much easier for the spouse to absorb.

When both spouses make efforts to meet this ratio, incredible things start to happen. First, they begin to feel secure and loved. Then the spouses start to reciprocate positivity more often. Their communications feel resolved because they also include the 1:5 negatives and start fixing the little annoyances and prevent them from getting bigger.

You do not need to get carried away and go for 100:1 positives to negative experiences, in fact, this can be detrimental. Relationships need to communicate problems and need to be able to resolve issues. If the ratio has way more than a 5:1 positive to negative experience ratio, there may be some avoidance behaviors creeping in. There is nothing wrong with communicating an occasional disagreement.

A sandwich approach may also help. Give two to three positives (the bread) followed by the one negative (innards of the sandwich), followed up by another two to three positives. This may help the negative to be better absorbed. At other times, the negative should be left out completely! Remember the magical ratio!

Review- Identify What Worked and What Didn’t

Once again, consider how important accountability and reviewing actions are in business or work. Accountability, productivity, and progress reviews are measured and discussed weekly or at least monthly in business. If reviewing progress and accountability works well in the workplace, why would it be avoided in marriage? Sometimes, it may not be avoided completely, but only addressed when there are problems. A more intentional effort given to reviewing what works well and what doesn’t work well in marital relationships can help to take marriage to a new level!

This part of the process is absolutely critical! Couples need to review their new processes and behaviors and recognize when things went well. Take a moment to discuss some of the benefits that were realized by replacing past behaviors. Individuals and couples are more likely to repeat the process if they intentionally take notice of the positive changes. Positive reinforcement goes a long way!


A word of caution: Be careful not to only review the negative ones. In fact, when doing a systematic review, couples should note five positives to one negative. It will be the natural instinct to multiply the one negatives by a factor of about ten, so really, one negative is enough (*or two if you give ten positives)!

A few questions to ask yourselves after reviewing a discussion: What helped or what worked well? Was it a good location? Were we without the kids? What was the duration like— Did it drag on or was it just right? Did you notice extra effort given? What was the timing— were you happy it was done in the morning rather than evening? Was it in-person instead of text? Now you can both log the responses onto paper and into your brain and make the next go-round even better!

By reviewing and attaching outcomes to behavior, spouses can learn. Now they do not need to continue repeating negative communication patterns. This completes the cycle and they can make a new improved plan and take action!



FUN FACT- The 5:1 approach is not only applicable in marriage. The Losada Line is an indicator used in business and shows roughly the same ratios for success with ideal positive to negatives. The Losada Line shows that as long as the positive to negative ratio with employees is 2.9013%, that business can do well. Even better when a 6/1 positive to negative ratio is contributed, even better results occur.

Aligned Marriage can help you increase insight and accountability. We help you learn improved communication processes, and get on a path to an improved marital experience. Set up a free discovery session/consult through this link: Set an Appointment