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The White Water of Communication in Marriage

Hollie rafting the Zambezi (she is holding the blue paddle)
Hollie rafting the Zambezi (she is holding the blue paddle)

Fishing was fun but what happened next, I’ll never forget.

One warm summer day my dad, mom, younger sister and I went fishing at nearby MacKay reservoir. Usually we found a spot along the bank but this time we fished off the dam. I can’t remember much about the fishing, I suppose it was a lot of my dad baiting the hook with night crawlers and me casting them into the greenish water.

Not long after we started fishing a group of people came to play at the dam. They carried inner tubes and started swimming in the cool water not far from where we were fishing. I remember watching as each guy curled up inside an inner tube and rolled down the slope of the dam splashing into the water. It looked like fun and the entire group was laughing and having a great time. I’m not sure how long we attempted to fish while they splashed nearby; mostly I remember what happened next.  

One of the guys didn’t come up.

The laughing quickly turned to concern then to frantic searching in the murky water.

The next part of my memory consists mostly of the flashing red lights of the ambulance. I learned later my dad drove our truck to a nearby house to call 9-1-1. Emergency workers had difficulty finding the missing swimmer due to poor visibility. They eventually found him but he didn’t make it.

Experiences matter. Highly emotional experiences tend to hold enormous meaning throughout our lifetime. They shape us to the core and provide the backstory of our life.

To this day I’m wary of water sports. It took me a long time to realize how my experience at MacKay Reservoir affected me. I can’t even name the emotion related to the experience but my reaction has been caution. I get nervous around water and tend to be extra vigilant to ensure everyone is safe. That’s not exactly a bad thing and it didn’t really matter until my wife suggested we go white water rafting with friends.

My reaction didn’t go over very well.

My fear came out as disinterest. Ok, my reaction was probably stronger like disdain for her idea. Pro tip: never treat your spouse with disdain, it’s not healthy for connection.

The ensuing discussion was tense, my reaction was surprisingly blunt and raw. I was afraid but it was hard to describe in that moment.

My wife Hollie has a different emotional response to water sports. She had an amazing experience white water rafting in Africa. In the summer after her freshman year in college Hollie visited the country of Zambia for a two week long mission trip. During the trip her group went on a rafting trip of a lifetime on the Zambezi river near Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe Africa. They put the raft in at the base of the falls excited to experience the class five rapids. The first rapid was called the boiling pot where the river makes a sharp turn. They had only been in the boat a few minutes when the raft crashed into rocks and turned over. Everyone fell out and rushed to get back in the raft to avoid the crocodiles. Even when she retells the story she can feel the adrenaline rush. Hollie loves a thrill and she remembers her trip as one of the most awesome experiences of her life. Whenever she thinks of whitewater rafting she recalls the wonderful emotion of adventure on the Zambezi.

Our experiences and our reactions to them are vastly different. A simple conversation about the idea of going rafting touched on emotions from our unique experiences. Because our experiences and emotions were so different our communication regarding the possibility of a rafting trip missed each other. I was overly annoyed at her giddiness and rather than share my fear, I was irritable.   

Writing about the drowning and my reaction to it nearly 30 years later makes it seem easy. Like I’m super aware of every emotion from every back story of my entire life. I’m not. It took me a while to unpack my reservations to sign up for the rafting trip. Slowly over many conversations with my wife and years of self reflection, I was able to see how my experiences and reactions were related to emotion.

All communication contains emotion to some degree, especially in marriage. Emotions provide meaning to the words we say. The emotions you feel and communicate come from your past experiences and how you react to them.

To communicate better with your spouse:

Identify your emotions.

The simple (but not easy) step of labeling how you feel will help you unpack your reactions and how you communicate with your spouse.

Identify the source of your emotional reaction.

It may not be clear where your emotions are coming from but often there was some type of event or situation behind your emotion. It could be as simple as having an exhausting day which fuels your curt responses to your spouse.

Many couples go off track here and miss-identify their spouse is the reason for their uncomfortable emotions. It’s often a result of lazy introspection. HINT: The source of your negative emotion is likely not your spouse. If I had incorrectly labeled Hollie as the source of my emotion, that it was her fault I felt afraid, our communication and marriage would struggle. Viewing negative emotions as external to your marriage will help you come together against the threat. Viewing negative emotions as internal to your marriage will fuel conflict and disconnection.

If interactions with your spouse have caused serious emotional pain, please get professional help to provide a safe place to heal your marriage.

Share your experience with your spouse.

Communicating about your past experiences will help to explain your current feelings and behaviors. Identifying a situation or combination of circumstances will help your spouse be more supportive and less defensive.

Engage in new experiences. 

Be open to trying new experiences and new emotions. Your fear may be valid but don’t let fear paralyze you and limit your life. I’ll try whitewater rafting, it will be scary and I’ll probably never be as comfortable with it as my wife. But when I do I’ll experience new positive emotions and my fear will diminish some.

What is your white water rafting? What scares you but seems silly to your spouse? Share your experience with your spouse. Your communication and connection in marriage will thrive when you take the risk to share vulnerable emotions. When your spouse shares their experiences and fears respond with understanding and gentle encouragement rather than judgment and shame; it will make some wonderful in your marriage.

Go Deeper.

Learn more about communication in marriage with my new course 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage.

The course is packed with my best lessons on communication formed from years of working with couples in my counseling office. 30 Days of Better Communication in Marriage course contains even more information than I can cover with couples in the counseling setting.

The course is delivered to you in 30 daily emails which contain lessons specifically designed to boost your communication with your spouse. Each lesson includes an Action Point so you can immediately apply the lesson to your relationship.

Lessons Include:

  • The requirement for all communication.
  • What you see is what you get.
  • Getting comfortable with compliments.
  • How to know what your partner is thinking.
  • Reducing distractions.
  • And 25 more!

FREE BONUS: You can also receive each lesson via text message. If you are like me, you always have your phone. The text message option allows you easy access to the content on the go making it even easier to boost your communication today.

Click the link or photo to GET IT NOW

“I’m Sorry, You’ve Been Temporarily Disconnected”

guy with phone

The other day I was talking on the phone. It was a great conversation and I was chatting away until I realized the person I was talking to wasn’t there. I had no idea how long I had been talking after they were disconnected. A few seconds? Several minutes? When I realized I was only jabbering to myself I stopped. Communication cannot happen without relationship. I had to call back and get reconnected.

The same situation can happen in marriage. Married life is going fine until you realize you were disconnected somehow. Communication falters when you are physically or emotionally disconnected.

A disconnected marriage is like when you call someone and hear: BEEEEEPP! “I’m sorry, the number you are trying to reach has been temporarily disconnected.”

If you are distracted or connected to something else, like looking at your phone instead of listening to your spouse, communication doesn’t work well.

Don’t let your marriage become disconnected. Engage. Call your spouse back and get reconnected in your marriage. Temporary disconnection happens in marriage but you must commit to reconnecting for communication to work. Some couples end up talking to dead air for years without even realizing it because their connection is gone. Even the best communicators need a connection.

In marriage, communication is not about relaying only factual information, it’s mostly about relaying love. Maintaining healthy communication promotes good emotional connection. Then, emotional connection improves communication. It’s the wonderful cycle that’s guaranteed to keep you well connected in marriage. Keep the wonderful cycle going in your marriage and your communication will never feel like you’ve been jabbering to yourself.

lady with phone

2 parts of communication cover

I would like to share with you the story of Sue and Chuck and how their communication about flowers was about much more than simply flowers.

Their communication, and yours, consists of 2 main parts. First, the actual words shared, what I call logistics, and second, the meaning of the words, or the emotion the words evoke.

To learn more about Sue and Chuck and The 2 Parts of Communication get this free resource to instantly improve your communication.

Wild Style: Making Your Communication Match Your Desired Intimacy

Matching intimacy

Communication always happens within the context of relationship.

Communication needs relationships to exist and relationships need communication to survive.

Every relationship in your life is different. Each contains a different amount of shared history, vulnerability, mutual benefit, and intimacy, which all influence how and what you communicate.

The Mailman

The relationship I have with my mailman contains only of him driving to my house and putting mail in my mailbox. I respectfully keep the area in front of the mailbox clear to help make his job easier and if I happen to be outside and see him deliver the mail, I’ll give him a friendly nod or neighborly wave. The only communication we need to maintain our relationship is when I put the red flag up on the mailbox to alert him of the letter I placed there.

Communication Evangelist

Even advertising is communication in relationship. Hundreds of companies and brands communicate with me every day. We have a relationship. The best brands invest heavily into the relationship with customers by communicating the benefit of the relationship. Customers can become so loyal they view their relationship with the company as a part of their personal identity. For example, the most fanatic customers of Apple are known as Apple evangelists. Apple has built strong relationships with its customers through effective communication.

wild style

Wild Style

My son loves to talk to me about Legos. Our conversation is about the details of his “wild style motorcycle” and its multitude of guns, but we are mostly communicating about our relationship. The words are about Legos but more importantly the meaning contained in the words communicate my delight in him and his creativity, which builds our connection. I can talk about Legos with anyone. I’ve even had conversations on Twitter about Legos, but the relationship I have with people on Twitter is much different than the relationship I have with my son.

Marriage is a one of a kind relationship. Marriage contains exclusive benefits financially, sexually, and emotionally. Your communication must reflect the unique status of marriage.

  • Problems arise in marriage when communication doesn’t take into account the depth of the relationship. You cannot communicate with your spouse like they are the mailman. The lack depth will starve your connection.
  • You’re going to have problems if you treat your marriage like a business and your spouse like a commodity. Some people try to run their marriage like an exchange but often become control freaks and bankrupt the connection.
  • Parent child relationships are meaningful and precious but never treat your spouse like a child. Many marriages fall into that pattern of interaction which grossly distorts the relationship and often ends with much resentment.

Marriage is special and your marriage is unique. The level of intimacy in your relationship will reflect the level of intimacy in your communication. You must adjust the level of communication to match the level of intimacy you want in your relationship.

2 parts of communication coverI would like to share with you the story of Sue and Chuck and how their communication about flowers was much more than simply flowers.

Their communication, and yours, consists of 2 main parts. First, the actual words shared, what I call logistics, and second, the meaning of the words, or the emotion the words evoke.

To learn more about Sue and Chuck and The 2 Parts of Communication get this free resource to instantly improve your communication.


6 Affirmations Every Guy Wants to Hear from Their Wife


Ladies your words are powerful. And your guy is listening for your words. Sure, it may seem like he’s not listening to you but I guarantee he will hear your affirmations. Affirmations are simply saying positive things you know to be true. It’s much different than casual compliments, inflating his ego, or pandering. Sharing what you love about him is critical to a wonderful marriage.

  1. Your work matters

    Tell him you notice how hard he works. It’s meaningful for guys to know their work matters. Even if he doesn’t particularly like his job he will feel respected when you acknowledge that what he spends his day doing really matters. Say something like “You do good work, thanks for working so hard for me.”

  2. You have what it takes

    In his book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge explains every man needs to hear he has what it takes. It’s THE question all men are trying to answer. John expertly points out women cannot be the sole person to answer the question because the answer must ultimately come from God. We must hear God saying it to us. That being said, it’s nice to get a reminder from the person closest to us.

  3. Making love with you is awesome

    Sex is important in marriage. To really make his day, tell him you enjoy the connection of sexual intimacy with him.

  4. You are fun to be around

    Remind your guy you enjoy doing activities together. Find adventure with your husband and let him know you enjoy having fun. Simply say “you are fun” or “it’s great to hang out with you.”

  5. I respect your point of view

    You don’t have to agree with everything he says (and you probably shouldn’t) but being able to respect where he’s coming from will light his fire and motivate him to listen to your point of view.

  6. You are strong

    Sure he loves hearing how strong he is physically. Even if he sometimes lacks confidence and says he should workout more, he still gets a bit of a thrill from opening the jar of pickles when you can’t. Let him know you notice his strength in other areas; perhaps how he handles opposition at work, or how he stands up for what’s right even when it’s difficult.

Husbands who know how they are loved are better husbands. They are more able to respond to you in loving ways and are motivated to connect. Saying what you love about them is good, showing them you mean it is awesome, doing both will make some wonderful in your marriage.

Ladies, What does you husband love to hear from you?

Guys, What do you love to hear from your wife?

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She Sheds and a 3-Step Recipe for a Happy Marriage

Recently I came across this short article from describing a new trend. She sheds.

How my ‘She Shed’ improved my marriage

She sheds are a place, like a shed, designed as a type of hideaway for women. The separate place is intended to serve as a retreat in which they can reduce distractions and relax. The unique private place allows space to feed her soul and help her recharge.

It’s somewhat of a play on the concept of a man cave, a space where a man can enjoy “manly things” typically a big TV with sports or adventure movies playing loudly on surround sound. A man cave provides space for him to retreat into his interests.

I love the idea of a she shed. When my wife gets tired and overwhelmed with the three boys in her life, I’ll just send her to the shed. Oh, that’s right, I don’t have a tool shed. We keep the tools in the garage. Perhaps she would like to spend some relaxing time in the she garage?

She sheds sound about as realistic as living on the moon. Where are the children of these women with she sheds? I’m sure every mother would like (needs) a she shed where she can get away temporarily but is that even possible? Mothers often can’t even use the toilet without young children interrupting. I’m sure no three year old is going to understand and respect the intended privacy of mom’s getaway sanctuary in the back yard.

Kidding aside, this she shed seems awesome. The owner of this she shed, Barbara Techel, is a blogger who uses her she shed to write her blog and her books. Now that is something I could use.

My favorite part of the short article is the quote by the author talking about how her she shed has benefited her marriage. Barbara says about her husband John:

He “gets it” and understands that by honoring and respecting my needs, in turn, it makes for a happy wife. Which in turn makes for a happy husband. And yes, a happy marriage.

Now that’s a great 3-step recipe for a wonderfully happy marriage.

  1. Understand your spouse’s needs.

    Understanding your spouse may feel like an impossible task. Start by asking them. Say “Hey babe, what are your needs.” Perhaps not every spouse will easily articulate their needs. Our deeper emotional needs often feel risky to share. Our wants are often much easier to identify because they don’t have the emotional consequences or the risk of rejection. Communicating your deeper emotional needs is a skill you must intentionally develop. Sharing with your spouse on an emotional level will dramatically improve your connection in marriage. When you ask your spouse what their needs are be prepared to implement the next ingredient in the happy marriage.

  2. Honor and respect their needs.

    It’s critical, once you have discovered and understand your spouse’s needs, to validate them as important. It’s not enough to simply understand, you must take action. For Barbara Techel’s husband, John, it meant building her a she shed to provide for her need to have her own space. You don’t have to convert your tool shed into a retreat center or turn your formal dining room into a sports center man cave. For you, respecting your spouse’s needs could look very different. It could be providing relaxation for your spouse by putting the kids to bed while she enjoys a bath or taking a family vacation to the ocean.

  3. Enjoy a happy spouse and a happy marriage.

    The only part left is to celebrate and enjoy a happy marriage. I’m not sure about Barbara and John but I have a feeling they don’t spend all of their time in their separate spaces. Happy couples know how to connect emotionally and provide appropriate space in their marriage. They are happy because relational needs are met and therefore both their time together and away from each other benefits their connection. Perhaps a she shed will meet your needs and improve your marriage. However you and your spouse are able to meet each others needs, a happy marriage ultimately comes from wonderful connection to each other.

View the original article by Barbara Techel on her blog, Joyful Paws

Watch Barbara Techel being interviewed on Weekend Sunrise, the Australian version of the Today Show.

View pictures of a variety she sheds

Go Deeper.

If you want to learn more about how to communicate for better connection in your marriage you are in luck. I’m putting the finishing touches on my new course

30 Days of Better Communication 

30 Days of Better Communication consists of 30 daily lessons to help you enjoy better connection in your marriage through better communication. Launch date is July 1. Make sure to join my email list to get all the details and be the first to receive it.