"We want to give the couples a better understanding of what is normal in a relationship," said Townsend. "They need to realize that every marriage is struggling at something."
Couples need to realize a few other things: men and women are different; there are communication skills that can help; there is hope that they can do this, added Townsend.
Before he shared the skills with the couples, he asked them to list what marriages struggle with. The responses included money, sex, kids, hobbies, addictions, time, schedules and in-laws. He pointed out that money is the number one issue that couples fight about.
Additionally, research shows that every child a couple has decreases their marital happiness by 20 percent, added Townsend.
But then he compared all these "issues" to campfire smoke.
"Smoke doesn't burn you, it just chokes you," he said. "The smoke clouds us and gets in the way of the real issues."
He says couples fight about the "smoke" and rarely ever get to the "fire" or the real issues so the real issues never get resolved.
The "real issues" lie in seven basic needs of a long-term relationship, which are safety, trust, appreciation, respect, validation, encouragement and dedication.
When couples fight about kids, money or housework there is always an underlying basic need that is not being met. That is where you find the real issue.
He demonstrated the "Get Real" method of communication, which can take a couple past the smoke to a better understanding of the real issues. There are four steps in the process.
It begins when one partner recognizes that their spouse has a high level of emotion. They can say, "It looks like you are mad about something," inviting them to talk. That point is a time for listening, just listening.
The second step is to "explore their story." Allow them to tell their story without judging or giving a point of view.
The third step is to "attend to their starved stuff" or where they are feeling deprived of one of the seven basic needs. Do this by accepting, acknowledging, affirming or apologizing.
Finally the last step is to "love them their way." Townsend pointed out that each person in the marriage has his or her own way of feeling loved.
For a woman it may be that she feels loved and gets her basic need of being appreciated met when her husband helps with the housework. He may feel loved and appreciated when she tells him that she loves him or when she goes to a football game with him.
Communicating this way takes effort and humility but Townsend says it can help turn a marriage around. And, according to him, "Hands down it is easier to fix most marriages than to divorce and get a new one."
The "Get Real" communication process is just one aspect of a bigger workshop he offers to couples who want to make their marriages better. The Davis County Community of Promise sponsored the workshop.