Ten Tips for Better Couple’s Communication

“We never talk anymore!” Sound familiar?

Communication issues are one of the most common relationship problems. But there is good news. If you and your partner commit to to making some of these changes, with a bit of practice, you will likely feel closer, have more fun and be a more effective problem solving team.

You certainly can come in and talk to one of us if you run into trouble. But improved communication doesn’t always need a coach or facilitator. This is not extreme sports – You can try this at home.

1. Don’t wait – make the first move.

Your changed behavior is likely to offer your partner an opportunity to make a change. Be brave! Don’t expect a response right away but try one of the following items on the list and see what happens. If one partner changes how they move in a relationship it is really hard for the other person to stay stuck in the same old place.

2. Catch your partner doing something right.

Experiments show that if a person is rewarded for doing something, they will do more and more of it. If your partner is doing something that you enjoy – the quickest way to get them to do more of it is to shine the light on that behavior. Be specific and thank them for it. Plus – we are all more motivated to change and feel more hopeful when we think we can succeed than when we are feeling hopeless. So add some more “Thanks for listening, ..taking out the trash, … great job with the kids.”

3. Really listen.

There is a technique many people have been trained to use at work called “Active Listening.” When you practice Active Listening, before you say your part, you repeat back your partner’s feelings or point of view. This works at home! I am amazed when couples try this how much closer they become and how much more effective they get as problem solvers. Now this does not mean parroting back what they say as if you are a robot. In your own words, you say back what they shared. You don’t need to agree with their point of view or their feelings. You are just letting them know you cared enough to really pay attention.

4. Share your feelings.

Communication rapidly shifts and becomes more intimate and supportive when members of a couple share true feelings and make themselves more vulnerable to their partners. Be brave – try this. If you are lucky enough to have your partner share their feelings with you, make sure you Really Listen (see above). If your partner shares a feeling NEVER say they are wrong to feel that way, because after all, feelings are feelings. Even if you don’t feel that way, it doesn’t mean that they don’t feel that way. In fact, feelings are not objective things which can be right or wrong anyway

5. Understand that having conflict is not bad.

It is ok to have disagreements. Some couples make the mistake of avoiding conflict until the issues multiply or get too hot to handle. Couples who do this tend to drift apart or they tend to have harmful, unpleasant arguments. Dealing with issues as they come up keeps the heat out and allows clearer thinking and problem solving. Use the techniques above: Really Listen, Share your feelings. Make the topic just the issue of the moment not all the 100 issues from the past 10 years. And – it is ok to take a break. Research shows that people cannot listen effectively if they become too angry or emotional. If you feel this happening to you, try: “I can’t really think clearly or hear you now, I need to take a break to calm down. Can we talk about this again after dinner?”

6. Don’t complain. Roll the imaginary videotape and suggest a new way of acting.

Don’t complain about your partner’s personality. The bad news is they are likely not going to be able to change that. The good news? Most people are able to change their behavior with some effort. If there is a particular something that your partner does that is upsetting, be specific. Describe it just as if you were seeing it roll on tape. Then take a risk and suggest an alternative that would work better for you. “Honey, I really don’t like that we were late again for our appointment. I would appreciate a change in that behavior. What if we set an alarm 30 minutes before we have to get in the car so we know we have enough time?” And, if your partner is brave enough to try it out, you get a chance to try tip number two above: Catch them doing something right.

7. Negotiate

Each give a little. Take turns. Meet in the middle. Come up with an alternative. Take a break and try again.

8. Always avoid the word “Always.” Never use the word “Never.”

These words are vague and imprecise and definitely contribute to feeling hopeless.

9. Have fun.

If you don’t spend time with your partner you cannot know them. Do things together that remind you why you chose them in the first place. Go on a date, a walk, hold hands.

10. Be patient.

Change isn’t easy but it is possible. Keep trying the different techniques above. Research shows that if you perform a new behavior and do it for 30 days, you will develop a new routine and the behavior will become second nature to you.

Susan Borchert, Ph.D. is a founding partner at Counseling Associates and a licensed psychologist. Her areas of clinical specialty include couples therapy, anxiety and depression, women’s issues, and work/career counseling.

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