5 Tips to Improve Communication in Your Relationship

The most common complaint couples have when they come to therapy is by far the same.

We can’t communicate!

The truth is, communication is not easy. Repeatedly engaging in unhelpful and ineffective communication patterns hurts relationships. Partners feel unheard, misunderstood, and frustrated. The problem is, most couples don’t know how to do it differently. There is good news! Communication skills can be easily learned.

So how can you communicate more effectively in your relationship?

Here are five strategies you can start using today to improve communication.


Of course, I’m listening, you might think to yourself. But are you truly listening? Active listening requires you to focus on what the speaker is saying. In couple’s relationships listening to one another is often taken for granted. We listen to respond rather than listen to understand.

Although you think you are listening to your partner in a heated discussion, what you are likely doing is preparing your response. Take the time to listen to what is being said. Ask questions to get more information so you can fully understand your partner’s experience.

Stick to one topic

It’s not uncommon for conversations about hot button topics to get derailed. What may start as a discussion about one thing quickly turns into a battle ground of all your past grievances about your partner. The focus of your original conversation is lost when partners drudge up a laundry list of past hurts. Then nothing gets solved. Stick to the topic at hand. Discuss one subject at a time so you are clear about your purpose and you are able to resolve the problem.

Manage your reaction

How do you respond to your partner when you hear something you don’t agree with or is difficult to hear? Do you become defensive, yell, whine or blame? When you lose your cool and let emotions get out of control, your point is lost. The focus is now on your negative reaction. I’m not saying this is easy, especially when the emotional brain is activated. But the more you manage your emotional reactions, the better chance you have of reaching your desired outcome.

Respect one another

While you may be tempted to hit below the belt in a heated argument, it will only inflict anguish on your relationship. These hurts can have lasting effects long after the argument passes. If you haven’t already, make an agreement with your partner to refrain from name calling or character assassination regardless of the disagreement. Respect for your partner and also self-respect will go a long way to preserve good will in your relationship.

Assert yourself

Sometimes people confuse being assertive with being pushy or aggressive. But, really, assertiveness is about expressing yourself in a respectful and direct way. Whereas being aggressive is harsh and hurtful. Being assertive in your relationship allows you to express your thoughts, feelings, wants, and desires openly and honestly to your partner. It is the best way to negotiate differences in your relationship so everyone wins.


Communication creates the connection all couples crave. It is the key to a successful relationship. Effective communication skills don’t come naturally. It takes practice.

I encourage you to pick one area you know you could improve. Make these changes for a week and notice the improvement you see in your relationship with your partner and with yourself.

Marriage Counseling: Keys to Successful Sessions

4 Keys to Get the Most From Your Couples Counseling

Marriage counseling is an investment in your most important relationship. There’s a lot at stake, and you’ll want to get the most you can from it.

If this is your first time seeking marriage counseling you might not know what to expect or how the process works. Or perhaps you’ve had counseling before and found you didn’t get anything out of it.

These are my “insider” tips to help you get the most out of couples counseling.

Prepare for the session.

Preparing for the session?  How do I do that, you wonder? Think of each session as an important meeting. You most likely wouldn’t show up to an important business meeting without an agenda. I often see couples come to counseling sessions with nothing to talk about. Just showing up is not enough. Instead, know what you’d like to get out of the session. Think to yourself, “At the end of today’s session what will I be happy that we talked about?” Before each session, reflect on your goals and objectives for being in therapy.  Knowing your purpose will give the session a clear direction, goal, and will help you know if progress is being made.

Identify goals for yourself rather than for your partner.

It’s common for couples to come to marriage counseling with hopes of changing their partner, believing that once the partner makes the necessary changes things will be better. The truth is, you get the best results when each person recognizes their contribution to the problems and works to create change.  You can influence your partner, but you cannot change them. The only person you can change is yourself. Couples therapy will challenge you to think about how you aspire to be as a partner to bring about positive change in your relationship.

Keep realistic expectations.

According to relationship and marriage expert Dr. John Gottman, couples wait an average of six years of being unhappy before getting help. It’s natural that you want relief from your relationship pain but therapy is not a quick fix. Especially if your marriage problems have been going on for years. Expecting significant change to happen in a few weeks is not realistic. Creating real, lasting change will take time and effort. Having realistic expectations will prevent disappointment and help keep you focused and motivated. It’s also important to have realistic expectations of the therapist. Therapists are the guide or facilitator of change but can only help to the extent that the client is willing to be active in the process.

Work outside the session.

Creating change in your relationship requires a commitment to more than just an hour a week in the office. Practicing what you learned in your session in your daily lives is essential to creating new relationship skills. Like any new skill, if you practice, you will get better at it. Sure, it can feel awkward at first and you won’t always do it, but if you’re making the effort to do something different, that’s what matters.

Homework, related to your relationship goals, is determined with your input and agreement at the end of each session. If need be, keep a notebook and write down the important points so you can refer to what you committed to work on.

Seeking couples counseling is not easy and can be intimidating for anyone unfamiliar with the process. These tips are meant to give you an idea of how to get the most benefit from therapy.  If you are not making progress or not getting what you thought you would, don’t be afraid to talk to your therapist about this.