In 2015, couples are saying that communication is their biggest struggle. Why, when we’ve never had so many ways to communicate and keep in touch as we do now, are people still struggling with this?

The research is somewhat ironic. Well, not the research itself, but the fact that the topic of marriage communication was studied, documented, tallied, hashed out, etc. back in the 1980s and ’90s. However, in 2015: couples still say this is their #1 area for improvement.

Why is that?

Let’s look to some research to help us. In 2010, Family Relations studied stress, communication and marriage quality in 345 couples. Their conclusion was that the level and quality of marital communication mediates the amount of effect that stress has on marital quality.

To make this simpler, think of stress as a downpour of rain, and communication as the umbrella. The bigger and the higher quality (ie. more waterproof) the umbrella, the better the couple fairs. The umbrella mediates the impact of the rain on the couple just as communication mediates the impact of stress on a couple.

Our communication umbrella needs to include quality and quantity. The communication technology we have in 2015 improves the quantity of all communication sources (for example, you are exposed to way more content of way more lives via Facebook) but not the quantity from your spouse. Not the quality either: if anything the quality of communication is lower due to greater distraction!

Another fascinating study looked at couples having a dinnertime conversation. After dinner, the researchers then had a separate 15-minute discussion regarding a conflict in their marriage. Gottman and Drive (2004) found that the enthusiastic response of the husband to his wife in the dinnertime conversations influenced her affection towards him during conflict. And vice versa: her dinnertime enthusiastic responses drove his affection during conflict.

I love this as I am a huge advocate of enthusiasm!!! – Verlynda

The point of the research is that every day we have positive interactions we are building this tremendous line of credit, so that when ugly comes out and we’re fighting it’s going to go way better if that line of credit is ready to go than if it is depleted.

To link that back to our umbrella analogy where communication regulates the impact of stress on marriage quality, we really see that stuff as simple as dinnertime conversation is having a measurable, real impact on our times of conflict.

What is your dinnertime like? Turn the TV off, put the cell phones somewhere so you won’t hear every ding, and practice the art of being fully present.

This begs the question though, “What happens when we are not fully engaged?” It’s easy to think that ‘not enough’ of a good thing just means it won’t be as great.

Well, the research debunks that idea. Wagner (Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2005) looked at 53 married couples and the impact of one spouse not staying fully present during a discussion. He found that the effect of not engaging properly actually disconfirmed the other spouse’s identity!

In other words, it left the other spouse feeling like they were not understood. Not being understood leads to thoughts that my position is not verified, and actually leads to disconfirming my identity. To put it simpler, it’s saying that if you ignore me, you’re sending a signal that says the part of me I really want you to see is not worth seeing.


A lot of pain comes from not being fully engaged in conversations. It’s not like you forgot to add enough salt but it still tastes OK; lack of engagement is acidic and corrosive to the relationship because it’s undermining your spouse’s sense of identity.

If you’re not present and engaged with your spouse when communicating, you’re actually hurting him or her.

If communicating is important to you, make sure you check out our Talk To Me 101 e-Course. It is a communication course for smart couples. You can take the course together, and we teach you everything you need to know to become very effective communicators as a couple. It’s series of short, powerful video lessons and you can check that out at Talk To Me 101 dot com

Image courtesy of Duncan Harris under the Creative Commons license.

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