The Two Little Words That Can Transform Your Marriage

Empty Nest Blessed by Suzy Mighell
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middle age man and woman on beach man wearing striped polo shirt woman wearing lilly pulitzer dress

Want to transform your marriage? We transformed ours! How’d we do it? By using two little words and by being intentional about how we said what we needed to say.

Bob and I have been married for nearly 33 years. Our marriage isn’t perfect. We still have conflict over issues we dealt with when we were first married! But, like any long-term couple, we’ve experienced our share of laughter, tears, joy, and challenges over the years. We’ve had to nurture and prioritize our marriage constantly to help it grow and stay strong.

couple at sunset on the beach

Wayyyyy back when we were doing premarital counseling with our pastor, he shared a word picture for marriage that we’ve referred to over and over again throughout the years: Bob and I are facing each other, holding hands so that our bodies and arms form a small circle. During the rough times, our pastor told us we always needed to choose to turn toward each other in the circle instead of facing away from each other.

middle age couple in swimsuits posing on the beach

Bob’s Aruba Blues Swim Trunks | Bob’s Navy and White Rashguard | Suzy’s Aruba Blues One-Piece Swimsuit

This is easier said than done! When you’re grieving, feeling misunderstood, or angry, it’s tempting to clam up, turn outside of the circle, and look for understanding or comfort elsewhere. But over and over again, we’ve talked about being intentional about turning toward each other. Rough times can change the way spouses communicate with each other, and we’ve seen some of our friend’s marriages never recover.

woman over 50 kissing her husband on the cheek

Bob’s Columbia Fishing Shirt | Bob’s “Life is Good” Cap | Suzy’s “Do More of What Makes You Happy” Graphic Tee (Lots of color options HERE!) | Suzy’s Tory Burch Logo Earrings

Transform Your Marriage: Make Gratitude Your Attitude

The two little words? Thank you.

According to a recent University of Georgia study, the key ingredient to a happy marriage is “spousal expression of gratitude.” For the purposes of the study, gratitude was measured as “the degree to which individuals felt appreciated and valued by their spouse, and acknowledged when they did something nice for their spouse.” Results found that feeling appreciated and believing that your spouse values you have a direct impact on your feelings about your marriage, your commitment to it, and your belief that it will last.

“It goes to show the power of ‘thank you,’” said the study’s lead author Allen W. Barton, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.”

woman wearing chambray old navy ruffle sleeve and ruffle neck sleeveless top and husband wearing baylor university polo shirt standing on a restaurant patio

Gratitude can help couples overcome negative communication patterns in their relationship that might be a result of the current stressors they’re experiencing. “All couples have disagreements and argue,” said study co-author Ted Futris, Associate Professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Georgia. “And when couples are stressed, they are likely to have more arguments. What distinguishes the marriages that last from those that don’t last is not how often they argue, but how they argue and how they treat each other on a daily basis.”

When we started prioritizing gratitude and saying thank you to each other, it transformed our marriage.

Transform Your Marriage: How & When to Use the Two Little Words

One thing is certain: it’s clear from this study that feelings of gratitude are not enough. We need to express those feelings. Often.

So, where does it start? I think it starts by making an effort to notice the good, kind, and thoughtful things your spouse does – even routine things like taking out the trash or mowing the lawn. Bob and I probably thank each other at least 10 times a day for little things! I thank Bob for things like listening well when I need to talk, for turning on my Keurig when he turns on his (I’m a tea drinker, and he drinks coffee, so we each have our own!), and for watering the flowers outside when they need it. He thanks me for things like hanging his towel on the hook next to the shower before he gets in, grabbing something he needs at the store, or helping him figure out what to wear to a party.

Oh, and guess what? How we express our thoughts and feelings matters too.

Transform Your Marriage: How to Say What You Need to Say

middle age couple on beach man wearing teal fishing shirt woman wearing sage green eyelet flutter sleeve shirt

Eyelet Flutter Sleeve Top | Classic Chino Short | Bead & Rattan Earrings

Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, pioneered the understanding of the importance of body language and non-verbal communication. His studies concluded that communication is 7% verbal and 93% non-verbal. 😲 (That’s my non-verbal communication emoji telling you that surprised me!) He then broke down the non-verbal components even more: 55% is from facial expressions, gestures, and postures, while 38% is from the tone of voice. 

  • The actual words we say. (7%)
  • Facial expression and body language—gestures, posture. (55%)
  • Tone of voice. (38%)

Bob’s Columbia Fishing Shirt | Bob’s Fishing Hat | Bob’s Polarized Fishing Sunglasses | Suzy’s Columbia Fishing Shirt | Suzy’s Sunglasses

Transform Your Marriage: Non-Verbal Communication

Researchers from the University of Southern California studied over 100 couples therapy sessions, recording hundreds of conversations and developing an algorithm that focused particularly on the pitch and intensity of voices. The study results showed that tone of voice was a better predictor of marital success than even the opinions of counseling professionals!

Think about that for a minute—those counselors had the advantage of also noting couples’ behavior, body language, and other communication factors! Moreover, a five-year follow-up confirmed the algorithm findings could predict improvement or deterioration in the relationships 74% of the time!

Bob’s Navy Columbia Fishing Shirt | Suzy’s Gingham Flutter Sleeve Top – SOLD OUT | Suzy’s Navy Rattan Earrings – SOLD OUT

The takeaway? How you say something really, really matters — especially in your closest relationships. In Luke 6:45, the Bible reminds us that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” I don’t do this perfectly, for sure! In fact, I often get into trouble when I’m rushing and blurt the words out before running them through my heart. (And I certainly not taking the time to think about my tone of voice or body language! 😬)

It helps if I slow down and think about my heart intent before I even say a word. Somehow, that seems to take care of all of the non-verbal communication really well. (Imagine that!😂)

Transform Your Marriage: Need More Inspo?

These are a few of the resources we’ve found helpful over the years!

What’s transformed your marriage? Or even just given it staying power? I’d love to know! Leave a comment, and share, okay? For us, prioritizing regular date nights has also been really helpful—even in the empty nest. Coming up next week or the week after, look for a post on Eight Great (and Unique) Date Ideas for Empty Nesters. I can’t wait to share it with you!

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Suzy Mighell

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12 Comments

  1. Shelia,
    Thanks so much for your comment. I love that you remind each other that you are on the same team! We say, “We’re in it together!” Gratitude=Joy for sure. Have a wonderful day! xoxo Suzy

  2. Jana,
    Thanks so much for your comment! I love it that you all are working on this! Bob and I say thank you for the dorkiest things – like things we would normally do anyway. This morning, Bob thanked me for emptying the dishwasher and I thanked him for wheeling the trash cans out to the curb – two things that we’ve each done hundreds of times before! Saying “thank you” is NEVER wrong and always means something special. I’m so glad you are finding it a blessing in your marriage and I’m so grateful to you for sharing that with me. Thanks for reading Empty Nest Blessed. xoxo Suzy

  3. I read how you tell the story of how you met, is a predictor of issues in your marriage. In a second marriage, I’m asked this often. I note how my heart feels and how we tell the story as a temperature reading of the relationship. Helps to be aware of issues to use all the helpful tools you wrote about.

    1. Jeanell,

      That’s so interesting! We laugh while we tell our how-we-met story. (I was dating Bob’s roommate! 😂) That’s such good advice. Thank you so much for sharing!

      xoxo
      Suzy

  4. Wonderful post. My husband always thanks me for everything I do for him. Every meal he always thanks me for fixing the meal. A few years back when whole wheat pasta first came on the market, I fixed some for dinner. It was terrible. The cardboard box probably had a better taste than the pasta did. My husband thanked me for the meal and then asked if we could never have that again! Something that my husband and I do that draws us closer is at night we always hold hands and pray together. A family that prays together stays together!

    Linda

    1. Linda,

      I couldn’t agree more! Prayer is so important. It’s so intimate to pray with someone, and that definitely builds a marriage!

      I love the story about your husband and the pasta. He sounds just like Bob!

      Thanks so much for sharing!

      xoxo
      Suzy

  5. Such a sweet post, Suzy! And very helpful and encouraging! The pandemic was actually great for our marriage. We had so much time to spend together – more than since before we’d had kids. I love the way Bob has embraced and supported your Empty Nest blog! Mark is my best Travel Advisor Cheerleader.

    1. Shannon,

      Aw, I love that! I think a lot of relationships grew during the pandemic! All I can think about is that I heard that we are in the middle of a post-pandemic baby boom, and I am so happy I am not a part of that! 😂

      I love that Mark is so supportive of you and your business. It makes such a difference, right? Bob is my chief photographer, advisor, and accountant! (And so much more!)

      Hugs to you both,
      Suzy

  6. Before I started reading this, I thought the two words were “I’m sorry.” They are almost as important as “Thank you.” I don’t need to be thanked for everything, but once in a while it’s nice to hear.

    1. Julie,

      “I’m sorry” is important too, for sure. I wonder if there are any research studies about the power of those two words! Hahaha!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Julie!

      xoxo
      Suzy

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