Communication is one of the most important, yet often one of the most challenging parts of a healthy relationship. The skill of communication allows you to build intimacy and closeness, and work through conflicts in your relationship. However, many couples struggle with communicating their wants and needs, which can lead to misunderstandings, frustration, and hurt feelings. By implementing effective communication strategies, you can improve the health of your relationship and strengthen your connection with your partner. In this post, we will discuss three strategies that can help you develop better communication in your relationship.
Strategy 1 – Checking in
It can be challenging to carve out time to check in with your partner regularly in between the demands of work, school, hobbies and maintaining other relationships. This strategy is crucial to build emotional intimacy and closeness. Regular check-ins can take the form of a state of the union meeting, as suggested by the Gottman Institute.
Research by the Gottman Institute found that having regular state of the union meetings drastically improve relationships as it prevents issues from building up and creates a culture of teamwork as you practice solving problems together (Gottman, 2000).
This conversation would typically take place once a week for an hour with no other distractions. You start with saying five things that you appreciate about each other, and what went right in the relationship over the past week. Then, you select an issue or conflict to explore together. At the end of the conversation, discuss what each can do over the course of the next week to help each other feel loved. See the reference list for a full guideline on how to have the state of the union meeting (Panganiban, 2021).
Strategy 2 – Asking Questions
Asking questions is another important communication strategy. It is natural to make assumptions about what your partner is thinking or feeling, especially when you have been in a similar situation with this partner or past partners. It is important to clarify if these assumptions are accurate through asking questions. Asking questions helps demonstrate to your partner that you are interested in their perspective, and it can help you understand their point of view better (Gottman, 2000). This may also encourage your partner to get curious about your point of view.
Once you both understand each other’s points of view, you can begin to move away from “me versus you” and towards “us versus the problem”.
This partnership and teamwork lead to increased connection and improved relationships. In fact, research shows that couples who ask each other questions and show genuine interest in each other’s lives and perspectives have better relationship satisfaction (Driver et al., 2012).
A way you can improve this skill is take into account when you are assuming something and to confirm with your partner whether or not you are correct. For example, you could say “I’m assuming that you are upset with me because you did not respond to my texts, is that accurate?” You may be surprised with the response – perhaps they had a busy day and did not have time to check their phone. Alternatively, instead of assuming your partner is upset because they didn’t answer your text right away, you could also ask them if everything is okay and if they need support.
Strategy 3 – Expressing Needs
Expressing your needs is crucial for building a healthy relationship. Research shows that couples who express their needs have higher relationship satisfaction and are more likely to resolve conflicts and build a deeper connection (Rivera et at., 2019). One strategy to express your needs without causing conflict would be starting with an “I” statement instead of a “you” statement. Let’s take for example that you see the sink is full of dishes at the end of a long day. What response do you think you would receive if you opened that conversation with “You never do the dishes!?” This would likely elicit a defensive response such as “I did them on Monday!” or “Well, you never sweep the floors!” As you can imagine, this conversation would be on the fast-track to an argument. Rest assured, there are ways to communicate that would increase the odds that the conversation that will bring you closer together.
If you were to start with an “I” statement and say, “I would appreciate it if you could help me with the dishes tonight”, this would express your needs in a way that shows your partner that you respect them and reduces the odds of your partner reacting defensively.
In short, communication is the key to building and maintaining a healthy and strong relationship. By checking in, asking questions, and expressing your needs, you can improve your communication with your partner and strengthen your connection. Remember that effective communication takes practice, but it is a skill that can be learned and improved.
Driver, J., Tabares, A., Shapiro, A. F., & Gottman, J. M. (2012). Couple interaction in happy and unhappy marriages: Gottman Laboratory studies.
Gottman, J. (2000). The seven principles for making marriage work. Orion.
Panganiban, K. (2021). How to have a state of the Union meeting. The Gottman Institute. Retrieved February 22, 2023, from https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-to-have-a-state-of-the-union-meeting/
Rivera, G. N., Smith, C. M., & Schlegel, R. J. (2019). A window to the true self: The importance of I-sharing in romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 36(6), 1640-1650.