“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

You've had a look at the "what not to do" areas of your communication pattern and recognized places of growth. Now that you have examined your current system and put it through the test, let’s talk about what factors are the most important in having good communication in your marriage.

A Positive Emotional Climate

Generally we tend to think that good communication has happened when we are able to determine who is right or who is to blame. We may conclude that our conversation was a success when we have reached a solution or been willing to compromise.

These are not necessarily bad gauges for how to rank our latest interaction. Coming to a solution or compromise may indeed feel like the goal, and therefore the most logical place to aim first. However, these factors are by no means the most important.

The single most important ingredient in relationship stability and happiness is a positive emotional climate. This climate is largely determined by our verbal and non-verbal communication!

John Gottman is a highly respected researcher in the field of marriage and relationship enrichment. He is responsible for uncovering this need for positive affect and discovering that our emotional worlds work like a bank account.

"The emotional bank account" requires regular and daily deposits so that a “withdrawal”, or negative experience, does not take a toll on your relationship. In other words, we need to regularly turn towards each other in every day, mundane conversations to create a positive and nurturing environment.  Let’s look at an example below.

Turning away example:
Wife: “Hasn’t this flower bloomed beautifully?”
Husband: Continues to read news paper

Turning towards example:
Wife: “Hasn’t this flower blocked beautifully?”
Husband: Puts paper down. “Yeah, it looks great.” (even better:) You did a great job caring for it”

So we can see that small tweaks in our general interactions can have a great impact on our overall feelings of security, comfort, intimacy and connectedness.

The 5:1 Ratio

The single most important ingredient in relationship stability and happiness is a positive emotional climate

The emotional bank account requires a 5 to 1 ratio. This means that we need five positive experiences (or turning towards experiences) to every one negative interaction (or turning away interaction). The 5:1 ratio of turning towards versus turning away in our daily interactions sets the stage for the same ratios in conflict conversations. In other words, your regular and daily habits of conversation directly reflect your ability to fight and manage conflict!  

We are introducing a lot of jargon today, and yet the general idea is quite simple. The aim in communicating better with your spouse is to learn techniques that foster a climate of positive affect and appreciation. Gottman’s recipe includes: affection, respect, verbal admiration, and praise.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • In what ways are you already providing a positive emotional climate in your every day interactions with your partner?
  • What are the areas in your relationship and the events during the day where you can make more deposits into the positive climate of your relationship?

Take as many opportunities as you can this week to turn towards your spouse in your daily conversations.

Next, How to communicate in your marriage Part 3- The Essential Skills


Rachael is the owner of Chicago Counseling and an experienced clinical counselor who has worked and presented locally and internationally. She works in the areas of counseling, community education, higher education, and supervision.

She is credentialed as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, and Pastoral Counselor. She has a holistic approach to positive health and well-being that includes the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual.