How to Communicate in Your Marriage Part 3 - The Essential Skills

18 Nov
Rachael Miller, MA, LCPC, NCC, EAC, EMDR-C
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” - Proverbs 25:11 ESV

There are times in life where you just need to get back to the basics. So far you  have examined the areas of faulty communication in your marriage and learned the most essential ingredients for communicating well with your partner.

We will now cover three simple steps that create the skeleton, or framework for effective communication in your marriage. This has been echoed throughout history in effective communication courses, marriage enrichment seminars, and even parenting classes!

Some of you may be familiar with these steps, but have fallen wayside. We often get into very stable patterns of communicating and relating; however, stable does not mean healthy. Therefore, it’s time to review, revisit, return, or even hear for the first time the three essential steps of good communication!


Mirroring is also called paraphrasing or parroting. It is restating what you heard the other person say in your own words. Initially, this may seem pain staking, time consuming, and awkward. That’s OK!

After lots of practice, you will become so good at mirroring, or paraphrasing, that it will flow and blend right into your regular pattern of communication. You will also find that conversation will happen quicker and more effectively, because you both know for sure that you got it!

You can start by sharing with your partner the message that you want him or her to hear. Be mindful to use “I” language so that you are not immediately putting your partner on the defensive.

When you respond to your partner’s statements repeat back what you thought you heard. A good starting point is “I heard you say…”, or “If I am hearing your correctly, you said…” And then make sure you got it correct! “Did I get that?”, or “Is there more?”


This middle step is probably the most important of the three steps. Many conflicts, charged emotions, and difficult conversations can be diffused by a bit of validation. Often, when you feel invalidated or unacknowledged the feelings grow and gain power. Suddenly something that was not so important to you is very very important. You may find yourself repeating things, getting louder, and feeling angry!

“Many conflicts, charged emotions, and difficult conversations can be diffused by validation”

Your spouse experiences the same thing. Good communication requires validation, and it doubles as a solid deposit in the emotional bank account (see How to communicate in your marriage Part 2- What Matters Most for more info on the bank account). Try starting with these simple phrases, “I can understand that…”, “That makes sense to me because…(keep this short).”

Therefore, listening is not the whole picture when it comes to communication. Validation means that you are understanding of where your partner is coming from. It’s acknowledging her or his experience as legitimate, despite whether you agree or not. Which also brings us to another important point, validation is not the same thing as agreement. So if you’re tempted to discount what your spouse is saying, because you justifiably object…bite your tongue, squelch the temptation, and validate first. Your turn is coming.


Empathizing is all about putting yourself in your partner’s shoes. Imagine what it would feel like from their perspective. In a heated argument, this can feel really challenging. However, since you have already mirrored and validated your spouse, the last step of empathizing should now be within easier reach.

At this step, you are going to guess at what your partner is feeling. Pick two to three feeling words like angry, misunderstood, sad, lonely, embarrassed, stressed, or annoyed. Try out “That must make you feel…”, or “I wonder if that would make you feel…”. Then make sure you have it right!

If your partner has already stated how she or he feels, then simply re-validate that feeing. “So you are feeling angry”, or “I can see how you would feel angry, I might even feel sad in that situation”.


Take a few moments to discuss this with your spouse. You can even practice by picking a topic that is not too serious for either of you. Take turns going through each step with each other, and make sure you got it right before moving to the next skill. There is a summary of the three steps below:

-“I heard you say..
-“If I am hearing your correctly, you said…
-“Did I get that?
-“Is there more?

-“I can understand that…
-“That makes sense to me because…(keep this short)

-“That must make you feel…(pick 3 feeling words)
-Make sure you have it right

Now that you have finished the three parts of this series, take the time to congratulate yourself and your spouse on all the hard work you've invested into your relationship. Intentionality and skill building are essential parts of marital happiness, and you are well on your way! We wish you many many years of happiness and satisfaction in your relationships, and remember that we are always here to help!

Up Next, 10 Steps for Couples Conflict Resolution

Rachael specializes in the neurobiology-informed clinical practice of trauma recovery including psychotraumatology and neuropsychosocial interventions for social change. She utilizes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) for post-traumatic growth, stress resilience, and top performance goals. Rachael worked as an adjunct professor at Loyola University in Chicago, Illinois and Wesley Institute in Sydney, Australia.

Rachael is a co-founder and the Managing Partner of Clinical & Health Innovations at Impact Alchemy, the owner and clinical director of Chicago Counseling and a provider-consultant in EMDR. She is a Board Certified Counselor, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, and Pastoral Counselor. She currently serves on the EMDR International Association Board of Directors and Research, Education, Standards, and Credentialing Committee for EMDRIA. Her work has had global impact through the development of dozens of innovative community programs, education seminars, and intervention optimization projects across several countries.

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