6 Steps to Improve Marriage Communication
We want to introduce you to a wonderful communication tool: Love S.T.E.P. Goals. This tool gives couples a framework to move beyond everyday business items of marriage and to regularly touch base on important topics.
The words of Jesus inspired it when he stated,
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
When we live out the teachings of Jesus in our marriage, we discover what “love one another” looks like within the boundaries of our relationship. The following tool will help shape those healthy boundaries for your most important relationship by offering six steps for an intentional daily conversation.
Love S.T.E.P. Goals stands for:
Love - Love one another
S. - Serve one another
T. - Touch one another
E. - Edify or encourage one another
P. - Have peace with one another
Goals - Share your goals with one another
Couples can use this outline to set up a daily conversations with their spouse. Using just 10-20 minutes per day, couples can momentarily set aside their busyness and turn their focus to one another. By making time each day for a “Love S.T.E.P. Goals” conversation, couples are setting the stage for a long-lasting, healthy, satisfying marital relationship.
“Love One Another”
To start the conversation, look at your spouse and say, “I love you.” This isn’t a “love ya” tossed over your shoulder on the way out the door. This is a time to look at your spouse, set aside the day's frustrations, and remember why you married this person. You love them. Look them in the eyes and tell them that.
Some days it’s really easy to say, “I love you,” but we also admit there are days in a marriage when you don’t always feel the passionate Princess Bride-esque, “hunka-hunka burnin’ love” love that Hollywood tells us we should feel. Some days it can be a struggle to feel love for your partner. Marriage is hard work, and love can be too. But by taking a moment each day to remind your spouse that you love them, you are for them, and you are connected with them; you can keep those less-than-connected feelings from taking root.
Every day, and especially on the tough ones, you need to let your spouse know you are connected to them, you are devoted to them, you honor them, you are able to forgive them if needed, and you accept them right where they’re at. And you need to be assured of that as well.
Think about the things your spouse does to show love for you. We all feel love in different ways (We will talk about the Five Love Languages in the future - you won’t want to miss it!). What is something your spouse does that assures you of their love? Have that conversation with them today. Let them know what makes you feel most loved, and ask what you can do to best show your love for them. Healthy marriages take a lot of work, but this is a great step towards strengthening those bonds and showing Jesus-like love for your partner.
“Serve One Another”
You’ve already begun your conversation by telling your partner you love them. The next step is to share with your partner how they could best serve you that day by simply saying, “You could be most helpful to me today by....” and then allowing them to do the same.
Why do we do this? Is it just a way to get some chores done in the house without having to nag? Nope! Using a biblical model, we should seek to serve our spouse for several reasons:
1. When you can seek to serve, it can block selfishness.
We may find ourselves approaching marriage with the attitude of, “Well, he didn’t take out the trash, so why should I have to pick up his slack?” This kind of selfishness can be toxic to a marriage. Those seeds of bitterness can blossom into full-blown resentment pretty quickly. Why not avoid that altogether by approaching your partner with a spirit of service?
2. This sort of mutual submission can allow you to pull the best out of one another.
When you seek to be helpful to your partner, and they do the same, it evens the playing field. The acts of service may not be equivalent in effort (you may end up mowing the yard for your partner but only asking for some words of encouragement in return), but you are in mutual agreement that you wish to be helpful to one another.
3. It reinforces the habit of serving without complaining or grumbling.
Negative responses tend to negate the act of service. My spouse may need help cleaning the kitchen, but if I spend the whole time saying what a sacrifice I’m making and how much I hate it, that’s not helpful to anyone.
4. Serving one another can help build humility.
No one likes the process of being humbled, but isn’t the idea of a humble spouse much more satisfying than a spouse who thinks certain tasks are beneath them? If we sincerely wish to serve our spouses, sometimes we must set pride aside and do what is truly helpful to them.
Think about how you can best serve your spouse. Have the conversation, “You could be most helpful to me by…,” and be honest with one another. In John 13:15, Jesus sets an example for us to follow. After washing His disciples' feet — an act of love, humility, and service — He encourages us to follow His lead and serve one another. "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
“Touch One Another”
Physical touch is an essential part of a marriage, but there are several different types of touch:
1. Simple Touch
A touch to show your presence, such as a pat on the back, a touch on the arm, or any basic gesture that says, “I’m here.” It usually doesn’t solve anything, but an unsettled partner will feel the comfort and the love intended. If this type of touch is missing from your relationship, the absence is noted by your partner. It reflects a distance between the two of you.
2. Comfort Touch
A hug, a snuggle, whatever particular kind of touch your partner finds to be comforting in moments when they most need solace. If this type of touch is absent, it communicates ambivalence or coldness to your partner.
3. Sexual Touch
The intimate touches are reserved only for your spouse. If this touch is withheld from your partner, it communicates feelings of neglect and deprivation.
As you can see, if any of these three types of touch is missing from a relationship, your partner may experience feelings of coldness, distance, or even neglect from you; however, an unwelcome touch at the wrong time can be problematic too. What’s the best way to discern which type of touch your spouse requires at any moment? Ask them. Start this portion of the conversation by saying, “The touch I would appreciate from you today or need more of is…” and allowing them to do the same.
As with all of the steps, this step may be a little awkward to discuss at first. Touch isn’t usually something we talk about - we just do it. But we want to bring out the best in our partners by providing them the kind of touch they need when they need it, so we encourage you to have that conversation. Discuss your expectations. Real life is not like life in the movies, so having those expectations for your partner is not fair. Talk about what you like and what you don’t like. When you’ve discussed this in advance, you can eliminate feelings of disappointment, hurt, one-sidedness, or neglect.
By regularly including the three types of touch in your relationship, you are paving the way for a long-lasting, healthy, satisfying marriage. Take the time to ask your partner the following questions today that will help set the stage for this step:
What do I do that shows presence or comfort to you?
Is there anything you would like me to change to show more presence or comfort to you?
You may just be surprised by the answers!
“Edify (encourage) One Another”
This step in the communication tool allows us to build one another up, encourage one another, and make us feel good about ourselves. One of the best things about being married is having a permanent cheerleader on our side; this is how we can show it! Some of us may be in jobs or situations where we go through a whole day without being encouraged or hearing anything positive about ourselves. How wonderful to hear it when we get home from the person we love the most!
This part of the conversation starts with, “I appreciate you for….”
Who wouldn’t want to hear that?
This is a great time of mutual growth (especially in our faith) where you can pour into one another and provide each other with words to encourage positive behaviors and combat poor choices that hurt relationships. Using our words to build our partner up, rather than tear down, we can use this time to bring out the best in one another. It’s a time where we can exercise couple awareness, which is a state of truly knowing your partner and understanding what is best for them.
When you may not be on the same page, edification or encouragement could diffuse a tough situation. We are certainly not saying to use encouragement as a tool of manipulation. Rather, by turning your mind towards what you truly appreciate about your spouse and sincerely communicating that to them, you can drastically change the tone of the conversation. Isn’t that a much better way to approach the one you love, rather than an accusation or inappreciation?
Using your words is key. By using your words to build your partner up, rather than tearing them down, you are setting yourselves up for a long-lasting, healthy relationship. So today, we ask that you take the time to ask your partner this question which will help set the stage for this part of the Love S.T.E.P conversation: What area of your life would you like me to edify you?
Maybe they’ve felt insecure about something and could use a little encouragement. If work has been difficult, parenting issues have been weighing on them, their spiritual life is feeling weak, or they don't feel valued in a particular area of their life, your edifying words could be what lifts them up and turns the situation around.
Affirmations and appreciations are an important part of every healthy and vibrant marriage!
“Peace With One Another”
If you’ve been married for a while, you know disagreements happen. We’re here to tell you it’s ok to fight! Fights can stem from personality traits your partner has that rub you the wrong way, or long-standing issues around spending and saving money and anything in between. You’ll want to check out our podcast on how to Fight in Harmony with One Another, but for now, we want to talk about ways to have peace with one another.
To have harmony in your relationship, we’ve found these strategies to be very successful:
Think the best of your partner. By not expecting the worst, you can eliminate so many of the petty little disagreements that plague many marriages.
Remember, it’s ok not to solve everything. Dr. John Gottman, world-renowned for his work on marital stability and divorce prediction, says 60-70% of marriage conflicts are never resolved in even the happiest couples.
Be willing to overlook minor offenses. We all make them, so why not give grace to the person you love the most?
Seek harmony and pursue kindness in all your interactions with your spouse.
For the Peace portion of your Love S.T.E.P. Goals conversation, tell your partner, “ What would give me peace today is…,” and allow them to reciprocate. Talk about what may be causing anxiety or disruption of peace, and let them know what would help bring a little harmony back to your life. Maybe you need them to watch the kids for an afternoon so you can rest, or perhaps you need to ask forgiveness for something you’ve said. Whatever it is, share honestly.
Goals - Share your goals with one another
This is a fun step where you can discuss a goal for yourself, your family, or your relationship. This might be a personal goal, like “I hope to run two miles on three days this week,” or something you can work towards, like “I would like to start saving for a family vacation this Summer.” It’s a chance to look forward to the future together.
The happiest couples share wishes, hopes, and dreams regularly!
So to wrap up, this is what your Love S.T.E.P. Goals conversation will look like:
Love - Love one another - “I love you.”
S. - Serve one another - “You can be helpful to me today by….”
T. - Touch one another - “The touch I would appreciate from you today is….”
E. - Edify or encourage one another - “I appreciate you for….”
P. - Have peace with one another - “What would give me peace today is…”
Goals - Share your goals with one another - “I’m looking forward to….”
Remember this daily conversation is not a time to disagree with what your spouse says. It’s a chance for each of you to share what’s in your hearts and minds freely. It’s an opportunity for each of you to touch on some of the most important topics to help maintain a long-lasting, healthy, satisfying relationship.
After trying this tool, let us know in the comments below how it went.