Communicating well is one of the most important skills any couple can have, and a key component of lasting, loving relationships. Poor communication is a common complaint of couples who split up and a source of frustration and conflict for those who stay together. Working with your partner to learn and practice basic communication techniques can help you build trust and intimacy in your relationship.
Here are some tips that can help you improve your communication skills and build a strong relationship:
- Make time to talk. Try to spend at least 15 minutes a day talking with each other. Put it on the calendar if you struggle to find the time.
- Share your thoughts and feelings. Make an extra effort to share the things that matter to you most.
- Be an active listener. Give each other your full attention, free of interruptions. Hint: Turn off the television, and let phone calls go to voicemail.
- Show that you're listening. Try repeating back what you heard through phrases such as, "So what you're saying is ..." or "If I understand you correctly, you feel ..." And be sincere — sarcasm might not go over well.
- Offer frequent praise, support, and encouragement. Studies show that couples who stay together make far more positive comments to each other than negative ones.
- Send text messages or emails, or leave written notes. Make a habit of sending "I miss you" emails or texts when your partner's away. Try leaving a note on the car seat that says, "I love you" or "Good luck with your presentation!" But take note: Writing out extra to-do lists doesn't count.
- Pay attention to your body language. Uncross your arms, offer a smile, and make eye contact with your partner. If you're really feeling into it, you can even lean in a bit when you talk.
Keep at it. Establishing good communication can take a lot of patience and hard work. The important thing is to make a commitment to change the way you communicate, and work toward this goal.
Helpful things to say when your partner has you flustered
Feeling cranky? Sometimes just a few small changes in what you say can make a big difference in how you communicate. "I" statements can help you express your feelings without blaming or putting your partner on the defensive:
- "When you don't call when you're going to be late, I feel upset because I'm not given the chance to adjust my schedule." Say this if you're irritated that your partner is going to be late again.
- "When you buy expensive things without consulting me, I feel like my opinion doesn't matter to you." Try saying this if you're fuming over the surprise purchase of that flat-screen TV.
- "I feel that I'm pulling more than my share of the weight around the house." You might try saying this if you're tired of mopping and dusting and wielding the vacuum.
Talking about difficult subjects
Every couple will need to talk about a difficult or painful subject at some point. These tips can make the conversation easier:
- Talk at a stress-free time. Avoid bringing up a sensitive issue when either of you is tired, hungry or pressed for time. Avoid talking about some issues when children might overhear.
- Keep your sense of humor. Using humor can break tension and help you connect through times of stress and pressure.
- Bring up one difficult subject at a time. Raising a lot of sensitive issues in the same conversation can leave the other person feeling confused and defensive.
- Make "I" statements. Be specific about how you feel. Express your feelings with neutral comments such as "I feel ..." "I'm concerned that ..." or "I'm worried that ..." instead of phrases that put people on the defensive, such as "You never ..." "You always ..." or "You're so ..."
- Talk about the issue, not who's right or wrong. Focus on finding a solution instead of assigning blame.
- Acknowledge the other person's point of view. Make an effort to show you're listening and understand, even if you don't agree.
- Take a break if needed. Take 15 minutes to be alone and calm down if your conversation becomes heated or you're on the verge of saying things you'll regret. Taking time out can help defuse a situation, but it will not resolve them. Commit to revisiting the issue when your emotions are under control.
When your partner won't open up
Here are some more steps you can take if your partner has a hard time opening up or seems to tune you out.
- Avoid making assumptions. You may think your partner doesn't want to talk because he or she is angry or upset with you. However, there may be something else — like an incident at work — that's upsetting your partner.
- Consider your spouse's family background. Serious conversations can turn into major arguments quickly in some families. Your partner may worry that you'll become angry or even walk out if he or she speaks honestly — especially if your partner's parents often acted this way.
- Remember that it can be hard to open up. Your partner may be worried about feeling rejected if he or she expresses views honestly.
Help is available if you have ongoing difficulty communicating with your partner. You can access free, confidential, non-medical counseling services through Military OneSource or through the Military and Family Life Counseling Program — contact the program through your installation’s Military and Family Support Center.