Marriage Communication Exercises That Actually Work

Relationships are tough, and it doesn’t necessarily get easier just because you get married. Taking proactive steps to make your relationship successful is far easier than trying to fix it after it’s broken.

We are talking with Gaby Sundra, relationship coach, and owner of ForBetter.Love where she offers coaching plans and course material to help couples improve their marriage. Her innovate and fun approach to relationship coaching is something all couples should implement into their daily life.

We often forget how important taking incremental steps can be in bringing us closer to our partner. In this discussion we are talking about some practical ways we can be more open and understanding toward our significant other. We will talk about the importance of intentional communication as well as some of the common communication issues couples can face, and how to overcome them.

There is a free relationship kit available for couples at

This podcast is produced by BeFun BeKind Podcasts. If you’re interested in starting or growing a podcast like this one visit to start your journey.

Marriage Communication Exercises Transcript:

Brent: Welcome back everyone. Today, we are talking to Gabby, Sandra about building great relationships and communicating effectively in relationships, especially as it relates to marriage minded relationships. And Gabby it’s great to have you on you obviously have a lot of experience in this area. This is obviously your training but even more importantly, you have 25 years of experience actually working as a guidance counselor in relationships and working with couples.

And you walk through this in your own marriage and in your own relationship. And so I’m excited just to welcome you on. And I really want to start the conversation off simply by asking, why do you think communication is such a broad topic issue for relationships and marriage is why is this something that so many people deal with you think?

Gaby Sundra: Communication fundamentally is about getting your needs met and we all have needs we’re humans.

I like to use the model from Marshall Rosenberg. There’s a model called non-violent communication and he says there’s seven core human needs. And so when I work with my own marriage and with the couples I work with, we look at those seven needs and communication is about getting those needs met. Often we bite our tongue and then it comes out as a demand and then we don’t get what we want, but fundamentally, whether it’s I need space, I need time.

I need comfort. I want to go on a vacation. I want alone time. It’s all about getting our needs met. We all have needs and we all get worn down. So communication is not something that comes healthy. Communication is not something that comes naturally to most. I have a master’s degree and I’ve been doing this for years

and I

Gaby Sundra: still practice. It’s all about the habbit.

Brent: Yeah. And I think that’s something that a lot of us miss is just like anything else. Relationship is a skillset, communication, my goodness, is such a skill set. I have, I feel like I’ve had this conversation with several people that after we came back from COVID we had to relearn how to communicate in a sense, we had to relearn how to be social.

And so I think we miss out on that point as it comes to relationship, if you don’t practice it. If you don’t grow in it, if you don’t discipline yourself, especially with a marriage or a marriage minded type of relationship you’re not going to grow in communication either.

Gaby Sundra: Complaining comes naturally. Blaming comes naturally taking ownership, showing compassion. It takes not just practice, but I have it, my husband and I, and my clients, we play 90 day games, right?

Where we set our goals and we’re playing for 90 days, not stress stressing, we stretched, but don’t stress. And right now my husband and I were playing a game where no matter the conflict we get into high level or low level, we’ll actually use this particular tool. And we can come back to that later if it’s too much now, but we have a particular tool.

Within five minutes of conflict where using this tool, each one of us, it’s not because we want to it’s because we know it works. And we know if we don’t do something that’s by habit, not do I feel like using this tool? Should I use this tool, but a commitment for the next 30 days, anytime there’s conflict, this is what I’m in.

And that habit builds trust because with you and your partner and yourself, because you learn emotional intelligence and that just getting something off your chest, that’s not communication, that’s emotional vomit, and that you don’t want to do that on your partner. You’re under stress or whatever’s going on and you offload on them often.

They’re like, don’t take it out on me. And now you’re in a devolving. Conversation, but it’s really more aggression traded back and forth than it is true communication.

Brent: I think it also could depend how we interpret that could depend on our personal, just personality and how we respond to things.

I know some people that would be able to respond to emotional vomit, so to speak a lot better, like so much better than other people. And some people can not handle that. Like at all. And so if you understand that about that person you can really gauge how much someone can take. And I think, it comes down a lot of relationship.

A lot of communication comes down to understanding how the other person unpacks the type of communication style that you have.

Gaby Sundra: My husband used to say, and I think he got this from a course. He took once. People can hear anything you have to say, as long as you’re not making them.

So when you say some people can’t handle it, you’re probably the person communicating. Perhaps there is some make wrong in there. Some you were supposed to do this, whether it’s declared or implied. And if that’s why I say ownership is so important, because it’s the antidote to blame. If you take ownership for something and you express compassion in a conflict, most people can handle that.

The challenges most of us go into I want to get my needs met and, or I’m not getting my needs met and you get fatalistic about that, or we get aggressive about it, but we don’t often have really good habits of demonstrating and building trust for, your needs are important. I want to know about them and my needs are important.

But I do think that’s why I love this particular tool that I’m using right now. That when you use that tool, most people respond to it when you blame, most people are going to defend unless they’ve got a ninja level of communication skills. I’ve seen it happen before. I just read a story in the press recently, and someone in sports trash talked, one guy.

And instead of trash talking and back, on Twitter, he just said, the nicest thing is oh, I had a poster of you up on my wall when I was a kid, he just came back with him. It’s what are you going to do? It’s just so classy. I, so I do think that it depends on what you deliver, the message.

People can handle more than you think. If it’s not going well, you might want to look at your delivery.

Brent: Absolutely. I was reading some of your content specifically, and I know that you are very big proponent and to being proactive and getting ahead of a lot of these types of issues before.

Before they arise in real become problems. And so we’re going to spend some time actually focusing on conflict and what that means and unpack that a little bit. But I think that you get into conflict because of poor communication. If you’re a head of this and you’re communicating effectively, you can probably avoid a ton of conflict in the first place. And so let me just ask what are some common communication issues that you see a lot of couples go through that, that just breaks them down.

Gaby Sundra: It comes to mind is different schedules and different times a day. And what I refer to as office hour. So I’m a night owl and my husband’s a morning person, our bedrooms in our last house.

His office and the bathroom were attached. So he gets up a few hours before me. I’d wake up and I go into the bathroom and he’s already been working for a few hours. He’s got 10 things he wants to ask. And I’m like, tell it to the hand. I can’t talk to you right now on the other flip side, I’m working during the day, but my mind really turns on at nine o’clock and I’m checking things out.

So 10:00 PM comes around and I’m like, Hey honey, can my mom come stay for a month? And he’s whoa, I can’t, I’m just trying to chill out and end the day here. So that’s one example is timing of communication and. We’re dealing with some IRS hurdles right now. Do you just want somebody to spontaneously bring up the IRS?

No. So we actually have a specific time Fridays from 10 to noon. We have a meeting and we talk about money. We talk about our calendar and we talk about our relationship goals. And we find that with that intentional time to talk about all those things. It just removes all the tension and the stress of catching someone off guard when they didn’t want to talk about something.

And now we have a structured time. So timing is my first tip. The first conflict is notice what’s good timing for you. And what’s good timing for your beloved.

Brent: Yeah, that is really good advice. There’s a sit-com and I’m trying to think of the name of it, it reminded me when you just said, they were always having this sort of state of the relationship.

I always thought it was comical that they were having that.

But that is actually a really good idea. You just illustrated, the importance of just having some time set aside weekly, monthly, where you just sit down and say, Hey, regardless of what’s going on, regardless of what’s happening in our life, we’re going to take this time right here to talk about this specific topic and work through it.

It may not be something you like, or it may not be something I like. But we are going to spend some time and be intentional about working through this.

Gaby Sundra: My husband and I, and the client work I do is very intentional. And I once had someone say you’re so intentional, like it was this bad thing.

And I said I don’t know about you, but my willy nilly is a little stressed out. My willy nilly we’ll blame you when I’m cranky, when it’s not really your fault. So my intention is, I like to say, if you give, invest a little intention, attention and action, spread out over time, it takes your relationship work out of the work realm and interest to a practice and something that gets easier and easier to do.

When my husband and I first got together, we swearing was on the table. Three years in, not a lot, but it would get there occasionally only a couple of times a year and a few years in. We said, let’s just take that off the table. There’s just no more swearing at each other, no name calling, it’s just too much of a threat to our trust and our relationship bubble.

And we just took that off the table. And now every couple needs to find those. Couple of culture for their relationship, but there are a few givens. And I think taking name calling off the table was a really good thing we did. That was 13 years ago. Being intentional, I think is critical.

It’s not that we’re perfect. It’s not that we’re purist. It’s not that we work on it constantly, but we work on it regularly. We have daily practices, weekly practices, monthly practices, quarterly practices, and annual practices. And every year that we do that, they get better and more fun. And when I say practices, some of our practices.

Let’s go on vacation. We realized we went 10 years as, since our honeymoon, we hadn’t been on a vacation that wasn’t a business trip or a birthday or a wedding. So it’s not all work it’s the intention can actually be total inspiration and fun. In fact, I call them the three PS, the trifecta of an awesome relationship, playful, peaceful, and passionate.

Cause if you have a playmate and you have a sanctuary and you have a lover, like that’s all you need.

Brent: Absolutely. And I think that’s something we missed. I think intention is something that we missed in and I had a conversation recently with someone talking about.

The schedule that they have with their family, that they come together and they do like certain schedules for different things, basically, exactly what you just outlined for the couple they were doing with their family, where they have a game night and that a night where they like sing together .

And so that same sort of concept. And I think that, most people can miss that. They miss the intentionality of it. And I think also we forget how much, simple words can hurt even, really close relationships. Like you just said, you guys took some things off the table and you probably didn’t realize maybe how that was impacting each other or what was happening there.

But over time, some things build up. And I think one thing that is thrown around a lot in, or some maybe in marriages is, just saying, oh if you do this, or if you don’t do that, we’ll just get a divorce. It’s thrown around as a playful thing.

Gaby Sundra: Yeah. Threatening. The relationship is something that’s completely off the table. Even with the clients I work with that are about to get divorced when they come to see me. Cause often people don’t take action, even though all of my work is says, we’re proactive and create a vision and set goals.

Let’s do that. Most people come to me when they actually hear it some conflict, but they do agree to not only not pursue breaking up during the 90 day commitment, we make to work together to not consider it, that if it comes up, they have a mantra or something else that they say to themselves or a person that they call, or they get some coaching from me, but we get them out of that mentality so that they can fully invest.

And then in those 90 days are done, then you have 30 days to say, okay, is this enough progress. And then we do another 90 days. That doubt of the relationship, the threat of the relationship is corrosive because it voids the container and the container is what gives you the strength to do the work to become not just the marriage you want, but the person you want now, I believe in accepting your partner exactly the way they are.

And. We are growing with each other, ideally. And so I accept my beloved, but I also call him into his greatest self and he accepts me and calls me into my greatest self. So it’s a bit of a paradox, but threatening the relationship is if you’re doing that, I strongly recommend you take that off the table and don’t even do it with your friends.

Be careful who you’re venting with. We have a process called venting for victory, but a whole list of tips on who to vent with and who not to vent with because there’s healthy venting a very unhealthy venting that’s going to come back to bite you.

Brent: I think that one approach that a lot of people take in just relationship building is before they get in to, especially before they get into the relationship or the marriage they might be thinking how is this fitting in my life versus having the mindset of how can I grow with this person? I think that is a shift for a lot of people. I think a lot of people are not naturally in that mindset.

Gaby Sundra: My husband and I, we take, criticism even, helpful feedback off the table unless we ask consent is awesome.

So I have something I just noticed. Are you up for hearing it? My husband’s so much better doing that than. But otherwise we don’t give each other any feedback unless it’s in our goal setting meetings. So when we’re talking about goal setting, but we’d still ask, is this a good time for feedback? So it’s not when something’s happening and they’re irritating you, and then you say it out of your Taishan.

That’s just going to erode your relationship. Now, I don’t believe in walking on eggshells or biting your tongue either. You want to communicate, but you want to communicate, as I mentioned before, with the ownership compassion, and that third element of that tip is actually creativity. So in this circumstance, in any circumstance, what can I take ownership for?

Where can I express compassion for your experience? And then what ideas can I throw out there so that we could move forward creatively to.

Brent: I think that’s context is really what that boils down to, right? You are approaching it within a certain context and where that context is mutually agreed upon versus just throwing the context around and defining the context yourself.

I think that is the biggest difference between being impactful. With constructive criticism and being hurtful with constructive criticism, especially when someone is in an angry, in a vulnerable moment as you just said, you are waiting for a time that is really appropriate in the right context.

Gaby Sundra: The little kids know this little kids know when’s the right time and the wrong time to ask mom for something. shouldn’t say very young kids, they just ask any old time, by the time you’re 12, 13, 14, when mom gets home from work is probably not the best time.

If you can, whatever it is that you wanted to do that you think she might say no to. So it is again, it’s about that timing. As I mentioned before, Reading your beloved understanding them and not, and being more committed to communication that lands and gets results as opposed to communication.

That’s just like an ego release or scratching your itch. You were asking about common conflicts with couples and another one is introvert extroverts. And my husband and I very much have that one where I’m extremely social. And for him, it was like no house guest. Like we’re not going anywhere.

This is awesome. We just got back two days ago from a trip that I wanted to drive a car cross country and take a month and see all of our friends. And instead he wanted to make it a 10 day trip. So we compromised, but we did three cities in 10 days, which is way too much for him. Awesome for me. And it shows up in lots of different ways.

So those of you out there who are listening and are dealing with the introvert extrovert, it’s not you, most relationships have some form of a dynamic, even if they’re both extroverts are both introverts. That time of how much is me time, how much is us time? How much is family time? And I’ve really had to learn to not just.

Make space for my husband to have time alone and no guests and not traveling, but to embrace it and welcome it, and honor it as equally valid as my desire to go out and meet people. And it’s in that mutual respect that we find beautiful city. So we call it big toe. Both is better than one so that if we take what he wants and what I want, not a compromise, but the best of both bits, then we have something that’s better than what either one of us could have come up with on our own.

Brent: That is a really good way to approach that. You’re talking about the kids are able to communicate really well. How much of our life and how much of our communication preferences and skillsets are impacted from experiences. Kids don’t have that. They’re just all in. They don’t necessarily have a filter. They don’t have experiences to weigh them down. I love that

Gaby Sundra: Those filters that people have based on their past experience are of critical importance.

You yourself want to know what those are? Because it’s not the words. We have to do all this in coding. Have we heard what they said? I think I heard what they said. And what did they mean? And communication is so complex. Just assume you got it wrong, which is why it’s such a helpful tool in communication to reflect back what you heard and say.

Did I get that? It’s so important to do that. My husband’s really good at that. I’m not as much, but getting that feedback from yes, that is what I said is going to save you a ton of stress and a ton of time, rather than assuming what you think you heard from them and jumping in. That’s the traditional way.

Brent: Yeah, no, that is a traditional way that we do. And we think oftentimes that, because it made sense in our mind the way we said it, that it totally made sense in the mind of the person we just said it to. And I think some people, some personality types, are more often communicating around a topic, they’re communicating sort of an emotion or they’re communicating a certain idea.

I think that we need to do a better job. Number one, of understanding how the person is coming at something, but. Also, maybe just being a bit more. Possibly direct in communication. If you are speaking in direct terms, then you avoid having the concept of trying to encode things,

Gaby Sundra: right? Yeah. And coding.

The piece that came back, what I was going to say before is how one word can mean two different things to people. For example, just a couple of days ago, a conversation came up and I was my husband and I were talking to another person and sharing about, again, the introvert extrovert issue. And I said something to the effect.

Right now we have a big suite where my husband and I are living in a separate house where the family is living. And so he needs a lot of alone time. So I have to stay over with the family house if he’s going to get any alone time. And I do that about an hour every night, just to make sure he can be in his own space at home and not have me in it.

In fact, when he told me we wrote up our dream relationship, you said in my dream relationship once, three days every month, you’d leave the house. And I said, you went three days a month without me. He said, no, I want three days a month with me, with him, with his self. And so that introvert extrovert dynamic, we were sharing about how Raj has that need.

And I give that to him for an hour a day. The person we were talking to had a really strong, negative reaction to the word need. And the word give as in need made him seem needy, right? She was collapsing the word need and needy. And that might by me honoring his needs. Was me saying, oh, I’m giving that to him.

I’m looking down on him. So while we thought we were validating each other, her experience was that we were diminishing each other or that I was diminishing him. So we had to clarify that need and needy are two different things. So even that sentence. So you never know how someone hears something.

Okay. So I want to say that piece now to the being direct part. I’m a big fan of being direct, but being compassionate, some people say I’m just a straight shooter. Or it’s just business, which is really all a euphemism from about to be a jerk or I was just a jerk. And how we speak to people matters.

What’s that great quote. They don’t remember what you said. They remember how you made them feel. So can you communicate something to someone and be authentic and be true to yourself without making them. And again, that goes back to the ownership, but I’m a huge fan of being direct. Someone once said to me, Gabby, you don’t wear your heart on your sleeve.

You wear your heart on your mouth. If you bite your tongue and you don’t say things and you step over it and you step over it, it’s not good for you physically. It’s not good for your relationship. Intimacy is into me you see. So if you’re not sharing or if you’re trying to, point to one issue when it’s really another issue you’re talking about.

You’re probably gonna end up frustrated and not getting what you want, because it’s hard enough to get what you want when you’re being direct. Let alone, if you’re using euphemisms or even a small example, like a low conflict example, you’re out at a meal and your my, I had a boyfriend before you still always do this and he’d say, oh, that looks really good.

And he wanted a bite. So why wouldn’t you just say, oh, that was great. Have a bite. And I would always say, okay, got to break the code. Would you like a bite? And I wanted to share a bite, but it left me frustrated that he wouldn’t just ask to take it. And of course that applies in many more things.

Whether there some, a trip you want to go on or money that you’re not concerned about being spent or some change, you want to make it the house who knows. There’s endless elements for couples to get into conflict about the topic almost never matters, which is why I teach the tools, use the tools and the Yolo resolve the circumstance.

Brent: Yeah. You’re talking about just how one word can mean completely two different things to different people. It’s a wonder, we are able to communicate as humans at all. That was a really interesting point, but yeah, it is. It is complex.

Communication is certainly a complex topic to get into, but I’m glad we are talking about it.

Gaby Sundra: Communication isn’t something that you learn and say, okay, got it. Communication is something like a muscle that you need to exercise and build and get better at and be reminded of.

I like to say, I always say pick your prompts. And so when I have a communication tool I like, or something I’ll either put it on a post-it or even, do it on a program on the computer and print it out and put it somewhere on my screen saver. So the I’m getting fed these messages because I like to have fun.

I don’t like to work hard. I actually just like to have fun. So I want to sprinkle these things around that. They infiltrate my brain almost like I’m intentionally programming myself. So when I need that tool, the most it’s right there, it’s either on the refrigerator, on my phone or it’s now in my heart because I’ve been practicing it so much.

Brent: Yeah, I love that. What’s the saying what comes in comes out, or I don’t know what that analogy is, but I feel like that is a good illustration of that. Where can people find more about your information and follow you and your program.

Gaby Sundra: You can check out It’s not, but, but we have a special gift for you. So do /BeFunBeK ind.

Brent: Gabby. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and just unpacking communication because that’s the first step you have to communicate to be in a relationship at all. So thank you so much for coming on Gabby. This has been great.