Communication in relationships:

communication in relationships

Communication is key. Without proper communication in relationships a relationship is doomed to fail. But communicating in a healthy way with your partner can me more challenging than you might expect. It takes time, effort, attention and a lot of communication to find out what works best for the both of you. For many couples communication in relationships is all about talking, but there is so much more than just talking. Think of body language, communication style, attention, listening, emotion and honesty. They are all part of communication in relationships and these skills can be improved.
You can improve your relationship today by putting into practice some of these tips for improving the communication in relationships.


At Barends Psychology Practice, we offer (online) relationship counseling and coaching services. If you want to schedule a first, free of charge, counseling session, please contact us. (Depending on your health insurance, treatment may be reimbursed).


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1. Attention:

Attention is an important aspect of communication in relationships. Nowadays people are hiding in their smart phones, watch television, play computedr games or have their earphones in all the time. Your partner can tell you something about her day and you notice that he/she is talking, you hear it, but you wouldn’t be able to repeat any of it. You can imagine that this is annoying to your partner, and perhaps takes away the motivation to even start a conversation. Paying attention to your partner when he is talking is an essential part of communication in relationships. Here are some handy tips you can put into practice:

Pay attention to your partner:

  • Make time for each other. Switch off your cell phones, television and other electronic devices so you can be with each other and talk.
  • When your partner is asking you something, stop with what you’re doing and pay attention to what she asks.
  • When your partner is busy, wait with your question until you are sure you have his full attention.
  • If you are forgetful, then make lists and set alarms. This makes you forget less and sends a positive message to your partner.
  • If your partner is telling you something, allow her to finish her sentence or story, before you formulate a question. Often people who formulate questions while the other is talking, forget to listen to the rest of the story.

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2. Communication style:

Communication in relationships is for a large part affected by the way you talk to your partner. Are you equals in discussions or conversations, or do you talk to her as if she is a child or your subordinate? Is your communication style aggressive, submissive, passive-aggressive, manipulative or assertive? Communication in relationships depends not only on the way you talk to your partner, but also on the way you respond to her. If you respond in a very aggressive way to questions then it gives the impression that there is no room for discussion. However, responding to your partner in a submissive way may be seen as an invitation to take the lead in conversations. Communication style may lead to relationship problems when your partners prefers a different way of communicating. Using the right communication style can make communication in relationships go a lot smoother. Here are some handy tips you can put into practice:

Communicate like adults:

  • Find out in which way your partner wants to be spoken to in normal situations, when you are fighting or discussing with each other, or are in public spaces. Your partner might prefer different communication styles in different settings. Communication in relationships is all about being flexible. When you two are having a discussion or a fight, try to stay polite, don’t be aggressive, manipulative or submissive.
  • Avoid accusations and phrases such as: ‘you always, you never’. Because this is perceived as an attack by your partner, she will not even listen to your argument but focus on being offended.
  • Speak from your own perspective: ‘I feel x,y,z when this happens’. ‘To me it is frustrating when…’. This way you emphasize that this is your point of view and you don’t put all the emphasize on your partner’s part in the situation/example.
  • If your discussions/arguments always follow the same pattern, then try to look into the mirror and see how your input provokes responses. the submissive communication style can make others feel frustrated, guilty or have difficulty finding out what you really want. For the manipulative communication style: sarcastic and patronizing comments make people angry, confused and resentful. For the aggressive communication style: you may hurt or scare others, or make them put up a wall (of defence). These tree communication styles make good communication in relationships tiring and often frustrating.


3. Body language:

Communication in relationships is not only about talking. Body language is a very important part of communication in relationships, because it tells others (without using words) how you feel, think and if it is wise to bring up a certain topic. Even when you don’t communicate, your body sends out signals to your partner (so you are actually still communicating). Body language can even contradict the message you are sending out in words (shaking ‘no’ while saying yes for instance), which may be confusing to your partner. The good thing about body language is: it is extremely difficult to fake. Communication in relationships often starts with body language because your partner can see within a second if you are feeling well, if you are nervous, tensed, angry or anything else, just by looking at your body language. This body language message sets the stage for the following moments. Using body language in the right way can be a powerful tool to improve communication in relationships. Here are some handy tips you can put into practice:

Well done is better than well said (Benjamin Franklin):

  • Make eye contact when you are talking to your partner. Avoiding eye contact sends a message out to your partner that you are feeling uncomfortable, afraid, want to escape, are insecure or lack confidence. By making eye contact with your partner you send out powerful messages: you are interested, or emotional, or confident and so on.
  • Rolling with your eyes, looking away or grimacing is a killer in communication. It tells the other person immediately that you either don’t believe him, or that you disrespect him.
  • Tapping feet, checking watch or finger nails tells your partner that you are bored and want to do something else. If you are in a hurry or simply not interested at the moment, it is better to tell you partner that you would rather listen to her a bit later when you can devote all of your attention to her. This way your partner knows what he is up to and there will be less annoyance.
  • If you are having a discussion about something and your arms are crossed it’s likely that you have your defence up, that you are afraid or that you disagree with something. Your partner notices such things soon and this affects your discussion probably in a negative way. Also your own body language strengthens your feeling of disagreement or of your defence. This makes it even more difficult for you to listen to your partners argument or point. Remember that communication in relationship is all about the way you look like and behave. The smallest signs can already push the wrong buttons.

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4. Listening:

Another important aspect of communication in relationships is listening to your partner. Listening to your partner is more than just paying attention. Listening is ‘reading between the lines’, knowing when your partner wants something while she says the opposite. Understanding the gender differences may be very helpful. Men usually offer solutions when they hear their partner complaining, whereas women share their experiences and explore how they feel and by sharing ventilate their negative feelings at that moment. When it comes to communication in relationships this can be problematic. Men expect to hear solutions when they tell someone something, whereas women want someone to listen and to understand what she is feeling. When your partner shares something with you, please, focus on them. Give them space and time to talk and at the end practice the following handy tips.

  • For him: Don’t offer solutions, but instead be there for her, ask her caring questions or express heartfelt concerns. This is what most women want from their partners.
  • For her: Don’t express too many heartfelt concerns or ask too many caring questions. Men usually do not want to hear this. They want solutions, answers or just express their frustration about something.
  • For him: Don’t try to diminish her feelings or thoughts (don’t say that she is overreacting, that she is exaggerating). In stead: share with your partner, cooperate and support her.
  • For her: Don’t tell him what to do. Men don’t like it when their partner tells them what to do. Men usually go into the defence mode, become annoyed and sometimes do just the opposite.
  • For him: When your partner is down, please approach her, ask her what’s going on. Again: be there for her.
  • For her: When he is feeling down, let him be for a while. If he wants to talk about it, he will approach you. Don’t try to squeeze it out of him, because he will only withdraw even more.


5. Emotion:

Emotions are also an aspect of communication in relationships. Some people show little emotions when they communicate with their partners, while others show a lot of emotions while communicating. Sometimes it’s a part of the culture and sometimes it’s a part of the person. Adding some emotion to make a point is a good thing (think of: fist on the table when you talk about that guy on the road who almost hit you), it’s like coloring a black-and-white drawing: it adds something. But adding too much emotion can scare people away. Your partner might become afraid if you smash with the doors or throw cups and plates every time you are angry or have an argument. Using emotion during communication in relationships can be tricky to some people, but it is a skill that, once mastered, improves communication in relationships. Here are some handy tips:

  • Responding immediately to emotional triggers is dangerous. When you are high in your emotion you may say things you’ll regret afterwards. People who are high in their emotion have huge difficulty thinking rationally. Therefore it is wise to take some time before responding to your emotional trigger. Some people use a 48-hour-rule, some people need less time to lower their emotional state. For some people it is even wise to write down everything they want to say and then later pick those things that are really relevant (so leave out the emotional lines).
  • Try to see the bigger picture. What triggered your partner to get so high in their emotions? Perhaps it is an underlying feeling that triggered your partner. Perhaps the fact that you tell him that he needs to change, makes him feel small and not good enough. Or perhaps it triggers a feeling of being inferior to you which reminds him of his past and makes him angry. Or perhaps the fact that you text with a male friend may trigger thoughts of his previous girlfriend who cheated on him. It could be that your partner picks a fight all the time simply because he is actually jealous that you have (a) a job, (b) a lot of friends, or (c) a better relationship with your daughter or son. Basic behaviours and even comments may trigger something in our partners and make them emotional. Communication in relationships is for a big part about seeing the bigger picture.
  • Seeing things into perspective. When your partner is high in her emotions, she might say things that hurt you a lot. But try to see things in perspective: your partner probably does not mean much of what she says. There are a number of reasons why she might hurt you at that moment: (1) she is trying to hurt you back, (2) this is her defence mechanism for when things come to close, (3) she just needs to vent and uses the one she loves the most for that, (4) you pushed one of her buttons, or (5) you triggered something from the past. Try to see things in perspective: she does not mean what she says, even though at that moment to her it feels like she means it. So don’t take her comments too personal.
  • Timing. When you or your partner isn’t feeling that well, is stressed, angry or sad, it might not be the best time to bring up certain ‘heavy’ topics. When people do not feel comfortable or good, their emotions may make communication in relationships difficult because they might get easily annoyed, angry or are not completely focused. By picking the right time to talk about something you will see that communication is more effective. If it is difficult for you to time this well, perhaps it is an idea to schedule a moment in the week for such conversations.


6. Conflict.

Conflicts are very natural in relationships and they can be very helpful for a healthy relationship. Communication in relationships during conflicts is different than when people are at peace. People usually get very emotional, because your partner wants you to change, criticizes you, pushes your buttons, hurts you, and so on. Ideally people remain calm and talk things through, but we do not live in an ideal world. So here are some handy tips to improve communication in relationships during conflicts:

  • Don’t try to win the argument. This is the silliest thing you can do in a conflict, because it surpasses the topic, it makes your partner more defensive and less cooperative. Rather try to figure out What is wrong.
  • Realize that you might be wrong. Be open to the idea that you might have made a mistake, that you missed something or that you are simply not right. This way you are more open to your partners arguments. A bonus is: if your partner sees that you are open to the idea that you are wrong, he will open up himself as well.
  • Be the first to apologize. Apologizing is not a weakness, but a strength. By being the first to apologize you show that you are mature, that you don’t need to win the argument, and that you are ready to solve the conflict. Apologizing is the first step to solving conflicts.
  • Do not accuse your partner of anything. In a conflict you want to find a solution. By accusing your partner of something, she most likely will activate her defence and will focus more on defending herself than sticking to the topic. Instead, try to keep it personal. Try to express what a certain action does to you and how you feel about it. This way your partner sees the impact it has and sees that you are positioning yourself in a vulnerable way. Vulnerability in conflicts is a strength, because it shows that you are open to change, ready to solve the conflict.
  • Avoid “You always, never… etc.”. By using “you always, never etc.” you attack your partner as a whole. If you stick to specific examples you are only addressing your partner’s behaviour. On top of that, you avoid endless discussions about details.
  • No yelling, no cursing. Well… try to minimize it. Communication in relationships is difficult as it is already. Yelling and cursing usually doesn’t bring you closer. However, for some couples it really works to curse and yell every now and then. Try to figure out what works for the both of you.


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