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Improve Communication Skills With Your Partner

When I begin marriage counseling, I ask every single couple to identify their goals for therapy. The most common goal is to improve their poor communication skills. Often, couples find themselves having the same arguments repeatedly due to habituated patterns of speaking and listening. Improving communication involves enhancing both listening and speaking skills.

Listener Communication Skills

Many times, instead of truly listening, we are merely waiting for our partner to stop talking so we can resume advancing our point of view. This is especially true when trying to resolve conflicts. Couples can enhance their communication through mindful listening, which involves postponing the urge to push their agenda, at least temporarily.

Middle age couple sitting on couch talking.
Open, honest conversations builds trust and understanding in relationships.

It's also crucial to try and understand where your partner is coming from. This means making an effort to understand how or why your partner's perspective might differ from your own, perhaps due to past relationships, culture, or how the observed their parents resolving conflict.

Additionally, validating your partner's perspective is essential. This doesn't mean you have to agree with them, but acknowledging their feelings helps them feel heard and understood. Reflecting back what you've heard, and most importantly, the meaning of what you just heard, are key to improving listing skills.

To summarize the role of the listener:

  • Postpone your agenda and avoid talking over your partner.

  • Seek to understand your partner's perspective, even if you disagree.

  • Reflect back what you heard them say.

Speaker Communication Skills

When upset and seeking to resolve conflict, we often engage in problematic communication patterns. Certain speaking patterns, like criticism, blaming, and contempt (ridiculing, scorn, lack of respect), are predictors of divorce.

Using "I statements" instead of "you statements" can significantly reduce defensiveness. For example, saying "I feel ______ when you do ______" helps your partner understand how you feel without feeling attacked.

Starting conversations gently also helps. Instead of saying, "You embarrassed me and acted like a fool when we were out with our friends," try, "Hey, I have something I would like to talk to you about that happened when we were out with our friends."

To summarize the role of the speaker:

  • Refrain from criticizing, showing contempt, and blaming.

  • Use "I" statements instead of "you" statements.

  • Use gentle startups.

These skills, based on the highly reputable and evidence-based Gottman method of marriage counseling, are sure to improve communication with your partner. Gottman methods are available at Authentic-Life Counseling.

be in peace, diane


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