Healthy communication is at the heart of a strong relationship. Speaking – and listening – openly to one another fosters intimacy, boosts happiness and builds trust and respect. When communication in a relationship breaks down, partners can feel isolated, resentful and misunderstood.
Effective communication is a top challenge couples face. Fortunately, communication in a relationship is a skill that can be learned and one that grows stronger with practice.
Set the scene for effective communication
All couples face challenges in relationships from time to time. In addition, military couples have unique stressors, such as deployments and frequent moves. You may be tempted to avoid talking about hot-button topics for fear you’ll get into an argument. Tackling issues with an open mind and a commitment to resolve differences will strengthen your bond. Here are ways to set the stage for an open and productive conversation:
- Check your feelings. Try not to go into a conversation assuming your partner will react a certain way. Rid yourself of negative feelings as much as possible, so you can approach the topic with an open mind.
- See if it’s a good time to talk. If your partner is busy with work or if it’s late at night, it may be best to save the conversation for when you are both fully present.
- Stay calm. If what you have to say can’t wait and your partner is busy, calmly ask if they have a moment to speak. If they don’t respond the way you hoped, take a moment to assess the situation and let your partner know that you understand it’s not the best time to talk, but the matter is time sensitive.
Have important conversations in person whenever possible.
Speak so that you are heard
Go into your conversation with the mindset of resolving the issue, rather than debating or assigning blame.
- Speak slowly and clearly. Do not raise your voice or mumble.
- Match your tone to your message. The way you say something can be as important as what you say. Your partner will be confused if you disguise your feelings by sounding upbeat when you are in fact upset, or if you bring up a minor issue in a dramatic way.
- Be honest. The issue is likely to remain unresolved and tensions between you will grow if you expect your partner to read between the lines. Say what you mean.
- Use “I” statements. This removes blame. Say, “I feel frustrated when you leave the dishes in the sink,” instead of “You always leave the dishes in the sink.”
- Focus on one topic at a time. Wait until your or your partner’s point has been made before bringing up another issue. This eliminates confusion and allows you to solve the issue at hand.
Listen with an open mind
A productive conversation involves listening as well as speaking. Let your partner know that you are paying attention and keeping an open mind by doing the following:
- Be aware of your body language. Relax your face, look your partner in the eye and keep your shoulders relaxed with your arms at your side. This signals that you are receptive to what your partner has to say.
- Listen to your partner. Hear what your partner is saying rather than planning your response or letting your mind wander.
- Show your partner that you are listening. Nod or ask questions. Rephrase what your partner says and repeat it back to clarify the message and demonstrate that you are paying attention.
- Let your partner make their point. Try not to interrupt.
You and your partner don’t have to agree on everything. The goal of your conversations should be to gain a better understanding of each other’s viewpoints, so you can work on compromises, when necessary.
Remember, you and your partner don’t have to figure it out on your own. Military OneSource offers resources and tools to help with relationship goals, including improving communication. Military OneSource also offers virtual resources to help military couples strengthen their relationships.
Non-medical counseling is also available for service members and their partners. Connect with a couples counselor by contacting your installation’s Military and Family Support Center or reach out to Military OneSource by calling 800-342-9647. OCONUS? Use these international calling options or live chat.