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How to Improve Communication Skills in a Relationship (video explainer inside)

Do your conversations with your partner lead to misunderstandings? Do you wish you could have a conversation that doesn’t end  up in an argument? In this article, we’ll talk about how to improve communication skills in a relationship so that you can strengthen your bond as a couple. We’ll cover:

  • Why communication is important
  • Signs of bad communication, and
  • Tips on better communication with your spouse / partner

Whether you live together or are in a long distance relationship, you can use these tips to build strong communication with one another.

You’ll get more healthy communication and relationship insights our book summary library as well as our founder’s practical video guides. Let’s get into it!

Importance of Communication in Relationships

Good communication skills are so critical that Dr. John and Julie Gottman, the foremost psychologists for marriage, can tell if a couple’s relationship will last with just a few interactions.

“Couples who turn toward each other remain emotionally engaged and stay married. Those that don’t eventually lose their way.”
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman

Improving your communication skill will result in a fulfilling relationship, with:

  1. Increased closeness and intimacy – the consistent back and forth between listening and expressing yourself brings you emotionally closer to your partner.
  2. Positive feelings and sentiments about the relationship – actively eliminating negative reactions will prevent you from bottling them in, and having more positive interactions will replace that negativity.
  3. Better problem-solving and conflict resolution – Teamwork in a relationship is better with good listening skills and open communication.
  4. Growing trust for each other – When you feel confident and respected when you express your thoughts, you’ll build trust for each other overtime, no matter what happens in life.

Identifying Signs of Bad Communication

The first way to learn what works is to understand what doesn’t. Poor communication often shows signs through:

  • Aggressive speech or raised voices (talking over your partner)
  • Personal criticism or name-calling
  • Bringing up unrelated, negative past events or mistakes
  • Sarcasm or jokes to avoid blame or defend one’s self
  • Passive aggressive behavior
  • Holding grudges or bottling up emotions from the past
  • Assuming what your partner thinks or feels
  • Brushing things under the rug instead of facing them
  • Judge the other person without hearing them out
  • Giving the partner the silent treatment or walking away to end the conversation without resolution

Keep an open mind and reflect on your past heated conversations with your partner. Ask yourself which ones you need to work on. You can also ask your partner for their views about how you can improve, and vice versa.

How to Improve Communication Skills in a Relationship

Difficult conversations happen when each side focuses on proving a point, or getting the other to do what they want. Conversations go more smoothly when you shift your goals from persuasion to learning. In Difficult Conversations, Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen explain how to do that in 5 steps:

Improve communication in a Relationship - shift to a learning conversation.

We’ve gone the extra mile to consolidate ideas from various books in our ReadinGraphics library, to share 9 top tips to improve communication skills for couples.  Practice them often so you can avoid arguments and deepen the emotional connection between you and your partner.

communication skills for couples - how to improve communication skills in a relationship with 9 tips

1) Prepare a Safe Space and Time to Talk

One of the ways to keep conversation clear is to remove distractions and lessen miscommunication. If you and your partner keep saying “what did you just say?” chances are the conversation will always go downhill.

A safe and distraction free environment is better for healthy communication, so you can both be physically, mentally, and emotionally present. Noise and distractions aren’t the only barriers to effective communication either. Stress is also a very potent barrier, and can negatively escalate conversations.

What this looks like in good conversations: You and your partner don’t have to repeat yourselves, and you avoid having outside factors affect your mood and reactions.

2) Set Clear Goals and Intentions

You need specific goals for life-changing conversations such as upcoming plans.

Without proper direction, you and your partner mind end up with a disorganized conversation. You might even get confused, wondering where you ended up and resolving nothing at the end.

Establishing shared purpose, values and priorities can also help before you start. With it in mind, you remember the positive aspects of your relationship and your shared long-term goals.

What this looks like with good communication: You and your partner will be able to resolve topics much quicker, without bringing up past mistakes or negative feelings.

3) Prepare to Hear BOTH Sides of the Story

Stay curious about your partner’s side of things, because what we know might not be the full truth.

Truth can be very relative, especially with couples. The longer romantic relationships are, the more assumptions we put into every interaction that you have with each other.

Listening to their perspective is more important than insisting on your own narrative. With your story and their story together, you’ll be able to see the bigger picture. It will be easier to identify points of miscommunication and gaps that you need to cover.

What this looks like with good communication: You and your partner will exchange your stories and uncover what really happened in your shared situation.

4) Enter Conversations with Compassion and Empathy

Without empathy, we tend to focus on our own feelings instead of acknowledging our partner’s.

“Empathy… calls upon us to empty our mind and listen to others with our whole being.”
Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

If you enter the conversation feeling negatively about your partner, you’re already less involved before you even start. Remember that your partner has good intentions, and approach them with compassion and empathy.

What this looks like with good communication: You and your partner will listen to each other more openly, and feel emotionally closer to them.

Our founder talked about these tips on her personal channel, GrowthGarden. In this video, we explore these four tips and how crucial it is to prepare for hard conversations:

5) Listen Well and Give Your Full Attention

Your undivided attention is one of the best gifts you can give in a conversation.

With your full attention, you are capable of listening to what they say and observing nonverbal cues. You’ll also be more interested in what they have to say, and giving proper eye contact to deepen your connection.

What this looks like with good communication: You end up listening not only to what they say, but also how they were said and feel more connected as you talk.

6) Acknowledge Their View

Practice active listening and acknowledge what your partner is saying, even if you don’t agree with it!

Instead of prioritizing on being right, counter-attacking or defending yourself, validate your partner’s thoughts instead.

Creating this feedback loop to clarify, seek elaboration and show understanding will ensure that you’re listening and receiving healthily and successfully. Learn more about this from our free summary of You’re Not Listening by Kate MurphyImprove communication Skills - learn how we listen

What this looks like in good conversations: Both sides will feel heard and engage more actively in the conversation.

7) Watch Your Body Language

Non-verbal cues are critical for effective communication. In fact, 93% of our daily communications are made through non-verbal language.

If you say you agree with your partner, make sure to show it in your body language and facial expression too. If you want to show that you’re listening, face your partner and meet their eye contact.

You’d be surprised at how much you say with nonverbal communication.

What this looks like with good communication: Your partner feels more engaged with not just what you send verbally, but also non-verbally.

8) Lovingly Speak to Your Partner

Your partner picks up not only what you say, but also how you say it.

Body language may be hard to achieve in long distance relationships, but with the right tone and volume, you and your partner will still have an easier time getting across each other.

In an argument, a couple might end up raising voices over each other without actually listening. Make sure that you’re speaking in a loving approach, and focusing on having good communication instead of trying to win an argument.

What this looks like with good communication: You and your partner can feel love and care from each other in the way you speak.

9) Don’t Be Scared to Open Up

Your partner will only understand what you’re feeling if you open up. As much as you would like to, neither of you can read each other’s minds.

Combine this tip with active listening from each other so you can improve your emotional intimacy through giving and receiving thoughts and feelings.

Marshall Rosenberg’s formula works well for expressing your thoughts and feelings in a healthy way:
communication in a Relationship - improve communication skills using nonviolent communication

Ideas from Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg

Remember to express your feelings with “I” statements too, instead of trying to talk about what your partner is doing (“You always do this”). The latter leads to personal attacks and is not great for healthy communication.

What this looks like with good communication: You’ll be less defensive and your partner will be more receptive to your comments and thoughts.

Our founder explores these tips more in her GrowthGarden channel, where she explains more about how to do active listening and how she applied the NVC model in her life:

Summary and Other Recommendations

Effective communication takes time and practice. If you’re still having communication issues, you can achieve further improvements through marriage counseling and couples therapy.

Communication shapes your relationship into something unique everyday and overtime it adds up. So make sure that good interactions outweigh and outshine your bad ones.

Aside from the books we’ve already mentioned in this article on how to improve communication skills in a relationship, here are a few others we recommend:

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