How is the current tone in your marriage? Does it have a beautiful sound or is it slightly off-key? According to Dr. Jim Burns, couples can’t always hear the negative tone that accompanies their communication, and it often creates ongoing and unnecessary conflicts. He encourages us to start by identifying key areas where we might be ‘tone deaf’.

“I now know what my issues are or my triggers, if you would; if I’m hungry, angry, lonely or tired. For me, a lot of times it’s tired. If I’m dangerously tired I go into sarcasm or pessimism pretty quickly. What I’ve had to learn to do is at least see how I’m tone deaf and figure out how to change that.”

Jim learned that he needed to be positive and adapt, even on days when he felt like doing the opposite.

“I call it positive adaptability. I got that from a guy named Neil Clark Warren who has been a mentor of mine for years, he’s a marriage expert and a Christian who happens to be the founder.”

“I said to Neil once, ‘what is the greatest trait of compatibility?’ He’s an expert on compatibility and without a pause he said it’s being positive and I would add being adaptable. He said stuff happens to everybody. If you’re not in a crisis you’re going to be because things just happen. The people who do well through those things, it’s because they’re positive and they’re adaptable. I think that’s part of the tone.”

“You’re setting a tone for a marriage, or setting a tone for a relationship that’s much more positive; you’re setting the atmosphere and you have to be proactive with that.”

By being proactive, we have an opportunity to eliminate unnecessary conflicts and set a positive tone in our marriages. Jim shares how his mom set the tone in her marriage and in her home.

“My mom could set a tone, not fake or Poly Anna, but she could set this tone where people were drawn to her. I’m sure she was mad at my dad and I’m sure they had their moments. But in our home it was a warm, loving place. I’ve tried to do that in my home with Cathy and with my kids. I want to be the person, like my mom, who brought affection, warmth, and encouragement. That’s really setting the tone and it’s a discipline.”

Setting the tone for your marriage

Dr. Jim Burns is President of HomeWord and Executive Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. Jim speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has over 1.5 million resources in print in over 25 languages. Jim’s radio broadcast is heard on over 800 stations a day and heard around the world via podcast at

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