Section 508 Website Accessibility

Skip to site navigation Skip to main content
Skip to main content
Counseling and Psychological Services

Counseling and Psychological Services

How Do We Communicate Better?


Did you know that effective communication skills between partners is one of the largest predictors of relationship satisfaction? 


In order to maintain a healthy relationship, partners need to express themselves openly and honestly.  This means that each partner is able to express positive feelings, negative feelings, complaints, desires, and needs.  When we communicate effectively, we are either expressing ourselves or responding to someone else.  Self expression can involve making an observation or stating an opinion or feeling.  The best way to communicate your thoughts is to use what is called an "I" statement.  "I" statements are much more effective in getting our point across honestly and directly because we are not blaming the other person.  When we get into the habit of blaming someone else, this is called using "You" statements.  "You" statements are the largest reason for ineffective communication.  When we use "You" statements, what we are actually doing is placing the other person in a defense mode, thus blocking the chance for effective communication.  Compare these statements:

    "You make me angry."

    "I feel angry when you make fun of me in front of other people because it makes me feel embarrassed and stupid."

The first "You" statement can clearly raise an opportunity for defensives to rise.  The second statement, however, is following a formula that allows for open, honest, and direct feelings and thoughts to come through.  The formula looks like this:

    "I feel/think/want (express the feeling/thought/desire)...when (state the behavior causing it)...because (identify the reason)..."

We can also use this same formula when responding to others.  For example:

   "Sounds like you're feeling/thinking/wanting (express his or her emotion, thought, or desire you hear)...because (state the reason you heard for it)..."

You can now start using this formula to express yourself, or respond to your partner's statements!  The two major areas couples find this formula most effective is in dealing with issues related to boundaries and expectations.


Aside from setting personal boundaries for each other within a relationship (e.g. time alone, personal space, sexual likes and dislikes), you must also be able to set boundaries between you as a couple and the outside world.  In our busy lifestyles, it is important to establish times when you take care of your work and your relationships.  It may be a good idea to schedule in time for you and your partner, like an appointment, so that you can both be comfortable about your time together and also be able to freely enjoy one another.  You and your partner may also need to reevaluate your priorities.  This may mean setting limits with each other, or others, to avoid feelings of being overwhelmed or stressed.  Also, regularly consult with one another when making significant alterations in joint priorities.  This aids in effectively communicating, thus decreasing the potential for disappointments in the future.


Having specific expectations within a relationship is normal.  Some common expectations that often need negotiations include: 

  • Time spent together versus apart (friends-night-out, just the two of you, going out with another couple, having dinner with the partner's family, having your partner spent alone time with their family).
  • Each person's desires, interests, and preferences (what types of movies to see with each other, what to eat, having some alone time after a long day before coming together, times for intimacy).
  • Expectations for affection, attention, and emotional support (providing a hug when upset, room to vent without advice, not going to bed when still upset with one another).
  • Financial Arrangements (who pays for what and when).

The key is to allow both partners to equally communicate his or her own expectations.  By effectively communicating and understanding one another's desires, this allows for the opportunity to reduce, modify, or readjust expectations.  It is important to remember, however, no one can be everything that we might want them to be.  Being in a healthy relationship means accepting the person as they are without trying to change them.


For information about handling conflict within your relationship ... CLICK HERE