How (And When) To Have Positive Conversations In A Marriage

For the last several weeks the focus of these articles has been on the role of communication in marriage. Previous articles have looked at on where and how couples go wrong when trying to resolve problematic issues ( Knowing what to avoid is only a first step. It is at least equally important to have practical and effective tools with which to address those difficult issues which invariably arise in committed relationships.

The three components of communication

When asked what is involved in communication, most people would immediately mention talking and listening. There are, however, three components to communication which need to be taken into account when two individuals attempt to tackle a challenging concern. The third critical factor in communication is timing, and this is the first tool to be addressed. When you have a conversation is as important as what you talk about. It sets the stage for everything which comes after. Timing becomes even more difficult when the individuals are building and maintaining a long-term, committed relationship.


Most conversations which deal with troubling issues between couples occur without much planning or forethought. One person gets upset about something. Usually there is one of two probable responses: address it immediately or stews on the issue for a while and then bring it up seemingly out of the blue. Each of these options brings with it a relatively predictable emotional next step. The person is either emotionally agitated when the conversation begins or he/she has spent time writing the script of the discussion according to his/her agenda. If the instigator is currently upset, the discussion will quickly degenerate and nothing will be resolved. If the person has waited and planned his/her side of the conversation then launches the debate on his/her timeframe, the partner will feel ambushed and most likely react negatively in a defensive attempt to catch up. Either response will keep a productive resolution from occurring.

The most effective way to approach a difficult conversation involves planning – plan a time that is good for both partners. Find a time when both people have plenty of time to talk and when interruptions are not likely to happen.


Prior to the conversation, it is important that the topic of discussion is clear to both individuals. Each must have time to understand completely what is being discussed so they can think through and present their position clearly so neither feels at a disadvantage. It is also important to agree to break off the conversation as soon as one person gets upset. Once emotion enters the picture, the ability to listen to the other person and to comprehend his/her position becomes very difficult. Very few matters need to be resolved immediately, so it is in the couple’s best interest to take their time to develop an effective solution, not just a quick one.

Several of my clients have objected to the concept of taking a break from the conversation when it starts to spin out of control. Their fear is that once interrupted, the conversation will be dropped and the topic not addressed until the instigator gets upset and brings it up again. The key to keep this from happening is to agree to a time to revisit the topic. This can be five minutes, an hour or a day later. The purpose of this time out is to get emotions under control not to avoid having the conversation. Once the conversation is rescheduled, both partners have time to process what has been said and the opportunity to revisit their position.

Choosing the right time for a critical conversation is a first positive step. Talking and listening, the other two critical components in effective communication will be presented in the next article.

© 2007 Cary Home Times

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