Tough Talks With Your Spouse

Tough Talks With Your Spouse

Marriage can be the most beautiful part of life, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

Being in a relationship with anyone has its ups and downs, insecurities, and scrutinies. 

But, one of the most consistently difficult parts of any relationship is effective communication, this is where marriage counseling can be very effective.

Whether it's about small chores, major roles, schedules, romance, or just decompressing from a hard day, the way you communicate makes the difference between a supportive relationship and a war zone!

Tough talks with your spouse are just that, tough, so having the right tools won't automatically solve the problem, but it sure makes it more approachable.

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Difference in Male and Female Dynamics

This may come as a surprise to some, but there are real differences in communication dynamics between males and females.  

Regardless of why these differences exist, knowing what they are will absolutely improve your effective communication.

The difference can be broken down into what is called "Transactional communication" and "Relational communication." 

Typically, guys enter conversations with a transactional approach meaning there is an end goal for the purpose of the conversation; he gives information in exchange for information to help either or both parties achieve something.   

On the other side, a relational-based approach is not a "means-to-an-end", instead, it's supportive and reflective of the other person's statements. 

The classic example is when a woman is sharing an issue and the man jumps straight into problem-solving mode and offers suggestions or solutions thinking he's being helpful.

The result is usually a heated argument in which the man is left completely bewildered and the woman left unheard and undersupported. 

To see this in action check out the satirical video below!

Listen to Understand

A very common mistake when having tough talks with your spouse, or anyone really, is leaping to respond.

Typically in tough talks emotions run high quickly- both people begin feeling heated, become defensive, and stop listening to understand, and instead will stay quiet long enough to immediately respond as soon as there's a gap. 

The problem with this is that each person is left feeling completely unheard which leads to feeling even more agitated and angry.

This type of communication happens all the time, usually ending with one person simply giving up or caving in, or both people storming off in a huff.

Instead, if both people agree to listen to understand first, then both will feel completely heard and a resolution can be reached. 

A simple way of trying this is to listen to your partner until they are finished and then try to paraphrase the point of what they said, asking "is this right?"

If your partner says no and becomes frustrated you can simply respond with, "I'm only trying to understand, please explain it again." 

This will de-escalate the situation and help you both remain calm.

Once you paraphrase correctly then you can respond and they can paraphrase you for clarification and understanding. 

This process may sound tedious, and it is, but you will both become much better at understanding one another and no longer dread having tough talks with your spouse. 

Strategic Communication 

How many times have you been upset or angry and jumped straight into a sensitive topic without warning?

How many times did that resolve in a peaceful and productive conversation? 

My guess is too often, and almost never. 

Tough talks deserve thought and care in the approach and the delivery.

Luckily there's a simple acronym that makes this easy to remember and perfect for getting both people on the same page:

S- Source


A- Approach

B- Behavior

E- Emotion

N- Need

The first three letters ensure you aren't spreading gossip but are addressing the source of who you need to have the discussion with as well as making sure you pay attention to when you bring up the topic and lastly, the way you bring it up.

Timing and approach are very important, you don't want to ambush your partner out of the blue, let them know there's something important you want to address and offer a time to do so or ask if they have time later in the day to talk.

When you begin the talk, approach it with honesty and good intention to resolve a legitimate issue and not merely blame or attack. 

This is where the second 3 letters come in: When you address the behavior, be specific! For example, if your partner isn't doing their dishes don't call them a slob, highlight the specific behavior, "I noticed that you've been leaving your dishes in the living room..."

After addressing the specific behavior explain to your partner the emotion it makes you feel, again, be specific! It's helpful to have a Feelings Wheel (google images) so that you can point to the exact emotion it makes you feel.

Lastly, end with what you need to see in order to feel resolved.

Make sure it's constructive, this is you offering a solution to the problem that the two of you can then talk about.

Here's the whole acronym in action using the dishes as an example:

"There's something that's been on my mind that I want to talk about with you (SOURCE), do you have time this afternoon? (TIMING) (later that afternoon) "I've noticed (APPROACH) that you've been leaving your dishes in the living room (BEHAVIOR) which makes me feel stressed and used (EMOTION). I need help, could you please put your dishes in the sink or the dishwasher when you're done with them (NEED)?"

A major challenge for most people is they don't get down to the emotion, they just make points- the problem is, points can be argued, and then it becomes about who wins an argument.

You can't argue with how someone feels, they just feel it!  And that's at the core of the issue anyway, their actions make you feel something.


So many people are willing to throw opinions, but few really know how to provide support for couples.

Having tough talks with your spouse is never fun, in fact, it's the opposite.

Most of the time couples learn each other's communication styles and can fill in the gaps.

However, a lot of the time little things blow up into big things, feelings become hurt and apologies come too late.

By understanding the big differences in how people communicate and implementing strategic communication skills many of those big blow-outs can be avoided.

You have now learned the difference between how men and women communicate, you've learned how to listen to understand, and you have a very helpful acronym, STABEN, to ensure the most positive and productive communication you could hope for.

All of this will help you have those unavoidable tough talks with your spouse. 

If you are trying these techniques and still can't hear one another, couple counseling is a great way to build on these tools and get the support you need.

Now, get talking!

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November 30th, 2022