Marital Relationships: Providing An Effective, Respectful Response

By The Rev. Brant C. Piper, Pastoral Psychotherapist
The single most powerful thing that you can do to get your spouse to be more responsive to your wants, needs and opinions is to develop the ability to react effectively when he or she is not being responsive.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet, in the heat of the argument partners find within themselves the tendency to either fight or flee. Neither helps. What is required is an effort of self control which focuses on finding a way to communicate needs and experiences in a respectful and effective way.

This idea is expressed in Developing Habits for Relationship Success, a guide for couples developed by Dr. Brent Atkinson. (

In this booklet, Dr. Atkinson outlines the following 6 habits that his research bears out makes for relationship success:

#1 – Avoiding Judgmental Attitudes

In the heat of a disagreement, one can too easily label the opinion of his or her partner as wrong. Don’t do it! This doesn’t mean you back down from your opinion, nor dismissing behaviors that clearly are wrong.

#2 – Finding the Understandable Part

If you want to receive understanding, first give understanding.

#3 – Identify the Underlying Needs, Values and Worries.

Don’t expect your reasoning alone to gain the agreement of your partner. What is truly significant is to discover and share the feelings and experiences behind our opinions.

#4 – Giving and Asking for Equal Regard

You have to work to be open to and understand the opinions of your partner. Just as important, you have to persist in asking for openness and understanding when you don’t feel you have been heard. If you don’t your resentment will sabotage of the relationship.

#5 – Offering Assurance

Offering assurances of both non-judgment and continued flexibility encourages the other to persist in efforts to make his or her needs clear.

#6 – Standing Up for Yourself without Making a Big Deal About the Fact that You Had To This is the challenge of standing up for yourself without putting your partner down. When you feel harshly criticized through accusatory words or a lack of effort to be understood, immediately stop the discussion to address these issues using the first five habits.

Don’t put up with dismissal or disrespect. Respectfully offer and ask for mutual regard.

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