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5 Tips for Artful Couples Communication

Couple talking

Relationships, whether romantic or platonic, rely on effective communication. Unfortunately, this is a skill that doesn’t always come easily and can be a challenge with those to whom you are closest. Communication between you and your partner is always a work in progress—a lifelong pursuit. In fact, communication probably is the most important skill you will develop. As you dance toward realizing your full communication potential, you continuously expand as your relationship grows. These five tips will continue your efforts toward artful communication with your partner:

1. Be constructive with criticism

It’s important to select your words carefully; according to Dr. John Gottman, blatant criticism is “not constructive” but rather “winds up leading to an escalation of the conflict.” So, how do you become constructive with criticism? Talk it out without pointing a finger or leaving your partner feeling “less than,” and speak from “I feel” statements. One of my favorite techniques is to “make a request”—not a demand or ultimatum. If you feel like criticizing, take a step back and reevaluate your intentions. What do you hope to accomplish by criticizing? Ask yourself: Will this be effective?

2. Read between the lines

It’s no secret that what you say doesn’t always communicate what you mean. If you can’t pick up on exactly what your partner is trying to tell you, ask a clarifying question—but remember to do so gently. Try to read the underlying emotion. “I hear what you are saying, and I’m wondering if …” is a gentle directive that will steer a conversation in the right direction. Be prepared that you may not get the cooperation you are seeking. If this happens, back off and try again when the barometer reads “available.” Don’t forget to validate your partner’s feelings.

3. Don’t hold anything back

As previously mentioned, it’s important to think before you speak. If there’s something on your mind that you’d like to get out there, just say it. Articulate your words carefully, but don’t swallow your tongue and have your thoughts boil inside you. Your partner is there to share your dreams, triumphs, and failures. Share them. Most of what we want in life with our partner is a shared experience, while remaining true to ourselves. Remember to balance conversations about creating meaningful experiences together with acknowledging each other’s need for independence.

4. Lean on each other

Your partner should be your biggest fan and your shoulder to cry on. Dr. Sue Johnson uses the term “effective dependency” or, in her words, “the more you know how to turn to other people.” I like to use the word interdependence, as human beings cannot survive without each other. Although your partner cannot be everything you might expect, you should be able to rely on him or her when the need arises. Therefore, lean on each other respectively.

5. Exercise your relationship

Like playing any sport, learning a new instrument, or perfecting a craft, artful communication takes practice. We all respond and react differently; it takes practice to become emotionally intelligent. Practicing good communication is worth the effort. Read some good books on the subject, such as Emotional Intelligence by Travis Bradberry or Dr. Johnson’s Hold Me Tight, or visit www.gottman.com for some expert advice. Ask: What do I hope to gain from this? What are my intentions?


  1. Dr. Gottman’s Four Negative Patterns That Predict Divorce (2012, July 11). Retrieved Aug. 28, 2012, from AndersonCooper.com: http://www.andersoncooper.com/2012/04/17/dr-gottman-four-negative-patterns-that-predict-divorce/
  2. Tartakovsky, M. (2012). 5 Communication Pointers and Pitfalls for Couples. Retrieved Aug. 28, 2012, from PsychCentral: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2011/5-communication-pitfalls-and-pointers-for-couples/
  3. Yalom, V. (2011). Sue Johnson on Emotionally Focused Therapy. Retrieved Aug. 28, 2012, from Psychotherapy.net: http://www.psychotherapy.net/interview/sue-johnson-interview/

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Douglas Mitchell, LMFT

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  • Leave a Comment
  • bennie

    September 21st, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    I love the tip to not hod anything back, but you do have to remember to be mindful of how you choose to say it.
    You know there is a right way to share and a wrong way, and you know when your words could be taken more as critical over constructive.
    If you only choose to hanndle the words in a critical manner, then that will help no one.

  • Lorna

    September 21st, 2012 at 5:44 PM

    Remembering that every good relationship is a work in progress, well, that’s just something that you can’t ever forget especially if you want your relationship to survive over the long haul. We all want the perfect world, of course we do, but we have to work hard to make that happen. Any one who tells you that a good relationship just happens when it’s right is telling you a big ole fat lie. I have a great marriage but I can’t say that it always has been every day. It has taken a lot of patience and hard work on both our parts, and without those open lines of communication it wouldn’t have lasted.

  • Yvonne

    September 22nd, 2012 at 5:04 AM

    After years of marriage, while these tips are important, they are not the end all and be all.

    The bottom line is that no matter what else os going on in life you have to remember to keep making your relationship a priority. We have busy lives, busy kids, and many times I think that we forget to keep our marriage our nimber one goal.

    I have done the very same thing and have let my husband at times fall very low on my priority list feeling that he can take care of himsef. HE can do that but the marriage can’t.

  • Nick

    September 22nd, 2012 at 9:40 AM

    I’ve been hit hard by the “Read between the lines” parameter before.No matter how well-intentioned your meaning is,sometimes the words that you say can leave a negative impression in your partner’s mind and that can be reason for conflict.Just thinking about how it could be comprehended leads to better performance in this particular parameter!

  • Dan

    September 22nd, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    I agree with Nick.
    I don’t want to have to read between the lines, why should I have to do that?
    Just say what you mean and mean what you say and there will be far less of all of that confusion!

  • Flora

    September 22nd, 2012 at 11:38 PM

    All these tips are good but they are not going to be very effective unless your partner follows them or is at least aware of them..Seems like that should be the first step – to talk of just how important communication is and the pitfalls to avoid and tips that can be handy. That needs to be made clear foremost!

  • fernando r

    September 23rd, 2012 at 12:54 PM

    being a calm and mature person yourself does not guarantee the relationship chat will go smooth.when I am trying so hard to stay calm and my girlfriend is just blowing steam from her head I do not know whether to walk away and come back when she has lost the steam or to confront her.both seem like something will be lost.

  • kenneth

    September 24th, 2012 at 4:00 AM

    There are times when I feel like I have done all of these things and more, but then it still isn’t enough to make he happy. Is this a sign that she needs to do more or that maybe she isn’t the right one for me?

  • dennis

    September 24th, 2012 at 12:28 PM

    its just so important to communicate in a relationship and more so in the right way.lack of communication is enough reason for problems to evolve and develop and grow into major problems.but the wrong kind of communication can send across a completely different message that may further change while it is being decoded by the listener.so its extremely important that we ensure not only the communication of the message but also the way and we adopt to actually put across that message.

  • sylvie

    September 24th, 2012 at 1:34 PM

    It also helps to have a caring partner who is also willing to be a good communicator with you too. Sometimes it’s hard getting through to a brick wall.

  • Kyle

    September 24th, 2012 at 9:33 PM

    Having been through various times when a arguments have been prevented and the situation saved from turning red hot,I cannot recommend communication enough.If you think of it you will realize that most conflicts and arguments between a couple happen due to lack of communication.Either one partner does not want to communicate or it is both.

    But good communication can always diffuse a situation and save both the partners from a sour episode.I recommend my friends to speak up and do so the right way to help a situation and I will do the same to anybody out there reading this!

  • Ursula

    September 24th, 2012 at 11:57 PM

    When there is communication and talk it creates a sense of belongingness and friendship which is just so important for a relationship to grow and sustain. I think every couple should receive this advice from a therapist or doctor they see invariably. Many people seem to miss the importance of communicating with their partner and that in turn creates problems that are in reality very much avoidable.

  • spencer mac

    September 25th, 2012 at 5:53 AM

    This is good for any relationship, not just married couples. I would dare say that most of these tips can apply to regular friendships as well as working partnerships too.

  • Leonard

    September 25th, 2012 at 9:24 AM

    I cannot stress enough of the importance of the first point mentioned here.It is just so important to be constructive with any criticism.So many times just the way a person criticizes another is enough to put the other one off and communication takes a backseat and a conflict arises and then all the energy is devoted towards or against that,while the discussion is forgotten!

  • Daniel

    September 26th, 2012 at 5:42 AM

    For me and what I read here, keeping the lines of communication open is essential to maintaining a good working level of mutual respect with one another.
    When you lose the ability to talk to your partner then you have somehow lost respect for him or her and the things that this person being in your life means to you.

  • Douglas

    September 28th, 2012 at 7:01 AM

    Hello Everyone,

    Thanks so much for all the feedback! There are many wonderful comments here and also valid concerns. As many have said, communications (whether verbal or non-verbal)determine the course of the relationship.
    I also agree if both parties make the effort to move towards one another, it helps!
    If you happen to be in a relationship of high-conflict, then I would suggest a book called, “The High Conflict Couple”. This book looks at how emotional regulation plays a part in your relationship and how that may impact your communications.
    Also, if you feel your partner isn’t on-board, then I suggest couples therapy as a way to speak from your point of view without blaming your partner. A skilled therapist can support creating some balance. If you partner does not want to go, you could suggest to him/her, that you need to do it for you and that you don’t intend to blame him/her.

    If that doesn’t work, then I would suggest individual counseling to support your intentions, desires and and what you value.
    All in all, keep communicating. If we stop, then we need to look at that.

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