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The Two Magic Words that Changed my Marriage

Improve communication in your marriage

There are two magic words that, in an instant, challenged what I thought I knew about relationship satisfaction, my ideas about the human experience, my mental health, my marriage, and my life.

Two words that, in the moment they passed through my ears, gave me the deepest breath of validation I’ve ever experienced and then some. I finally believed we could improve communication in our marriage and experience a marriage where we both felt validated and heard. I want to give you the same gift, but before I tell you what those words are and let you experience the waves of validation and acceptance crash over you, let me set the scene:

I’m a transplant-working wife and mother of 4 who spent 8 years as a stay-at-home/work-from-home mom but in the last 2 years our budget and our needs (alongside millions of other families) drastically increased. It was never the plan for us to live on one income and when tough circumstances led us to need one parent home full-time almost a decade ago, I stepped away from my career and plans for grad school and I did what our family needed me to do. My partner and I communicated quite a bit and agreed this was best for all of us but it was still very hard.

For years, I carried the bulk of the mental load – I handled the meals, the housework, the errands, the appointments, and all the emotions of an entire family. My mental health began to suffer as I picked up the shoes and the toys and the scattered pieces of our hearts and family and gave everything I had into putting it back together. In truth, my husband worked just as hard alongside me and his mental health began to suffer, too. He’s given his all and I’ve given my all– I have loved it and I’ve resented it- I have felt so much joy experiencing life with my kids and so much shame and guilt for wanting something more or. It felt like a war raging inside me all the time, never fully satisfied and always with one foot in two separate dreams. 

When we decided that my working was the right next step, I felt resentment toward my partner for not making enough money and I also felt intense excitement that it was finally going to be my turn. I felt so confused and my marriage was really suffering. I thought that if I left our home full-time our kids would suffer and I knew that if I stayed home full-time my marriage and I would suffer, which would still create suffering for my kids. GAH.

And here it is; the crossroads I faced and felt so trapped in where I finally met the words that healed me and unlocked a fullness of myself I didn’t know was in me to begin with. Are you ready to hear them? I’m ready to share them.

BOTH & AND

Aren’t they beautiful? BOTH. AND. I didn’t have to choose gratitude OR grief. I didn’t have to choose anger OR joy. I didn’t have to choose love OR pain. I get to experience both at the same time and SO DO YOU. I needed to give myself permission to embrace and experience the both/and of life and so do you.

  • You can be both angry at your spouse AND still love them.
  • Your marriage can be hard AND beautiful. 
  • You can be hurt by your spouse’s decisions AND see the good they were trying to accomplish.
  • You can want emotional/physical intimacy with your spouse AND have moments you need to be alone.
  • You can deeply disagree with your spouse’s perspective AND validate their experience/thoughts/feelings without compromising your values.
  • You can be afraid that the next fight will lead to divorce if it doesn’t go well AND be brave enough to speak the truth and see what happens.

We had never been able to communicate so effectively before and once we started it just got better and better. Your marriage can expand to make room for BOTH your experience AND your spouse’s experience at the same time. It doesn’t have to be one or the other and, in reality, marriages run into big trouble when their marriage is only flexible enough to accommodate one partner’s experience at one time.

So, I’ve shared with you what the 2 magic words are, now here are 3 things you can do with them with examples of how it works.

1. Use them to validate your individual experience and heal the pain you’ve experienced by having to choose one or the other.

  • When I was younger, I didn’t feel like my voice mattered AND now I have an opportunity to change that.
  • I have never felt good enough for anyone AND now I get to see myself in fullness and beauty where all parts of me are welcome.
  • My parents never taught me how to communicate well because they always screamed at each other AND I can learn new skills and create a different future.
  • “That traumatic experience I had was horrible AND letting myself heal now doesn’t invalidate how bad it was then. I can let go and slowly take steps toward healing.”

2. Use them to validate your needs and your spouse’s needs at the same time by replacing the word BUT with AND when you ask for what you want/need.

  • “I know it is often difficult for you to share your thoughts/emotions with me AND in this moment, it is something I really need from you”
  • “Right now you feel hurt that I dismissed you during our conversation AND I feel hurt that you cut me off. That conversation didn’t work for either of us. Can we try again?”
  • “You worked so hard today AND we still need to cook dinner and help kids with homework; which would you like to do?
  • “Last night I noticed you were trying to tell me that we haven’t had sex enough lately because you want to connect with me AND I felt invalidated and hurt when you said that; can I share about that with you?”

3. Use them to explore when you’re making decisions together so that you both feel part of the process.

  • “It feels important to you to spend this weekend resting AND it feels important to me to spend this weekend doing house projects. Hm, that’s tricky, how can we both get what we need?”
  • “I need more non-sexual touch between us to feel connected to you AND you need more sexual touch to feel connected to me. How can we work together?”
  • “This $500 bonus check is really awesome! I am feeling worried that if we don’t put it in savings we won’t have it when we really need it AND you’ve been feeling like we haven’t done anything fun together in a while. How can we budget this so that I feel security and also you feel freedom?”

BOTH/AND thinking is MAGIC for marriage. You BOTH have valid feelings, thoughts, experiences, ideas, truth, wisdom, insight, dreams, goals, desires, and wants AND you both deserve a partner willing to create space for what matters to you. You BOTH have areas you can improve and grow in your marriage/lives AND you both deserve the encouragement and support to make those changes possible.

CONNECTION CHALLENGE

Substitute the word “but” for the word “AND” in your relational dialogue this week and see if you feel more connected and validated! 

Marriage365 offers videos, courses, and podcasts filled with practical skills and guidance to build stronger, more connected marriages. Learn more about our Membership.


 

Written by Anna Collins

Anna Collins lives in California with her husband and four children. She is passionate about her marriage, staying at home with her kids, writing, coffee, good conversation, and game night. Her life dream is to someday write a book and see it published.

 

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