It’s said that the two biggest issues that lead to a marriage breaking up and ending in divorce are money and communication. Finances are a whole different issue – they’re part of the business side of your marriage.

How about the intimate side of your marriage? This is where communication comes in, and where many couples hit the proverbial wall. And if one of you has committed infidelity, this can further unhinge already poor communication.

When you talk to your spouse, what’s going on behind the words, the anger, and the barriers of your heart? In this blog, we’ll explore what may be happening when you talk with your spouse that may be further driving a wedge between you – and risking your marriage ending in divorce. Let’s go…

Predictor of Marriage Success or Failure

You and your spouse are in the midst of a disagreement over an issue, whether it’s whose turn it is to do the dishes to how one of you made what was perceived as a belittling comment to the other over dinner.

If your marriage struggles involve communication characterized by arguments, it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. It’s what type of environment you both create as a couple when it comes to resolving issues. If one or the other of you digs in and refuses to see the other one’s point of view, this is more problematic than the arguing itself.

Let me explain. Research in couple’s therapy has naturally examined the role of how couples communicate to see what separates a marriage that succeeds from one that fails.

Brent Atkinson, a Ph.D. with the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Northern Illinois University, has studied marriage therapy research that spans the past 30 years, as well as current neurological research. What he has found is one predictor of long-term marriage success: does each spouse give equal regard to the other?

This means that when you are engaged in a conversation or argument with your spouse, are you able to honestly provide an environment for your spouse that allows them to express their feelings, and you hold those feelings in equal regard to your own as being just as valid – even when you don’t necessarily agree with their point of view?

Dr. Atkinson also found that it may not appear evident at the beginning of an argument: both successful and doomed couples can argue with equal abandon, working hard to persuade the other to their point of view. They may have criticized their spouse, shouted and otherwise let the steam roll out of their ears. But it was the end that counts most: did each spouse give the other equal regard and not take offense at what their partner shared, instead allowing that the other spouse’s feelings were valid?

Remember that what we experience in life is our own perception. You have your perception, your spouse has theirs. There is no “right” way to perceive an issue or event – it’s as individual as you are. If your spouse made a comment to you over dinner that you perceived as insensitive, your feeling is not invalid just because your spouse didn’t mean for the comment to come across as insensitive.

This is part of what builds an intimate relationship: understanding the nuances of one another and how you each perceive things. You may never agree on perception, but you can learn to communicate better so that you and your spouse both feel safe enough to share your perceptions, accepting that they are real to each of you, and acknowledged as having valid viewpoints.

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Get Past Accepting Spouse’s Viewpoint as a Threat

For some, accepting another person’s point of view in an argument is threatening to them. If you give in to your spouse and accept their points, does that mean an end to you and your valid points?

Some spouses will “cave” to the other spouse, while inside, they’re thinking “your arguments are invalid, but in order to keep the peace…” This leads to contempt of one’s partner – a sure-fire indicator of ultimate marriage failure.

What you need to work on is your own perception, and try a different means of resolving conflicts in your marriage. Here are three steps to help you successfully resolve conflict with your spouse while removing any sense of threat to your own well-being and point of view:

Step #1: Find a Feeling You can Validate

The next time your spouse and you are butting heads, consciously stop and listen to what your spouse is saying. Nod your head to encourage them to express themselves fully, not commenting but really listening thoroughly to what they’re saying. Once they have said their piece, find a feeling that they’ve expressed that you feel comfortable validating.

For example, if your spouse says, “And when you say things like that, it makes me feel insignificant.” Are you comfortable in validating this feeling they are expressing, acknowledging that it is something they perceive and are experiencing?

Step #2: Find a Compromise Point

Let’s take the previous example one step further. Can you find a compromise point where you would both have some degree of satisfaction with the resolution? If your comments are perceived by your spouse as making them feel insignificant, you could possibly ask them what language specifically makes them uncomfortable, and then offer to find other ways to express your point of view.

Step #3: Refuse to Allow Your Feelings to be Invalidated

Just as important as validating your spouse’s point of view and feelings are your point of view and feelings: accepting that your spouse’s feelings are valid does not make yours become invalidated. If you approach each conflict with your spouse with this mindset, you won’t feel that sense of threat that you’re about to lose a piece of yourself in resolving the conflict.

My best to you and your spouse as you work together to save your marriage and give one another equal regard.

Do you think that your spouse and you give one another equal regard?

When it comes to conflict and arguments, do you feel you cave in to your spouse?

Is it possible for you and your spouse to learn to listen to each other’s expressions about your feelings, and discover that it’s not about right/wrong, but about an individual’s perception?

Please share your ideas and personal experiences with other members of the community.

Wishing you hope and healing for your marriage,

Stephanie Anderson


Marriage Sherpa

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