7 essential strategies to improve communication in your relationship
How well do you communicate with your partner? Do you actively listen to them – or do their words wash over you while you’re preoccupied with other things? Do you dedicate the time to regularly sit down together and just talk?
In couples therapy, communication skills is one of the most frequently addressed areas. This is because a lack of communication is often the cause of relationship stress and breakdown.
Why is communication so important?
When two people come together, they bring their own past history, experiences, and expectations along with different levels of communication skills. So, in many situations, one person’s ideal level of communication can vary from their partner’s. This is something we often learn to understand the more we get to know a person.
A breakdown in communication can lead to a person feeling undervalued and underappreciated. This can then lead to resentment and create a big barrier in your relationship.
7 essential strategies to improve communication in your relationship
If you feel your relationship communication levels need a bit of improvement, here are 7 strategies to get you back on track:
1. Be attentive and listen
In a relationship, it’s easy to ‘hear’ each other – but are you actually ‘listening’?
A great exercise to improve your communication is to summarise and repeat back to each other what you’ve heard them say – especially when talking about something important. This can greatly improve your understanding of how you communicate with each other and encourages new communication patterns.
Begin by picking a topic of concern, assigning roles as ‘Speaker’ and ‘Listener’, then following the scenario below:
Speaker – Share your concerns in a few short sentences.
Listener – Summarise what the Speaker just said and repeat back what you’ve just heard. (This is not the time for the Listener to respond.)
Speaker – Let the Listener know if your concern feels understood. If not, try repeating the concern again, but in a different way. Or repeat any parts that were missed.
Listener – Summarise what the Speaker said and repeat it back again.
Speaker – Confirm that your concerns have been heard and actively acknowledged.
Then swap roles and try the process again.
It can feel unnatural to communicate in this way to begin with and the temptation to defend and/or respond is common, but with regular practise it will improve your overall communication skills because you will understand/hear each other better right from the start.
This is a great exercise to measure the level of your listening skills in your relationship. You might also note just how easy it is to not really ‘hear’ or misunderstand each other!
2. Understand non-verbal signals
While in a relationship, non-verbal signals can be just as powerful as our words.
Some examples of non-verbal signals include:
Folded arms in front – Your partner might be feeling defensive or closed off from the conversation.
Lack of eye contact – If your partner is avoiding your gaze, they might not be really interested in what you’re saying, ashamed of something, or finding it difficult to talk about a particular topic.
Louder, more aggressive tone – This might mean your partner is becoming frustrated from not being heard or understood or is very emotionally involved in the topic.
Body turned away from you – If your partner’s body is pointing the opposite direction to you, they might be disinterested in what you’re saying or feeling closed off.
Familiarise yourself with what your partner’s body language is saying and try to communicate with them accordingly. Also take note of your own body’s signals and what message they are communicating to your partner. Do you do any of the non-verbal signals outlined above?
3. Be open with one another
Sit down with your partner and prepare to be completely open with them about the topic of concern. It might mean talking about things you’ve never shared with another human being before.
Yes, it means being vulnerable and completely honest with your partner. Yes, it means opening yourself up to possible hurt and disappointment.
But if you can’t disclose all of your thoughts and feelings with your partner, then you’ll struggle to develop a deep meaningful connection with them and achieve your relationship’s full potential.
It’s important to note that talking about our deepest thoughts and feelings is not something that comes naturally for everybody and it’s not always easy. It’s a developed skill and in many relationships we need to learn how to strengthen these skills to deepen our connection and communicate more effectively.
4. Focus on your affection and respect for your partner
We all go through tough conversations with our partners. But during this time it’s helpful to focus on your affection and respect for one another.
- Recalling fond memories where your partner demonstrated their love for you.
- Reflecting upon ways your partner has supported you and made you laugh.
- Focusing on the joy you bring each other.
All of the above exercises are more important than any conflict between you. And working through any issues together will lead to creating more happy memories in the future.
5. Take responsibility for your own worries and concerns
If you have something important to say to your partner, choose the timing wisely. Don’t just shout it out across the room or try to say it while juggling screaming kids.
Let your partner know you have something important to say and set up a time to discuss it. This can really help as it gives your partner the opportunity to shift their mindset from what they were doing and be more present and ready to listen. As a result, you are more likely to feel heard and acknowledged.
6. Be clear, brief and specific
Try and ensure your message is completely clear when sharing with your partner. Don’t just assume they know what you need or want.
Remember, we all have different perceptions on things based on our own life experiences. So take the time to ask yourself what you really want and need from your partner before approaching them.
7. Show appreciation, compassion and kindness
In our busy lives, sometimes we forget to show our partner appreciation, compassion and kindness – but this is so important for maintaining positive communication channels.
Aim to do or say something sweet to your partner every day. Here are some suggestions:
- Comment on how great they look.
- Acknowledge their contributions to the household.
- Give them an unexpected cuddle.
- Lie next to them on the couch – not on opposite ends.
- Buy them a random gift.
- Send a text message saying ‘I love you’.
If you’ve been in your relationship for a while, it’s not unusual to find you’ve developed some bad habits in the way you communicate. You probably think that you know your partner well, but often, and usually without even realising it, we start to make assumptions about them – instead of checking in or asking. This might mean you’ll react to your assumptions about your partner, rather than responding to their actual words.
If you need any assistance with improving your communication levels with your partner, feel free to contact me about relationship counselling on 0404 032636.
Do you need Counselling Support?
If you need counselling support, contact Kylie Lepri for a FREE 15-minute phone call to discuss your situation and find out how she can help. Call us now on 0404 032636 or book your free phone call online.
Kylie Lepri is a registered Counsellor, Psychotherapist, Clinical Supervisor, and Training Consultant. Since 2003 she has helped individuals and couples work through life stressors, develop new goals and create better relationships. Get Kylie’s FREE ebook: 5 Proven Strategies to help manage stress today, by joining her newsletter below.