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Communication is a critical part of healthy relationships. At Healthy Relationships California (HRC), we understand that healthy communication doesn’t always come easily or naturally, especially between two people from different backgrounds, experiences, and worldviews. That’s why today we’re sharing with you a few strategies for working toward healthier communication with your partner. As you incorporate these practices into your relationship, you will grow in closeness and love.

1. Spend more time listening than talking

Listening is crucial for healthy communication.

In our relationships, we communicate in order to be understood. But understanding only comes when we are carefully listening to each other. When your partner is sharing something with you, practice good listening skills and see if you can spend more time listening than you do talking. The key to this is not to just sit there quietly, but to actively pay attention to your partner. Here are two ways you can actively listen:

  • Body language: When you are practicing good listening skills, don’t just listen to the words someone is saying. A significant amount of communication is actually nonverbal, which means we can learn a lot from our partner through their body language. Paying attention to physical cues can lead to greater understanding.
  • Reflect back to check for understanding: Periodically repeat back to your partner what you are hearing them say. This helps ensure that you are on the same page and that you are understanding them correctly. Asking clarifying questions also can be helpful to make sure you are hearing their whole message.

2. Take responsibility for your emotions

When we are upset with someone, many of us tend to lash out and blame. We say things like, “You always _____,” or “You make me so _____,” or “Why can’t you ever do ______?” The problem with these statements is that they put all of the responsibility on our partner, when in reality relationships are a two-person effort.

When you are communicating with your partner, especially during conflict, verbally and mentally take responsibility for your own emotions and actions by using “I statements” that focus on your perspective and experience. Instead of displacing the blame, say things like, “When this happens, I feel ______,” or “I am feeling really _______ right now,” or “When you don’t follow through, I feel _______.” Don’t make it your partner’s job to keep you emotionally regulated.

3. Call time outs

Feeling upset or emotional dysregulation also can make it difficult to think clearly or logically. This is because stress sends our brain into fight, flight, or freeze mode, which literally shuts down our critical-thinking capacity. When this happens, it can be difficult to communicate needs or problem-solve together, and it often can lead to saying things we regret. So the next time you feel yourself getting out of control during a disagreement, call for a time out: Pause the conversation, take some time to calm down, and then revisit the conversation when your thinking brain is back in action. Here are a few things you can do to get regulated during a time out:

  • Take a walk
  • Do breathing exercises
  • Write down or draw what you are feeling
  • Take a drink of ice water
  • Listen to music

4. Invest in your Emotional Bank Account

The EBA is an important principal in healthy communication.

No matter how many tips and tricks you learn, there is no perfect formula for healthy communication. That is why, when it comes to your relationship, the most important thing you and your partner can do to set yourselves up for communication success is to pay attention to your Emotional Bank Accounts (EBAs). The EBA is a concept that was introduced by Stephen R. Covey, and it does a pretty good job of illustrating the need for positive connection in every relationship.

Making a deposit into your partner’s EBA can look like giving them a sincere compliment, showing loyalty, keeping a promise, taking them on a thoughtful date, or laughing together. A withdrawal could be failing to follow through on a commitment, being critical, forgetting an important anniversary, or ignoring them. The more you deposit into each other’s EBAs, the more secure you will feel in your relationship, and the less likely it is to damage your connection and emotional security when one of you makes a withdrawal. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind about EBAs:

  • 5:1 ratio: In his decades of research, relationship expert John Gottman has found that couples who are happy in their relationships have an average of 5:1 positive to negative interactions with each other. These positive interactions frequently fill up each partner’s EBA and make their relationship happier, healthier, and more resilient.
  • Kindness, love, and friendship: Healthy communication is, at its root, kind. It demonstrates respect and care for our partner. When we make kindness, love, and friendship a priority in our relationship, deposits into our partner’s EBA naturally follow.

Want more help communicating effectively with your partner? Check out our free program for Californians, the R3 Academy!