# 1. Don’t make any assumptions
The best way a woman can get her partner to understand her is to communicate clearly. What I mean by clear communication is not assuming that the listener knows what your words mean. For example, telling your partner that you want him to be more affectionate won’t do the trick unless your partner knows what affection means to you. When you say you want affection, what is it that you’re really asking for? Is it romantic emails, more sex, deeper conversation, a hug at the end of the day, all of the above, or something else entirely? Whatever you want more of, whether it’s affection, support, respect, understanding, or love, give your partner specific examples so that there is no mistaking what you have in mind.
Dr. Amy Wood – www.amywoodpsyd.com
# 2. Accept that men and women communicate differently
Happy couples can easily experience disharmony when unmet expectations result from miscommunication. Couples often approach and communicate an issue with the expectation that their partner will understand and respond similarly, but the opposite is typically true. Men and women have different communication styles and goals in communicating. This is evident starting in childhood with boys communicating for dominance, attention, and to give orders. Girls, on the other hand, express support, ask questions, and show attentiveness towards one another.
These differences persist in adulthood with men expressing issues with the goal of problem solving and women sharing to build closeness and intimacy. In short, men solve problems and women build relationships. Is there any wonder a seemingly simple issue can create distance between couples? A popular book summed up the miscommunication this way, “women want empathy and understanding, but men offer solutions”.
Society may play a role in creating these differences. Most men are discouraged from showing outward displays of expression like sharing their feelings or crying. Contrastly, women are encouraged to express emotions and feelings as a form of release. Most men do compensate for their lack of outward expressions by their actions. Men may not always say, “I love you”, but may express love by what he does for his partner. What women say with words, men say by their actions. I encourage couples to take time to understand the communication pattern of their partner and accept the difference. Doing so will maintain bliss and harmony in your relationship.
Dr. LaRay Imani Price – www.womeninnerfitness.com
# 3. The Golden Rule
Think not of the adage, “Do unto others as you’ll have done to you.” Instead, think of the Relationship Golden Rule, which states, “You don’t ask, you don’t get.” Basic in principle, though tough in execution, I know. Despite our deep desire for it to be so, our partners are not mind readers. Wishing that they would magically intuit our thoughts is not only dangerous but it is actively setting them up to fail. Just as you want clear communication from your partner, you have to model the same in return.
Without clear (yet kind) expression of needs, a slow building volcano of unmet desires, resentment and anger erupt and over time, the damage may be too much to repair. Set aside a time where both of you are relaxed and open to feedback. Ask for what you would like from your partner and ask them to do the same. You will start a healthy pattern of open, honest communication that will be a positive game changer for the relationship.
Allison Cohen, M.A., MFT – www.lifeissuespsychotherapy.com
# 4. Be positive, brief, and purposeful
To improve your ability to communicate with your partner, try to speak his language. To do this, it is helpful to stick to 3 things: be positive, brief, and purposeful.
1. Being positive or playful will lead you to the most success out of the three. Being positive in your tone, perspectives, and approach invites a conversation with your partner. He will want to communicate more when he perceives you as being light-hearted or positive in some way. This is helpful when you need to bring up tough topics as well. For instance, “I always have fun with you on our date night. When do you think we can go out in the next couple of weeks?” vs. “You never take me out anymore.” Send a signal that you are calm, loving, and want to have a conversation, not a fight. Being positive will get you far in male-female communication!
2. Being brief means that you pick the key points to share with him and make room for him to join the conversation. Brevity will keep his attention and he will have more respect for what you have to say because it is to-the-point. Try sticking to what you really want him to know or understand versus the fine details. While this is tough, try to remember that the more often you are brief, the more conversations you can have and you will preserve his stamina for longer conversations when they are really needed.
3. Being purposeful means the discussion has a function, which peaks his attention and interest. General communication will be viewed as purposeful when you include the important or interesting information, not just all of the information. Also, try tailoring to his interests and picking his preferred times and formats (i.e. talking via face-to-face, phone, email). The same rule applies if you want to discuss an issue. Give it purpose by saying, “I am frustrated with your work hours because I miss spending time with you.” versus “I hate your work hours.” Express your concerns by giving him an understanding of why you’re bringing it up at that moment and its significance.
Blending positivity, brevity, and purpose into your own way of communicating can help increase general conversation, productive conflict resolution, and overall understanding with your partner.
Dr. Randi Hennigan – www.randihennigan.com
# 5. First step towards better communication is awareness
If trust and intimacy are the foundation upon which we build our relationships, effective communication is the mortar. Healthy, functional, effective communication is essential for any relationship to thrive. Effective communication is multifaceted, it requires several components. I think the most important advice I would give anyone about improving communication would be awareness.
• Be aware of your intended message and the message being received – Say what you mean. If you are frustrated, angry, sad, hurt, etc., honestly and thoughtfully tell your partner. If you say “don’t worry about it, nothing is wrong” as you roll your eyes and cross your arms, you are sending mixed messages.
• Be an active listener – Turn towards your partner, make eye contact, and listen. Sometimes when emotions run high, we stop listening and start planning what we will say as soon as our partners finish speaking. When this happens, we miss what is being said and our partners do not feel heard. Give a head nod, an “mmhmm,” let you partner know you care about what he/she has to say even if you do not necessarily agree with it.
• Environment – Choose a place and time that is good for both of you. Trying to talk while kids are running around, or via text message is not conducive to effective communication. Also create a space that is safe; a place that each of you feels safe to openly express how you feel without being criticized, laughed at, dismissed, or shamed.
Lastly, speak only for yourself; what you think, how you feel. Do not mind-read about what your partner is thinking or feeling. If you find yourself falling short in these areas, you are not alone; effective communication is hard work. Be aware of what makes effective communication hard for you and keep practicing!
Tara Gogolinski, MS, LGMFT – www.lifeandlovecft.com
# 6. Let him say it his way
To keep the lines of verbal communication open, make sure to let your partner say it his way. In the movie “When Harry Met Sally,” Harry asks Sally, “What’s the statute of limitations on apologies?” This is his way of apologizing, while asking if it’s too late to apologize. Their relationship finally makes progress because Sally accepted Harry’s sheepish way of apologizing.
How something is said is just as important to us women as the content. We know the correct formulas for how to fight fair, how to make up, how to propose, and everything in between. But when a man is speaking and the listener tries to “help him” by interrupting and making frequent corrections, it sounds to him like we are arguing with him, or trying to hog the conversation.
Let small content errors slide. Let your partner say that Uncle Joe was 95 when he died, for even if you are sure that Uncle Joe was 96 when he died. The point is, the man was very old! Your man does not want to debate this point with you, because he doesn’t want to put you down. So he will just stop talking. If you simply let him finish, he will probably turn to you at some point and ask you to confirm the data. At this point if you say you are pretty sure Uncle Joe was 96, your man will experience you as very wise, very connected to him, and the woman he needs in his life.
Judy Fujimura, M.A. – www.judycares.com
# 7. Ask for what you need
Improving communication with our partners often requires learning skills that we don’t naturally posses. Unfortunately, most of us have not grown up seeing a model of what a healthy dialogue looks like. Because of this, effective communication is often something we need to learn. One way to improve communication with your partner is by learning how to ask for what you need.
Here are three simple steps to help you get get started.
1. Pick the right time: If you want to improve communication with your partner, try picking a time that is distraction-free. For example, don’t choose a time when he is watching the basketball or football game. He may be distracted and annoyed, leaving you feeling hurt and ignored.
2. Pick the right tone: The tone of voice we use when we communicate is very important in our ability to effectively express our needs. By picking a softer, even tone, you improve the likelihood of your partner being open to hearing you express your needs.
3. Pick the right words: As with tone, the words you choose are just as important. Try to choose words that are as direct and specific as possible. Don’t fall into the trap of assuming he should “know” what you need. Following these three steps should put you on the path to improving communication with your partner. Remember, practicing is key to learning any new behavior. So be patient with yourself and your partner!
Karla Lawrence, MA, LCPC, NCC – www.creativecounselingandconsultation.com
# 8. Know what you are feeling or wanting to say
The key to women’s effective communication with their partners is knowing what you are feeling or wanting to say. Before sharing, you must know what it is you want to say. It may seem obvious, but for many people knowing what they are feeling is not so simple. There is ambivalence, feeling more than one thing, sometimes simultaneously, and of course there are feelings that we hide from ourselves. How to tune in to what you are feeling? There are clues, literally right under your nose! Simply, pay attention to what you are feeling in your BODY. Where and when do you feel tightness, openness? Which interactions increase or decrease your energy?
Take a few moments to pay close attention to your physical sensations, especially around your throat, heart and belly. This provides powerful clues about what you are feeling. Following the physical sensations will lead you to your true emotions. Once YOU know what you are feeling, then you are in the empowered position to share this information with your partner. Once you know what you want to say, choose a time to share when there is no obvious distraction and when your partner is available to not only HEAR you but to LISTEN with an open mind and heart. With that openness meeting you, share clearly and honestly.
Devorah Steinberg, LICSW – www.genesisintegrativetherapy.com
# 9. Speak like a man
Relationships are complicated enough as it is ladies. A simple tip for improving communication with your partner is to shift your perspective and mindset. Instead of speaking from the point of view of a woman (which includes a focus on sharing details, emotional venting, and working through moments) speak like a man. Speaking like a man includes sharing the essentials and highlighting the points of your conversation in an organized manner. Imagine that you’re sitting in a meeting and you’re handed an agenda with its bullet points and key topics. Summarize and edit your conversations with your partner. This will grab your partner’s focus, command attention, and will require active listening on his part. Happy communicating!
Brooke Campbell, M.A., RDT-BCT, LCAT – www.CreativeKinections.com
# 10. Startup during conflict is important
How do you approach your partner during conflict? Does the conflict escalate? It may be HOW you start conflict that affects your partner’s response. There are two ways to start conflict in your relationship, the harsh or soft startup.
The harsh startup is when you are sarcastic, negative, accusatory, or disdainful when stating a compliant. It alerts your partner to be prepared for a personal attack and results in a defensive response. Using a harsh startup communicates to your partner that he or she is damaged instead of putting the focus on the behavior that caused you pain.
In turn the soft startup highlights the behavior not the person. The soft startup discusses disappointment, hurt, sadness, or pain. You do not attack your partner but instead you put the focus on your experience. To highlight the difference I have included an example below. I based the example on a conflict where your partner planned an outing with friends instead of with you.
Soft Startup: I am really disappointed and feel sad that you made plans. I was really hoping to spend some quality time with you.
Harsh Startup: You always put yourself first when you knew I wanted to spend time with you. You never think about me.
Reading the responses above you are most likely having a strong reaction to the harsh startup. Does it make you want to defend yourself? Essentially what the harsh startup is stating is your partner is selfish. Next time you address a conflict with your partner focus on using a soft startup as he or she will be more likely to hear you.
Lyndsey Fraser, MA, LMFT – www.relationalconnections.com
# 11. Know where you are at before you begin your conversation
Understand that when you engage your partner you bring your mood (good or bad), your energy (strong or soft), and your expectations (true or untrue). Nothing happens in a vacuum and what may seem like a strained or unexpected exchange between you and your partner can be deciphered.
If you want to improve your communication start with your partner, start with yourself. Check-in how are you feeling? Are you feeling tired, irritable, exhausted, and anxious these are common relationship triggers for arguing and miscommunication?
I suggest before you begin a conversation state how you are feeling instead of ignoring and hoping your partner will magically understand. Ask for them to listen to you because it’s important to you. Explain what you feel the problem is, do not accuse with YOU statements. Listen for feedback from your partner. Then make a suggestion about how you would like for your situation to be solved. Your partner may or may not agree but ask for their suggestion. These exchanges may go round and round until the problem is finally resolved. Please remember multiple exchanges are common to resolution; even if the first few exchanges don’t end in immediate favorable results you are moving towards a resolution pattern.
The best news is that you are speaking from a place of authenticity. You are not shutting down, manipulating, or attempting to power play your demand in your argument. You have a greater chance of correcting assumptions and miscommunications in real time. This means when you and your partner are communicating you are both are less likely to hold grudges and past hurts from old arguments. That is a refreshing change to realize you only need to resolve current dilemmas.
Jeannie Dougherty, MAPC, LCPC, LPC – www.jeanniedougherty.com
# 12. Speak with him rather than at him
I would have to say that it is best to keep your cool. Anger, hysterics, loudness, nagging, accusations, will only allow the man to shut down, or dismiss you. Keep in mind that your goal is resolution and that will require both of you. Speak with him rather than at him. Do not be positioned, meaning already focused on achieving the result that only you have in mind. Listen, clarify, and let him understand that you are open to his ideas and feedback. Don’t get caught up in “winning”.
The process of “mirroring” often helps both parties stay on track in terms of understanding what the other said. That entails repeating to your partner what you just heard him say. I.e.: “Jim, what I hear you say is that….., is that right?”
And of course, the most important rule: make “I statements.” Speak of your feeling and experience, as that tends to help the other party feel less accused.
Jean Brennan, LCSW-C, LLC – www.jeanbrennan.net
# 13. Use the sandwich approach
Effective communication involves both LISTENING and SPEAKING, and is key to a happy, healthy relationship. All couples have difficulties, and good communication brings couples closer and deepens their connection with one another.
What to do to improve communication with a man:
- Be direct. Tell him what you need. (“I want to talk with you about ‘x’’).
- Use “I” statements (“I feel angry because…”!)
- Keep other people out of the conversation. (Do not say: “Even your brother says you are difficult”)
- Stick to the issue at hand and avoid gunny sacking or rehashing the past. (Do not say: “Not only did you do this today but you did it last Tuesday and the Wednesday before that too”).
- Avoid generalizations (Do not say: “You always fall asleep right after we make love”)
- Avoid name calling (Do not say: “You are such a jerk!”)
- Avoid accusations (Do not say: “You made me cry”)
I often advise using the sandwich approach. The two slices of bread are compliments or some other sort of positive remark. In the middle is the feedback, using the principles listed above.
An example: “Sex last night was amazing! It would be even more incredible if we could have more foreplay. Let’s get some special music and lotion to include tonight when we are in bed together.”
Dr. Elayne S Daniels – www.drelaynedaniels.com
# 14. Be honest and give them a chance to fix things
The best way to improve communication with your spouse or partner is to remember that no one can be a mind-reader! As women, we often want and expect our partners to be able to tell when something is bothering us, and then without us “giving it away”, we want them to figure out what it is and how to fix it! The problem with this is that men have a different way of thinking, and therefore are unlikely to have any idea what is upsetting us. From time to time, they may know exactly what the issue is, but to improve your relationship, always assume they really don’t know what you are upset about.
Be honest and give them a chance to fix things. For example, it would be beneficial to say something such as, “I feel hurt that you were late to meet me for dinner. It makes me feel like I am not important.” Despite how your partner responds, you gave them insight as to what has been bothering you, and will also open up lines of communication on how he can restore the relationship. When he asks how to fix his mistake, give an honest answer, or ask for time to think about it if you are not sure how he can fix it. Operating on the knowledge that no one else can read your thoughts will help you to have honest and direct discussions and your partner will get to know you better. Regardless of how long you have been together, and how good your communication has been in the past, there will always be times you will need to remind yourself of this tip.
Kelli Korn, MSW, LCSW – www.kellikorn.webs.com
# 15. Try to figure out what rule your partner broke and then work together to figure out whether it’s your rule or a mutual rule
Every relationship has rules. Some of these rules are spoken, like “you’re responsible for the laundry and I take care of the dishes” and others are implied, such as “don’t sleep with other people.” A lot of problems with communication comes from a breakdown in the rules, whether it’s a lack of agreement about what the rules are or a feeling that they’ve been broken. If you’re feeling upset by an interaction with your partner, try to figure out what rule he or she broke and then work together to figure out whether it’s your rule or a mutual rule. If it’s your rule, find out if your partner is in accord, and if it’s a mutual rule, find out if the terms were unclear. From there, you can work together to collaboratively problem solve.
Jennie Steinberg, LMHC, LLC – www.jenniesteinberg.com
# 16. Avoid mind-reading
The best advice I can offer to any woman seeking better communication with her partner is to avoid mind-reading. Of course, unless you believe in ESP, we all know we cannot read each other’s thoughts. However, we attempt to do this by telling our partner what he is thinking and feeling during our communication with him. Nothing is more frustrating than to tell someone you KNOW what they are thinking or feeling better than they know. Pay close attention to your words.
Have you ever said, “You think I don’t care about our sex life.” Or, “You think that I don’t believe you.” Three dynamics come to play: perception, assumption, and projection. Our perception affects our ability to be present in the moment when communicating with our partner. Old negative experiences that trigger bad feelings might have us ASSUME what he is thinking or feeling because “he thought that way last time.” We may be right…but many times we are not.
At other times, we may be projecting our thoughts and feelings that we are struggling with onto our partner instead of allowing him to share on his own. Each of these defense mechanisms are poor and ineffective ways to be heard and understood by your partner. The best solution: Ask him what he is thinking and feeling; respect his thoughts and feelings; get still, be quiet, and learn to listen more than we speak. Giving and receiving feedback in communication happens most easily where there is mutual respect.
Dr. Angela Clack – www.clackassociates.com
# 17. Don’t expect your partner to know how you feel and what you want
Communication problems are one of the biggest issues that plaque otherwise healthy relationships. In my private practice, I often counsel women with relationship challenges. They describe communication in their relationships as either ineffective or non-existent. Here are a few suggestions I offer for women who have a desire to improve communication in their relationship.
Unfortunately, as women we sometimes expect our partners to know how we feel, what we desire and who we are without clearly communicating our needs to them. I often hear women say, “If he loved me he would know how I feel and what’s important to me.” Or “We’ve been together long enough for me to not have to ask, he should just know!” What we often forget is that our partners cannot read our minds and if we have not asked for what we desire from our partners, we cannot hold them responsible for not fulfilling those desires.
Relationships require work. They involve telling the truth about how you feel and what you’d like to experience in your relationship. They take honesty, courage, a desire to grow with your partner and a willingness to be vulnerable. Even the ideal love story relationship will eventually reach its breaking point after enduring years of compounded and unsolved issues. It’s vital that we communicate openly and clearly with our partners to resolve issues, build intimacy and create loving and long lasting relationships.
Danielle Hatchell, LCPC – www.daniellehatchell.com
# 18. Talk less and listen more
We all want to be heard. More often than not, while we try so desperately to be heard—to be understood—we do not hear each other. And that leads to Conflict (capital “C”). Given enough Conflict, the relationship deteriorates until it is no longer the sacred and safe place it should be.
Try this at your next important interaction: Leaving your world behind (just for now), cross into your partner’s world, emotionally and fully. Really hear and feel what your partner is communicating. Not your interpretation of it, but the real essence of the communication. Be conscious of your presence when he is speaking. Are you formulating your response as your partner talks? Are you being triggered by your own stuff? If so, you brought some of your world with you. Take a moment to acknowledge that his message got stuck in your stuff. Take a breath, and when you’re ready to be fully present again, cross back into his world.
Your partner is not you. Your partner is a separate being with valuable opinions and ideas, and a perspective that is probably quite different than your own. If your goal is to change him, to mold him into your way of thinking, you will fail. In a successful relationship, the goal must be curiosity and appreciation. Without a deep understanding of our separate-ness, we become reactive. But when you are able to let go of your own stuff long enough to listen—to listen deeply at the most intimate level—you may be surprised to learn that what triggers you in the relationship really has nothing to do with you at all.
Bobbi Jankovich, LMFT – www.bobbijankovich.com
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