17 Rules for Effective Communication in a Relationship

December 19th, 2012 by Nick Notas 3 Comments

Al Bundy and Peggy

We’ve heard it from every relationship advice column ever: communication is key. But what does that even mean? It’s like saying “be yourself” — great in theory but useless without context or practical application.

For years I thought I knew about good communication. I figured it boiled down to getting everything off your chest. And since I never shut up and would have heated emotional outbursts, I felt I was doing a fine job.

After multiple failed relationships, lots of reading, and serious self-analysis, I began to understand the real components of effective communication. Now, nearly three years into the healthiest and happiest relationship of my life, I’m ready to share my insight.

  1. Have regular bonding time. Don’t spend all your free moments together watching Netflix. Take even 30 minutes a night where you two hang out, talk, and show affection. This closeness promotes honest, vulnerable conversations.
  2. Dont resent what they dont know. Are you frustrated with something she did? Do you think she was being unfair? Did you tell her? If the answer is no, you have no right to be pissed off. Give her a chance to explain her side and apologize if necessary.
  3. Address your feelings as soon as possible. If there’s something on your mind (whether positive or negative), don’t delay telling her about it. Calmly describe how and why you’re feeling the way you do.

    The same goes for when she asks you “What’s wrong?” or “What are you thinking about?” Replying, “Nothing”, “It doesn’t matter”, or “Don’t worry about it” are not valid answers. Again, how can anything get resolved if both parties don’t know the whole story?

  4. Set expectations early on. What do you want? What’s important to you in a relationship and in a partner? Do you need alone time regularly? Do you want to see your friends weekly? Is consistent sex a priority? Do you want to be monogamous?

    Convey as much as possible from the start through discussion and action. If you pretend sex isn’t a priority, you can’t expect it daily a year later. Encourage your partner to share their expectations as well.

  5. When receiving criticism, try not to take it personally. In a healthy relationship, your partner should be able to speak openly with you. Before hearing it as an assault, logically evaluate the situation. Is she caring and looking out for you? Then listen and don’t get defensive. Or is she actually attacking you? Then stand up for yourself, politely let her know she’s crossing your boundaries, and talk it out.
  6. When giving criticism, never launch into a barrage of what she’s doing “wrong”. Tell her how you feel in a direct yet constructive way rather than just pointing a finger. “You always leave your dirty clothes everywhere!” becomes “It’s really important to me to have a clean place. Babe, could you keep your clothes off the floor?” Your message is clearer — she’s more likely to take it well and implement your advice.
  7. Serious discussions should be in-person and private. Having important talks face-to-face can be uncomfortable, but it’s the only way they should be done. Text, phone, or email are not the right mediums — too much is lost and misunderstood. Avoid public confrontations; it’s not fair to make her have an emotional conversation while other people watch.
  8. Never go to bed angry. A gas station attendant who has been happily married for over 20 years told me this. If there’s a topic you need to address or a fight you need to resolve, handle it before sleeping. If you absolutely can’t that night, end on a positive note and reinforce you care about each other. “I’m sorry I yelled, I love you. Let’s talk about this more tomorrow.”
  9. Be curious. Ask “stupid” questions. Ask how something makes her feel, what her interests are, what her fears are, what makes her passionate, and everything in between. The more you know about your partner, the easier it is to communicate efficiently with them.
  10. Maintain focus during disagreements. Stay on topic and stick to one point at a time. Don’t bring up a current issue and then aggressively dig up past conflicts.
  11. Dont make assumptions. Don’t jump to conclusions about how she feels or why she acted a certain way. It’ll drive you crazy to obsess over a thousand different possibilities. A simple question will likely get you the truth and save you a lot of headaches.
  12. Dont interrupt. It’s rude and creates unnecessary tension. I know you want to explain or defend yourself but let her finish. If you’re focused on your answer only, then you aren’t listening to what she’s saying. Consciously bite your tongue and wait your turn.
  13. Share your problems with your partner, not just friends. Good friends are always there in a time of need. Unfortunately, we get into a routine of sharing our relationship troubles with them rather than our partner. Bitching about your relationship isn’t going to fix it. Plus, how would you feel if she shared all your personal problems with other people?
  14. Don’t lie by omission. This practice can start small and snowball into toxic dishonesty. Stop hiding things and trust that your partner can handle the truth, even when you know it’ll upset them. This also includes keeping bad habits a secret (smoking, porn, etc.) There’s a good chance they’ll find out anyway, so it should come from you early on.
  15. Stop trying to “win” arguments. Start trying to find solutions. Proving a point for self-gratification is childish. Even if you’re technically correct, there’s no need to shove it in her face. Humility is the sign of a confident, mature man.
  16. Touch more. Physical contact is so powerful in building connections. Obviously everyone has their threshold but in general, people do not touch enough. Remind your partner how much you care by a simple kiss, hug, back rub, or hand squeeze. It’s important to make your woman feel sexy every day.

    During fights, try to sit together and maintain eye contact. Hold hands even. It’s easy to feel distant and lonely when you’re pacing around the room. Being close shows that even though you’re mad in the moment, you still love each other.

  17. Accept that your partner is not you. She has her own thoughts, feelings, defenses, hormones, and hot buttons. Stop getting frustrated when she doesn’t fit into your box or react how you would expect. Breathe, be patient, and try to understand her point of view.

Damn good communication takes work. It means both parties are constantly bettering themselves, each other, and the relationship.

What lessons have you learned from past or current relationships?

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  1. Foolishly Romantic on December 24, 2012

    On #15. Be sure you are being fair.

    Me: “It makes me feel bad when you …”
    Her: “I just did it that one time.”
    Me: “I remember telling you this bothers me last week and last month”
    Her: “Your always bringing up stuff from the past.”

    There is a great book called “Thank you for Arguing” The author points out that “winning” an argument is getting the result you want, not proving the other person was wrong. Maybe you “loose” the argument but get the person to make the changes you wanted.

    • Nick Notas on December 27, 2012

      That’s a great way to look at it. You should be thinking about making progress, not satisfying a need to be the victor.

  2. Ghazal Derhami on May 13, 2013

    Hi Nick
    I am a female reader of your page, and this post really spoke to me because, these are all the things (summed up into one category) that my boyfriend struggles with. I have kindly spoken to him about my needs a few times during the 2 years we have been dating and i am sad to say that i am not seeing much progress. I ahve tried working on my communication so that I may set an example as opposed to being a “nag”. I have read countless books and blogs on dating and it basically comes down to one point : communication, communication, communication. My boyfriend is a introverted, its not just towards me, its towards everyone in his life, but unfortunately I am the one it hurts the most. I do not know what else to do to assist in developing better communication skills. sadly it has gotten to a point that i am fed up with having to do all the work, making the plans, initiating sex, initiating hugs and kisses, initiating talks. My only option that remains is end the relationship, which i am very hesitant about because i truly love him. I have accepted him for who he is, i give him his space, i dont demand too much of his time, but after 2 years of no phone calls, texts every 2-3 days it makes it hard to accept someone for who they are when it is hurting you.
    any suggestions or thoughts?

    thanks