Communication Skills for Couples


When couples come in for marriage counseling, they almost always say they’ve come because they have communication issues. What we find is that it is usually over a complaint someone has. This causes the partner to become defensive and ready to fight over their side of things. They tend to interrupt each other, tune each other out, and be thinking about what they want to say if their partner ever finishes speaking.

These are signs that they want to defend their own positions, what they want for themselves in an unhealthy, rapidly escalating argument. There is really no interest in hearing or understanding what the partner is saying. This does not lead to a healthy relationship. In fact, it erode erodes it.

What you need to develop is respect, empathy, and understanding of where your partner is coming from. You may not agree with it, but you must understand it. Your spouse will feel heard and cared for if you show a genuine curiosity of what is happening inside him or her. A curiosity to really know who your spouse is. People change over time and their interests and feelings may change with them. If you love, or have loved your partner, here are some listening skills to help you understand who you’re sharing your life with.

  1. Listen carefully and be able to respectfully reflect back to him or her what you’ve heard, even if you disagree with it. “So if I’ve got that right, you feel like you work so hard all day and feel no appreciation from me when you get home. Have I got that right?”
  2. Curiosity shows even more interest in your partner. “That sounds like what your dad has always said to this day. You must feel just like he does...maybe angry, or sad?” This may lead into a deeper connection between you as he explains his feelings.
  3. Respect the complaint even though you disagree with it. Remember the purpose is to discover what’s going on beneath the complaint, and there’s nearly always something emotionally deeper than what he shows.
  4. Don’t interrupt. Ever. That’s a huge sign of disrespect and also shows you weren’t really listening. When you feel the anger beginning, take a couple of slow, deep breaths before you continue.
  5. Remember that a partner who feels heard also feels nurtured understood, and important to you.
  6. You will keep asking, again out of loving curiosity, “Is there more?” When there is no more then it’s your turn to be heard. You’ll find it’s really nice.

I would suggest that you show this post to your partner and see if the two of you can make it work. If not, a counselor can help you through it to a better, more connected place in your

Maggie Vlazny

Maggie is a Certified Clinical Supervisor and Psychotherapist specializing in marriage counseling, EMDR, Imago therapy, anxiety & depression, women's issues, family therapy and grief counseling.