Communication Tips for Couples
About 80% of the couples that contact me for couples counseling state the breakdown of communication as their primary issue. Most of the times, communication problems are a symptom of a larger and deeper issue such as conflicting attachment styles, unmet emotional needs, lack of trust & safety in the relationship, infidelity etc.
Once the underlying insecure dynamic of the relationship is corrected & repaired, communication between partners often falls back into sync. One of the goals in couples’ therapy is to restructure the manner in which partners communicate with each other. In high conflict relationships, it is not uncommon for couples to get stuck in negative cycles of poor communication. Often, I hear couples complain about how they do not talk to each other in between sessions because they are afraid that the conversation might lead to a heated argument or an explosive fight. My goal is to get couples talking to each other as soon as possible, especially outside of therapy.
In this article, I am sharing some helpful strategies for effective communication that I teach couples to help them communicate both in and out of sessions. I invite the readers to try out some of the skills outlined here, by picking a relatively benign topic to discuss with their partner.
1. Own your feelings-
The most important guideline for effective communication is owning your feelings, thoughts and opinions- use I statements to express how YOU feel and not what your partner is feeling or making you feel. Remember, when you own your feelings as your subjective experiences, they cease to exist as universal or absolute truths.
2. Express yourself-
Expressing yourself is not limited to expressing opinions, beliefs or ideas. Expressing how you feel and your emotions is equally important. Remember to use I statements while expressing feelings or opinions.
3. Balance your feelings-
It is especially important to include any positive feelings while expressing negative emotions. Always dig deep and identify the positives associated with a person or a situation. Your partner is more likely to be receptive to what you have to say if you balance your negatives with a few positives.
4. Give your partner a chance to respond-
It is best to organize your thoughts and feelings as a series of paragraphs. Express one main point along with an explanation or description and then give your partner a chance to respond. A long speech without any breaks is more likely to result in your listener losing interest or their ability to focus on the topic at hand.
5. It’s not what you say, it’s how and when you say it-
In order to be effective in the delivery of your message, you have to be mindful of the manner in which you are delivering it as well as the time you pick to do so. Defensiveness in your partner can be minimized if you skillfully express yourself at an appropriate time.
6. Responsive listening-
Acknowledge & accept your partner’s right to their feelings, thoughts, opinions, beliefs and convey that acceptance through your body language, eye contact, touch, tone of voice and posture.
7. Try on your partner’s shoes-
See what it’s like to be in your partner’s shoes- empathize, empathize, empathize. Look at the situation or issue from your partner’s perspective and try to connect with their feelings and thoughts from their vantage point.
8. Reflective listening-
When your partner finishes a paragraph of their feelings or thoughts, become a mirror and reflect back what they expressed. By summarizing your partner’s most important feelings, desires and conflicts, you show them that you are in tune with their feelings, their feelings are very important to you and they have your undivided attention.
9. What not to do-
While your partner is speaking, do not interrupt to ask questions or to express your response. Wait for them to finish, reflect what they expressed and then state your response. Don’t put words in your partner’s mouth or make assumptions about what they are feelings. Also, don’t judge their feelings or jump to offering solutions right away.
Written by: Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., L.P.C.C. specializing in sex therapy, couples therapy & marriage counseling, premarital counseling, individual relationship therapy & LGBTQQI couples counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay, in Dublin & Oakland.
If you and your partner would like to learn more about effective communication and how to strengthen your relationship, couples/marriage counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay can help. Dr. Clark utilizes an integrative approach to help couples strengthen all facets of their relationship.
Call 925-400-3541 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 15 minute phone consult or fill out the contact form and you will be contacted within 12-24 hours.