Building a Great Marriage Part IV: Tone of Voice

In what ways does tone of voice matter?

Tone of voice conveys whether you feel positive or negative about something, and how intense that feeling is.

Positivity in tone of voice, actions such as hugs and smiles, and in words, makes communication flow more smoothly and affection grow more amply. Positivity enables partners to feel more relaxed with each other, which also helps them to feel flexible and eager to be responsive to each other’s concerns.

Successful couples convey lots of positivity. They often use phrases like I agree that…, What a good idea!. … I like that you ….. Thanks so much for ….. They smile, and their voice has a smile in it. Helping each other and responding to each other’s concerns also enhances positive feelings.

Successful couples also control the intensity of their emotions. If they do feel a negative emotion like alarm, concern, anxiety, or even irritation, they stay in a calm emotional state, expressing the feeling in words rather than by speaking louder or faster.

Marriage is for grown ups. Children often get upset, crying and shouting, whining or getting mad. The ability to stay in a calm and positive emotional state, even in the face of difficult situations, is a hallmark of maturity.

In sum, relationships feel positive to the extent that the couple communicates positive feelings. Every negative emotional tone is like rust on the car–it’s corrosive, not helpful. And relationships feel positive to the extent that the partners can discuss all their differences in a calm mode without powering over each other via emotional escalations.

© Copyright 2010 by Susan Heitler, PhD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Ryanne

    September 22nd, 2010 at 1:37 PM

    “Marriage is for grown ups”- I like that!
    Too many times you see adults gettting married who have yet to grow up. You know that marriages like that are destined to end badly.

  • Alister.M

    September 22nd, 2010 at 8:45 PM

    Spot on! I always tell my girl that its so nice to actually hear that smile in her voice when we speak… Gives me a lot of happiness and even if my day has not been great so far,it just changes and I feel much better and feel good about her and anything that we may be talking…

  • Amy H

    September 23rd, 2010 at 4:46 AM

    My tone of voice gets me in trouble every time. I can say something that I am hoping will get me by but the tone of the voice is always the indicator that maybe I am not being sincere.

  • scarlett

    September 23rd, 2010 at 6:18 AM

    I am happy to read a definition of maturity that I can agree with. Often people say maturity is not reacting to a situation. I say maturity is when a person knows HOW to react to a situation and not when their is inaction from the person!

  • Olivia

    September 24th, 2010 at 4:47 AM

    What happens when one partner is on board with this and the other always acts like a big fat baby? It tends to darg the other person down too.

  • Betty M.

    December 4th, 2015 at 10:57 PM

    I was “shocked” to say the least when I just read the caption line, the last time the this was posted! My husband and I have been together for 41 years and we have never argued the way we do now!
    OMG…I’ve been telling him for the past 5 years at least, Lit’s not what you say, it’s how you say it!”

    I must add that in my case, it’s also the look on his face…he looks so mean, almost like he hates me and that also turns into an argument…BIG TIME!

    I’m not innocent in all this but he was never like this before! In all the years we’ve been together, I have always apologized after an argument…he can’t seem to say the words “I’m sorry”. There is no way that in 41 years, I was responsible for every single fight…he just gives me the silent treatment and I don’t like that so I cave and I apologize to him just to keep the peace! I’ve suggested couples therapy many times but he says I need the therapy! I should disclose that I suffer from a severe anxiety disorder and was diagnosed with “agoraphobia”! I’ve been in therapy for years and years but now, it’s at the point where I would need a specialist to come to the house! It’s just too hard for me to leave my “safety zone” and leave the house for weekly therapy!

    So, getting back to my husband…I don’t know what to do? We had a huge discussion yesterday and he wasn’t talking too much because what I had to say…I kept it in for so long that eventually I just suffer from huge panic attacks and I get physical I’ll! I get the sweating, heart is beating out of my chest and I even have vomiting! At the same time, I’m crying so much while I explain that he rarely understands what I’m saying!! Now this happen yesterday and first thing this morning, he was already. at it again! I’m half asleep and just the way he starts the conversation, he insults me…what a way to wake up! I’m beginning to think divorce is the only answer! He’s retired and has Chrohn’s Disease as well as a heart condition while I have a debilitating mental illness! We should consider our health since we aren’t that young anymore!

    If the doctor could give me advice…I’d greatly appreciate it..I’m at the end of my rope…..HELP!

    Thanking everyone who read this “novel”, it was good therapy for me to write it down and as soon as I click on send, I know my problems disappear in cyber land so, thank you all for “listening”!!!

  • Dr. Heitler

    November 5th, 2010 at 12:33 PM

    I’m glad to hear how many of you agree that tone of voice does make a significant difference in sustaining positive feelings in relationships, and also that tone of voice is one of the indicators of maturity.

    @Olivia, you pose a spot-on question. Even harder than generally staying in a calm zone is staying there when the person you are talking with is emotionally out-of-bounds. My quick answer: Exit.

    At my website we have great interactive games (free! for your first two weeks on the site) that explain how to do exits to halt interactions with someone who is acting “like a big fat baby”, with unhelpful irritability, tantrums, or worse.

    You may not be able to change your partner, but you can change what you do when s/he gets out of line. If you stay too close or too long in a fire, you’ll get burned. Exit.

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