Communication: 4 Steps to Improve Relationships

In couples counseling, many cite communication issues as being at the forefront of relationship challenges. Giving/receiving the silent treatment, experiencing defensiveness, criticizing one another, and feeling misunderstood by your partner are a few signs that communication issues are present in a relationship. Every person has a different communication style based on several factors, including upbringing, personality, previous relationships, and beliefs regarding self and others. While communication styles can be varied, there are some common threads that unite effective communication.

Here is a list of 4 simple strategies to improve communication with your partner. Notice I said YOUR communication; not necessarily their communication with you. You cannot change others; you can only change yourself. However, in implementing these steps, you are ensuring that you are expressing your needs in a healthy manner.

Step One: Actively Listen

Sounds simple. However, it is easier said than done. Rather than listening, oftentimes we are waiting for our turn to talk. We may be nodding our heads, but inside we are formulating our responses, or in some cases, rebuttals. A lot of information can be missed by doing this. We hear what we think the other person is saying based on past experiences and not what is being said. You can improve your listening skills by pausing, exhibiting open and relaxed body posture, avoiding interrupting, reflecting back what the other person has said, and asking questions for clarification. Make it easier to actively listen by eliminating any distractions from the environment.

Step Two: Foster Empathy

Humans are self-centered by nature. We see things from our point of view day in and day out, so putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and viewing things from their perspective takes work. Fostering empathy often allows you to see a situation more clearly, it allows you to broaden your perspective and reduce anger, which has been proven to cloud logic and reasoning. This does not mean making excuses for their behavior. You are simply acknowledging that everyone has their own emotional and behavioral reactions that may differ from your own. From this place of understanding, validation, and acknowledgement, positive change can be made.

Step Three: Do Not Personalize

It is hard not to personalize someone’s actions when they affect you or even worse, they are directed AT you. However, how someone treats you reflects how they treat themselves. It has little to do with you, and everything to do with them. It is only personal if you make it personal. Do not let the words or actions of another determine how you feel about yourself. When you take yourself out of the equation, you can see things in a more neutral and realistic light, therefore moving you away from emotion and closer to logic.

Step Fourth: Use “I” Statements

The use of “I” statements helps decrease blaming while increasing self-awareness and personal responsibility. “You-statements” tend to cause the other person to feel defensive and/or shameful. An example of reframing a “you” statement to an “I” statement goes as follows: “You never listen to me” changed to “I am feeling alone and misunderstood; I want to know how I can communicate with you to gain a closer connection.” Reframing your language in this manner helps move toward a solution in a quicker and more meaningful way.

Remember, communication is not a one-way street!

These suggestions can be counter-intuitive. It also may be difficult to put these into practice if your partner is not receptive, or continues to communicate in a non-productive manner. However, by implementing these strategies, you can begin to empower yourself; ensuring you are communicating in the most effective manner possible to get your needs met.

If you find you have tried these strategies and are still having difficulty in your relationship, it may be time to try couples counseling. Couples counseling can be used as a great tool to address relationship issues before they escalate to causing irreversible damage. Contact our intake department to learn more.

Alexandria Baxter, LMSW