Improving Communication in Your Relationship

Whether you have a small disagreement or a big, nasty, scary one, most fights in relationships bloom from communication problems. With all my clients that come in for couples counseling, we start by evaluating and addressing the communication struggles before diving deeper into old wounds, personality differences, and other issues that cause unhappiness in the relationship.

This is the first baby step on the road to a happy relationship! Legitimately a BABY STEP- so bear with me if this sounds elementary. However, it’s the little (seemingly) simple things that we ignore or overlook everyday. Communication leads to emotional closeness, which leads to safety, clear expectations and intimacy. When was the last time you paid attention to how you talk?

Reality is perception. Joe may see a situation completely different from Sally. Couples too often get into power struggles with one another to determine who is right and wrong, instead of hearing their partner’s perspective, respecting it, sharing their own, and compromising to move forward. So, let’s use Joe and Sally and their recent argument about a work party at Sally’s job. Sally wanted to go without Joe, Joe feels hurt by this, and they fight.

First skill: communicating your perspective in a way that is not aggressive or blaming. I like to teach this skill in a very basic way: “When you ______, I feel ______.” Shifting the way you explain your side of things can be very powerful. Instead of coming off in an aggressive way: “Every time you are around me in public, you criticize me so why should you come?” to “When we are in public together and you criticize what I do, I feel I can’t be myself and have a good time.”

Second skill: validating your partner’s perspective. This is about showing your partner you not only HEAR them, but you are truly LISTENING. This skill goes by many different names including active listening, reflecting, affirming their perspective, etc. The trick is taking your judgement and perspective out of the picture long enough to show your partner you respect their view on things. This doesn’t mean you are saying they are “right” or that you “agree,” you are just confirming that they have a right to feel however they feel and that you understand them. Instead of: “I don’t trust you and you don’t want to do anything with me anymore,” Joe could say, “I can understand how you get self-conscious and those comments ruin your time out.”


Before skills:

Sally: “I don’t want you to come to the work party on Friday.”

Joe: “What? You’re my wife, Sally, get real.”

Sally: “You constantly criticize me, and I just want to have fun for once.”

Joe: “I commented on you drinking too much one time! You’re just making excuses to go flirt.”


After learning skills:

Sally: “I don’t want you to come to the work party on Friday.”

Joe: “When you go to events without me it reminds me of the time you cheated and I feel nervous that it might happen again.”

Sally: “I get why you would feel nervous. When we went out and you criticized me in front of our friends I felt so embarrassed.”

Joe: “That is embarrassing. I get that.”


Ok, so if both partners can get on board with these two basic skills, conversations and disagreements Couple laughingwill go a lot smoother. This is only a start to effective communication, so don’t read this and think you are now a conversational ninja. These are skills that you can practice every day in any interaction. Try to practice becoming aware of how you express yourself. Become an expert at labeling your feelings and validating others; then you can move on to earn your black belt.

The next steps in communicating effectively include setting expectations, compromise, and creating a game plan for the solution. More blogs to come: happy communicating!

Author: Kayla Coughlan

I am a mental health counselor who provides services to individual and couples in Wilmington, NC. My passion is working with people who struggle with relationships ranging from parents struggling with their children, to couples who feel distant or constantly fighting, to individuals who want to work on assertiveness or struggle with anger. Would love to hear from you about how counseling can improve your life (910) 535-1266.