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Author: Maya Maria Brown, M.A. Counseling Psychology, Relationship Expert

  • Good communication helps you build connection, understanding and intimacy in your relationship.

  • Communication issues can lead to more conflict, misunderstandings, and feeling disconnected.

  • Even if you care more about improving communication than your partner does, things can still get better.

  • Communication is a skill you can learn, and there are practical activities you can try with your partner to learn to communicate more effectively.

The Importance of Communication Skills in a Relationship

SUMMARY

IN THIS ARTICLE, YOU WILL:

Do you want to learn how to communicate with your partner in ways that can help your relationship thrive? Our international Relationship Experts have identified the most important things you need to know about communication in a relationship. Let’s get started!

We have all heard that communication is key in a relationship. Having bad communication or communication issues is one of the main reasons why couples break up. Good communication is one of the clearest signs of a healthy relationship. The importance of communication in relationships cannot be overstated - so it’s great that you’re here!

 

But what does good communication really mean, and how can you learn how to better communicate with your partner? That’s where we come in. Keep reading to find out why communication matters, and some easy steps you can take to improve your communication.

Communication is key

What is communication?

Laura Guerrero, Peter Andersen and Walid Afifi describe communication as “a variety of nonverbal and verbal messages that can be exchanged through different channels, including face-to-face and computer-mediated channels” in their book, Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships. Let’s break that down: Communication is the sending and receiving of information. It can be:

  • Practical communication: giving facts or information

  • Emotional communication: sharing feelings and experiences

  • Verbal communication: our words and tone of voice

  • Written communication: things we write, including notes, texts and emails

  • Non-verbal communication: our body language and silences

  • Explicit communication: what we say directly

  • Implicit communication: what is implied “between the lines”

 

There are a lot of aspects to communication, and a lot of ways we can work on our communication skills. It can be overwhelming to know where to start, right? I know the feeling. But here’s the thing: we are communicating, whether we are thinking about it or not. So what can you do about it? Bear with me, I’ll walk you through every step of the way.

 

Why is communication important in a relationship?

Here are some of the main reasons why communication is important for relationships:

 

  1. Communication helps you and your partner understand each other better.

  2. When you communicate well together, you build trust and security in your relationship.

  3. Communicating about your emotions lets you learn about each other’s inner worlds and experiences.

  4. Having good communication lets you and your partner handle conflict and arguments better.

  5. Having great communication helps you and your partner avoid some conflicts altogether.

  6. Communicating well leads to an easier time navigating daily tasks and dividing responsibilities fairly.

  7. Strong communication helps you and your partner feel seen and known by each other.

  8. Good communication can lead to a deeper connection and increased intimacy in your relationship.

 

Sounds good, right? But what happens when communication isn’t great? Do you not get to have all those nice things? Let’s take a closer look and find out.

It would be great if we could just snap our fingers and have great communication in our relationships. But it’s not always easy to develop good communication skills - as individuals, and as a couple. Communication issues are incredibly common, whether you have communication problems in relationships, or no communication in the relationship at all. Research shows that “communication problems” is the most common reason for divorce. Yikes, right?

 

Here are some things that might be true for you if you have a relationship communication problem:

 

  • You and your partner often misunderstand each other.

  • You don’t have a lot of trust in your partner, and often feel like they are lying or not telling you something.

  • You don’t feel like your partner listens to you or cares about what you have to say.

  • You and your partner are in conflict often, and sometimes don’t even know what you’re fighting about.

  • One or both of you ends up shutting down, or being explosive, when you’re in conflict.

  • Once a conflict is resolved, you still don’t feel at peace or connected with your partner.

  • There seems to be a disconnect between what is said, and what is true, e.g. your partner says they feel good with you but their body language is cold and turned away from you.

  • You don’t have a sense of each other’s needs and day-to-day experiences.

  • You and/or your partner often use the Four Horsemen, which research from the Gottman Institute shows are communication styles that can lead to a relationship ending: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

 

Let’s be honest: it doesn’t sound great. Does this sound like you? If so, don’t worry. We’ve all been there. But communication is a skill. Like any skill, it’s something you can learn, practice, and get better at. So let’s get down to business.

What happens when there is a lack of communication

In order to have better communication, we need to know how to work on communication in a relationship. It’s easy to have a goal, like improving a relationship or working on ineffective communication. But we can’t get there if we don’t know what the path looks like.

 

Here’s a simple way to break it down. When you’re not sure how to communicate something, go through these four steps:

 

  1. Identify what is true for you. If you don’t know how you feel or what you think, you won’t be able to communicate it clearly.
     

  2. Decide what you want to communicate. You might not necessarily want to share every thought and feeling you have with your partner, so clarify for yourself what you’d like to share. But this doesn’t mean withholding important information; always aim for honest communication.
     

  3. Guide the where, when and how. Your partner might receive what you communicate differently depending on where you share, when you share, and how you share it. Be mindful of your timing, and pay attention to your tone of voice and body language - more on this later.
     

  4. Engage with the reception. No matter what your intentions are, how your partner receives what you share matters. Take the time to understand what your partner thinks and feels about what you shared. This is where listening skills come in handy.

 

Try to clarify anything that isn’t being understood. Remember that you can’t control their feelings. You can only work on making sure they have understood what you communicated. Their reaction is out of your hands.

 

Many of us skip one, some or all of these steps. But to improve our communication, these four steps are a great place to start. We also have 10 communication skills you can practice in your relationship.

4 steps to improve communication in a relationship

When it comes to improving relationship communication, there is one simple thing you can do. It’s not too good to be true, I promise!

 

Researchers like Dr. Terri Orbuch who study relationships and communication say that couples often get stuck in communication patterns. We have endless cycles of talking about work, the kids, the house, chores, and the to-do list that just keeps growing. And we don’t really talk about anything else.

 

The result? We feel like we’re communicating, but we’re not actually getting any of the benefits of healthy communication. So, what do we do?

 

Here’s the one simple change: good communication in a relationship can start with spending at least 10 minutes every day talking to your partner about something other than work, chores, your children, and your relationship. That’s it!


You can talk about your feelings, dreams for the future, memories from the past, new ideas, shared interests - anything other than those four things. Check out these 100 questions for your relationship to help you get started, and you’ll find that communicating with your partner brings more fun and meaning to your relationship than before.

Better communication with one simple change

Each partner can learn how to communicate better in a relationship on their own. You can also come together to have better communication as a couple.

Do you know the saying, “It takes two to tango?” When it comes to communication in relationships, it implies that communication is a two-way street. Both people together create good or bad communication habits in a relationship.

But, then comes Bill O’Hanlon, a psychologist who co-developed Solution-Oriented Therapy that helps people make real improvements in their lives. He says that while it does take two to tango, either person can change the way they’re dancing - start doing the Cupid Shuffle, for example - meaning the dance the two of you are doing together has to change.

What this means is: if you’re more motivated to learn how to fix communication in a relationship than your partner is, never fear. Once you start changing the way you communicate, your partner will have to adjust and things will start to feel different.

And the law of reciprocity tells us that if you start communicating with your partner the way you want to communicate, over time, they will start communicating that way as well.

Check out our article on 10 communication exercises for your relationship to take action and work on your communication skills in your relationship.

When you care more about relationship communication than your partner

 
 
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