Build a Great Marriage with Healthy Communication

by Douglas Cowan, Psy.D.

Would you like to have a stronger, healthier, more fulfilling marriage? I am sure that you, like most people, would answer "yes" to this question. Yet we live in a culture where about half of all marriages will end in a divorce, leaving behind the wreckage of broken adults and wounded children.

If we are to build healthy marriages, we much do so "on purpose." We cannot just hope that it will happen by accident. "Hope," say the generals, "is not a good strategy." Planning, work, and the investment of time are much better strategies for any important endeavor of life.

To build a healthy marriage, we need to consider how we talk to our spouse, and the way that we talk about our spouse to others. Healthy marriages are characterized by supportive, encouraging, and honest communication. We want to build each other up in our marriages, never tear our spouse down (especially under the guise of being "honest").

Two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul wrote this verse that is worthy of every refrigerator door in America, "Don't let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, according to what they need, so that you can benefit those who listen."

There are three important lessons to learn from this verse. First, if we don't have something good to say, don't say anything (I think my mother also told me that). Second, we should consider our listener's needs. My wife has different needs than does my daughter, or my sons. We should consider how best to encourage and support each person. Finally, the purpose of our talking in the first place should be to benefit the listener.

When I first started to seriously apply these principles, and honestly think about what I was saying and why I was saying it, my vocabulary and the amount of time I spent talking were cut by about one-third. I had become sarcastic, but funny. But my funny sarcasm was always at someone else's expense. When I determined to build others up and benefit them with my speech, I talked a lot less. But I became a much better person, both inside and out.

Check your motives. If you just want to make yourself look good, you will tend to be sarcastic, and you will tend to tease other people by degrading them in front of others. As a result, your friends will consider your "teasing" as shameful, and your spouse and your children will grow distant from you. It may cost you your marriage.

If, on the other hand, your motives are to build up and encourage your spouse and children, then speak words of support, love, and praise to them directly, as well as about them to others. Your friends will view you as a loving person, and your spouse and children will always want to be near you. They will love to hear you talk, as your words will be like honey to them.

Choose carefully how you use your words. You have the power to build up, or to tear down, by the word you use.

Douglas Cowan, Psy.D., is a family therapist who has been working with ADHD children and their families since 1986. He is the clinical director of the ADHD Information Library's family of seven web sites, including, helping over 350,000 parents and teachers learn more about ADHD each year. Dr. Cowan also serves on the Medical Advisory Board of VAXA International of Tampa, FL., is President of the Board of Directors for KAXL 88.3 FM in central California, and is President of Incorporated.

1. The Bible, Ephesians 4:29

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