Does your marriage need a fresh start this new year?

Sometimes we get in these ruts where it seems like we’re always ticking each other off.

Think about it this way: How easy is it to turn an okay day into a horrible day? Pretty easy, right? Things are humming along and all of a sudden your husband says something that sounds insulting. You get your back up and respond in kind. He accuses you of not understanding him. And it escalates.

Today I want to share with you an idea that can stop that escalation.

The Marriage Check in: Improving Communication with your spouse

So before I give you my idea, let’s go back to first principles.

What is it that we want in marriage?


We want to be heard, understood, and loved anyway.

Certainly there are other things–we want someone to laugh with, someone to spend time with, someone to make love with. But ultimately it comes down to feeling like he knows me and understands me. Making love with someone you think doesn’t really know you feels empty because it feels like it’s not real. Spending time with someone who doesn’t really “get” you feels shallow because you feel like you’re holding back.

But when you know he understands you and knows you, then it frees you up to talk about anything without fearing that you’ll be judged.

That’s why when we feel as if he doesn’t “get” us it hurts the most

If we feel misunderstood, or that he doesn’t care what we think about something, then that can throw us into a tizzy.

Here, for instance, is a letter that a reader sent in:

Reader Question

Yesterday my husband was using our daughter’s new Nerf gun to shoot me with darts in the breasts and butt. I told him it hurts, I asked him to stop, I told him to quit. But whenever he hurts me, he doesn’t believe me! I lost my temper when he wouldn’t quit and whacked his arm as hard as I could. That was so VERY, VERY wrong of me! No excuse for my reaction. But I still feel somewhat violated, too. Shooting me in the breasts (especially while PMSing) is painful and embarrassing.
I can totally understand how upset she was. She wanted to be left alone, and he wasn’t listening. In fact, he was continuing to hurt her. So she lost her temper and went off the deep end, and everything escalated.

So what is the problem that she is facing right now?

It’s obvious, right? She has to get him to stop hurting her and to stop firing Nerf guns at her when she says no.

Well, actually, that’s not the problem, and here’s why: If she gets him to stop firing Nerf guns at her, he’ll likely still do something else that drives her nuts and that feels very embarrassing and dehumanizing to her again, because people make mistakes. And he obviously doesn’t understand the effect that he has on her.

So her problem is not the Nerf guns. Her problem is this:

When my husband does something that hurts me or offends me (which will inevitably happen), how do I get myself to calm down and how do I get him to see what he’s doing to me?

The problem isn’t really Nerf guns. The problem is communication. She needs him to understand what she’s thinking, and she also needs to understand what he’s thinking.

So here’s our new marriage habit:

Start a marriage check-in, where you set aside time to talk

Set up a daily time when you sit together for at least 10 minutes, talk about your day, talk about your feelings, and “check in” with one another to see how things are going.

Then, set up a weekly check-in when you ask for feedback about what could be done differently, and you talk about any big decisions that need to be made or any big tasks that need to be divided up.

A Marriage Check In: plan a time to talk about feelings, goals, and improvements you can make in your relationship!

Try to do it in the same place every time, so that it’s obvious this is our “check-in”. Maybe you sit in the same place, maybe it’s always at the same time, maybe you always have mint hot chocolate. Maybe, if it’s less stressful, you even go out for a walk and check-in! Often men especially prefer to talk when they’re moving, and find sitting side by side a little uncomfortable while talking.

It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it consistently each time.

What Do We Talk About During a Marriage Check-In?

Your Daily Check-in Has Just One Component:

You learn from each other: What’s going on in your life?

Now, that sounds like a really open-ended question, which can scare a lot of spouses and make conversation actually hard. Especially if the spouse is an introvert, they hear that question and think, “does she want to know EVERYTHING that happened to me?” Same thing if you say to your spouse, “what did you do today?”

So we’re going to make it simple. Instead of asking a big open-ended question, you’re just going to share your high and low for the day. When did you feel most in the groove, most energized? When did you feel most defeated?

It doesn’t take very long, but you learn what’s important to your spouse; and you learn about each other’s emotional well-being. And here’s a bonus: you get to process your own emotions, too! I talked about the importance of this daily habit in my book 9 Thoughts That Can Change a Marriage, too.

Are you PeaceKEEPING or PeaceMAKING?

There’s a huge difference between the two. And if you don’t get it right–you’ll never be able to feel truly intimate in your marriage.

There’s a better way!

Keith and I found that when we were apart for days at a time when he was on call in a different city, or I was travelling speaking, that this marriage check-in, even if done over the phone, helped us feel as if we still were close. It didn’t take long, but we still felt like we knew each other well.

For The Weekly Check-In, Add Two More Questions:

  1. Is there anything we need to decide/plan?
  2. What can we each do better in our marriage?

First share any business items–how are we going to decide on when to renovate the kitchen, or should we sign Johnny up for karate again this semester?

And now you ask the question: “What can I do better in our marriage to make  you feel loved?” Each of you asks it, out loud. NOT “what did I do wrong?”, but “what can I do better?” Let’s be positive!

I’d also highly recommend praying with your husband during these times, too. If you’re uncomfortable with that, here are 10 ways to make prayer feel more natural in your marriage.

My daughters have both lived in houses with three roommates, and every Sunday night they sit together with a cup of tea and chat and have fun, but then they also bring up house business–who has to pay what bill, whether the chore list is working, or other issues that need to be raised, like someone keeping their music on too late at night. It reduces friction because everybody knows on Sunday we can talk about this and get it sorted out. And it’s not all negative, either, because that’s also when they plan together and drink tea together.

I think that’s a great idea, and I don’t know why more couples don’t do it, too!

Let’s return to our scenario and see how the wife can handle this situation using a marriage check-in:

1. Remove yourself from the uncomfortable situation

If she’s asked her husband to stop, and he refuses to stop with the Nerf guns, then she can say, “You’re not listening to me, and I want to talk about this at our check-in”, and then just walk into another room.

Often to try to discuss something that’s very emotional volatile at the time will backfire. It sure did for this wife! It’s usually better to leave it for a little bit until you’ve calmed down. Defuse the situation by leaving.

2. Use the check-in to explain you feelings

After you share your highs and lows and talk about business, then you can bring up your feelings about the Nerf guns.

Say something like,

I worry that you don’t understand how rough you can be with me sometimes and how much I don’t like to be hurt. The other day with the Nerf gun is a perfect example. It makes me feel like you take joy in hurting me. Can we create a “safe” word so that you know when I’m serious and I really want you to stop?

It could be that he grew up roughhousing with his brothers, and so he doesn’t understand that sometimes he goes too far. My husband is often surprised at how little things can hurt me that would never hurt him, simply because he’s so much bigger.

But you don’t need him to understand that hitting you on the breasts really hurts. He may never get that. All he needs to understand is that when you say a certain word, you really want him to stop.

Most guys will totally go along with this, and if he won’t, then you really need to seek some outside help.

3. Ask what you can do differently, too

I really doubt that this husband was deliberately trying to hurt his wife. In the heat of the moment it may seem that way, but if you stand back and ask yourself, “Is my husband the type of person who would actually want to cause me physical or emotional harm?”, usually we’d say, “of course not!” (And if you can’t say ‘of course not’ to that problem, then read this post on Emotionally Destructive Marriages.)

So why was he shooting her with the Nerf gun? I don’t know, but it’s worth asking something like this:

You seemed to be having a lot of fun with that Nerf gun, even though it’s obviously not my thing. What do you like about it? How can we have more fun like that which we both enjoy in our marriage?

And this is so key to ask, because if a guy is doing that with a Nerf gun, there’s got to be a reason beyond “I want to bug my wife.” And likely the reason is something like, “I want to have some fun!” So affirm that need in him, and then brainstorm ways that you can have that kind of fun together. Maybe a pillow fight (with a safe word when it gets out of hand)? A wrestling contest where he’s only allowed to use three fingers and you can use everything possible? Sexy hide and seek after the kids go to bed?

There was nothing wrong with his initial instinct or desire, only with the way he carried it out. So just as he needs to affirm your boundaries, you can affirm his desires, too!

4. End with affirming prayers

And then, again, I’d really recommend praying, even just a few sentences, about how much you love each other and how to be more loving towards each other.

It really is that simple: create a time when you check-in and talk about your marriage on a regular basis. That way you deal with things as they come up, rather than letting them fester into something bigger. You learn more about how each other ticks. You feel heard and understood.

Most couples don’t set aside time to communicate, and that is a big mistake. When you know there’s going to be a specific time when you can bring things up, then it’s easier to let them go in the moment, and things often don’t escalate.

So start this year right and implement this one new habit. It will make a huge difference!

Let me know: Do you and your husband regularly talk about things? How do you make it a regular habit? Let’s talk in the comments!

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