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5 Important Tips to Communicate With Your Spouse

A individual with relationship trouble looking for ways to communicate with their partner.

You already know that communication is foundational to creating and sustaining healthy relationships. There are tons of resources out there offering sound theory for how to communicate effectively. But if you’re anything like me, you’ve also learned that executing these tools when the relational stakes are high is easier said than done (and I’m a relationship therapist)! 

This is often because communication is so much more than what we are saying to each other. In fact, the majority of our communication is nonverbal. Your past experiences, attachment styles, worldviews, etc. all influence the meaning of what you are saying and how you are perceiving what is being said to you. Not to mention the overwhelming amount of input you get from your own nervous system, especially when engaging in conflict. With all of this going on behind the scenes, it’s no wonder communication can feel unpredictable and risky. 

Some of my favorite tools for supporting healthy communication come from Gottman Method Couples Therapy. After decades of longitudinal research, the Gottmans were eventually able to predict divorce and stability of relationships with a very high degree of accuracy. While it’s impossible for a short list of tips to support the breadth of potential communication challenges, it could give you a helpful place to start.

Know When to Pause

A individual with relationship trouble looking to communicate with their partner.

Diffuse physiological arousal (DPA) or flooding occurs when our nervous system is trying to help us deal with an “emergency”. While a conversation with your partner(s) ideally would not sound this internal alarm system, it happens often. It is critical to recognize when this occurs so you can pause your conversation.

You might notice yourself having elevated heart rate or breathing patterns, sweating, yelling or completely shutting down, repetition or an inability to think or hear clearly. If you’re noticing these patterns in you or your partner(s), it’s time for a break. If this creates anxiety for you or your partner(s), I recommend setting a time to come back to the conversation after at least 20 minutes of cooling down but within 24 hours if possible.

Soften Your Start-up

Leading with accusations, blame, or assumptions about your partner can derail a conversation from the start. Checking in with yourself about what is most important to communicate first and why can promote openness, curiosity, and elicit care from the listener.

My favorite approach is leading with my own feelings or experience (without blame) and asking my partner(s) to strategize with me for different future outcomes. An example could be, "I feel overwhelmed when the house is in disarray. Can we find a system for keeping it tidy that works for both of us?"

From Blame Game to Meaning Detective

One of the biggest traps in relationships is thinking that if your partner changes, you will feel better or xyz issues will improve. This perspective undermines essential communication strategies like collaboration and generates feelings of competition. If everyone is busy avoiding taking responsibility for their part, you can’t get to the really good stuff, the meaning behind what is being said or felt.

Think of yourself as a detective on a mission to uncover these hidden messages. The investigation starts with YOU! The more clearly you can communicate what you’re experiencing, wanting, feeling, needing, etc. the more likely your partner is to hear you accurately. If your partner is struggling to articulate their experience, what emotions might be fueling their words and actions? What unmet desire might be lurking beneath their frustration? Ask open-ended questions to understand their perspective (and your own).

Achieve Understanding Before Seeking Solutions

A individual with relationship trouble looking for tips to communicate with their partner better

Active listening skills are a superpower in any relationship. If your partner comes to you with a complaint or issue, put away distractions, make eye contact, avoid interrupting, and truly focus on trying to understand what your partner means. To make sure you are getting it, paraphrase what you've heard and ask them to clarify to ensure you’ve got it right.

Don’t move on to your perspective or other topics until your partner feels fully understood. This builds trust and promotes a culture of collaboration. Once you can both summarize the other’s point of view, then you can start strategizing with the same goal(s) in mind.

Keep the Spark Alive

Wear and tear in relationships is real. Little things can accumulate over time and make you feel distant from your partner(s). In order for you to feel connected and for communication to flow with more ease, make sure you are tending to your relationship dynamic between moments of conflict.

Gottman research found that for every one negative feeling or interaction between partners, there must be five positive feelings or interactions for mutual affection to flourish. Obviously, you can’t live in research mode assessing the quality of each interaction, but you can encourage positive regard with intention. Scheduling time together, creating fun interactions, sharing experiences, expressing gratitude, etc. Find ways to affirm your connection daily.

These tools can be used to create a culture in your relationships of understanding, co-creation, and affection. People are ever evolving so relationships are too. Keeping this in mind can help you view communication as an ongoing process to help you continue discovering deeper intimacy and connection with your loved ones. 

You may have tried every one of these tips and are still struggling to connect with someone you care about. I know it can be painful and demoralizing to try and feel like you’re failing. This is where a couples counselor or relationship therapist can be helpful.

Specifically, a trained therapist can help recognize other issues or patterns that may be contributing to “blocks” that are preventing your attempts at communication from being helpful. At Catalyss Counseling, we offer multiple resources for relationship therapy and couples counseling.

How We Can Help

If you’re interested in Couples Counseling

Schedule a FREE 20-minute phone consultation to learn more and get started today!

Follow these simple steps if you are looking for general support, or if you would like to talk to someone more about how we can help you:

  1. Contact us today for a free 20-minute phone consultation

  2. Or, you can book directly online with the therapist of your choice

  3. Begin your journey towards a calmer, more balanced life

Other Therapy Services Available at Catalyss Counseling:

Author Biography

Jessica Carpenter, Intern Therapist at catalyss counseling

Jessica Carpenter is an intern therapist with Catalyss Counseling who works with adults who have experienced stress or trauma to develop better self-regulation skills. Jessica is also a licensed massage therapist, yoga therapist, and TRE provider. She is passionate about making wellness accessible to everyone. Follow Catalyss Counseling on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

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