Three Simple Ways to Improve Communication and Reduce Conflict By Nancy C. Anderson

When we learn to communicate effectively and honestly, we can lessen the conflict and increase the fun in our relationships.  These are three examples of how changing your communication methods can improve your marriage and create the fun, relaxed relationship you are longing for.

  1. Be Specific—Be Heard

A few years ago, I discovered a principle that’s spared me from hundreds of misunderstandings.

One afternoon I was frantically cleaning the house for our son Nick’s birthday party. Ron was sitting in the den reading the newspaper. “Will you please pick up those papers,” I asked, “and sweep the front steps? They’ll be here soon!”

“Uh . . .” he grunted, without looking up.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” I shouted as I sprinted up the steps to fix my hair and make-up.

Twenty-five minutes later, I came down the stairs, looked out the window, and saw a guest’s car in the driveway. “They’re here!” I heard Ron bustling around in the den as he jumped up from his chair, shoved the papers into the wastebasket, and zipped to the front door with the broom. He was sweeping the steps as our guests walked up the sidewalk!

He had no idea why I was upset. Later, when our guests left, I said, “Why didn’t you do what I asked you to do?”

He said, “I did!”

“But you did it when our company was in the driveway!”

“Yeah . . . so? You didn’t say when to do it.”

He was right—I didn’t. I had the expectation that he’d do it as soon as I asked, but I wasn’t specific on my timeframe. Here’s a news flash: Your spouse can’t read your mind. Now I say, “Can you do this by 6:00?” or “Will you be able to have this done by Tuesday?” If he can’t do it, he’ll tell me, and then I can either do it myself or make other arrangements.

By asking more specific questions and giving specific answers, we can eliminate many hurt feelings and unmet expectations.

  1. Give me a number

One of the simplest, and most effective, techniques of improving communication is the “Gimme a One to Ten” rating method. If you use this system you’ll eliminate a billion—okay, I’m exaggerating—arguments.

Here’s how it works: If your spouse asks you to do something and you don’t want to do it, ask him or her for a one-to-ten rating on its importance. If your spouse tells you it’s a nine or ten, make every possible effort to meet the need. But if your mate was making a casual request that rates a two or three, it’s okay to say, “I’d rather not,” or “How about a rain check?” or “I’d be happy to do that, but not now; how about next week?”

This can work on big issues too. If you enjoy your home in the city but your husband talks about living in the country, ask him to give that idea a number. Maybe it’s only a wish, and he knows it’s not practical (a three), or he might want to move next month (a ten). If you feel strongly about having another child, but your husband feels content with your small family, tell him, “This is a big deal for me—this is a ten!”

I was surprised to find out how much time I spent trying to please Ron by doing things that were “twos” while ignoring the “tens.” If you meet each other’s most important needs, you’ll eliminate much of the resentment and frustration that could cause distance in your marriage.

  1. Want to Please Me? Don’t Tease Me!

 Many couples tease each other playfully, and if you can keep it friendly, it might be fun. If, however, your humor is at someone else’s expense, it’s too costly. My husband is a funny guy. When we met, he was performing stand-up comedy in Los Angeles clubs like the Improv and the Comedy Store. He shared stages with some of the great comedians of the day like David Letterman, Robin Williams, and Jay Leno. He even took joke writing classes from professional comedian Steve Martin.

He was always looking for a laugh, so when I ruined a meal or gained weight, he thought of it as new comedy material. I thought his comments were insulting and cruel. We had some of our biggest fights about his definition of humor. After I explained how much it hurt me, however, he stopped making my butt the butt of his jokes. He’s still funny, and we often write comedy scripts for Christian plays, but we share the same rule: Cruel personal insults are not funny.

grass not greenerThese changes didn’t take place overnight. I think the issues related to teasing took several years to resolve. If I can see that Ron is making an effort, then I give him some room to fail occasionally. If I went “postal” on him each time he forgot, he’d get discouraged and stop trying. As you see, your mate starts to develop new positive patterns, encourage him or her. Notice when your spouse does it right and overlook an occasional slip.

Adapted from Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome: How to Grow Affair Proof Hedges Around Your Marriage (2nd Edition) ©2017 Kregel Publications.


nancy andersonNancy C. Anderson ( is an award-winning writer, author of Avoiding the Greener Grass Syndrome and a contributing author of thirty other books. Nancy and her husband of 40 years, Ron, conduct couples’ retreats and marriage seminars to help others grow strong “hedges” around their marriages. Nancy has been featured in national media such as The Huffington Post, The 700 Club, WORLD Magazine and Our Daily Bread.

Learn more at The author is also on Facebook (Greenergrasssyndrome), Twitter (greenergrass55), and Instagram (greenergrasssyndrome).