Communicating Effectively

It’s easy to say that good communication is essential to healthy relationships. It’s harder to know what that means, or what it looks/sounds like. Below are some pointers about how to engage in good, effective communication (in all your relationships).

Communicating About Sexual Intimacy

Communicating about sex and intimacy can be especially difficult for some people. It’s important to do so, to make sure you and your partner are both safe, happy, and comfortable with your experience. For more on ways to talk about sex and intimacy, check out our consent page, and don’t forget to learn more about condom negotiation.

Communication & Conflict Resolution

Disagreements in a relationship are not only normal but, if constructively resolved, actually strengthen the relationship. It is inevitable and normal that there will be times of sadness, tension, or outright anger between you and your partner. The source of these problems may lie in unrealistic, unreasonable emotional demands, unexplored expectations, or unresolved issues or behaviors in one partner or in the relationship. Key to resolving conflicts in healthy relationships are self-honesty, a willingness to consider your partner’s perspective even if you don’t fully understand it, and communication, communication, communication!

Pointers for Having an Honest Conversation

Discuss One Thing at a Time: Starting out by talking about one concern and then bringing up another when the first discussion is unfinished can also lead to problems. Do your best to keep the focus on resolving one concern at a time, even if it is tempting to “list” other concerns or grievances.

Really Listen: A “good” listener is an “active” listener — By “active,” we mean that you

  1. don’t interrupt,
  2. focus on what your partner is saying rather than on formulating your own rebuttal or response, and
  3. check out what you heard your partner say.

You might start this process with: “I think you are saying . . . .” Or “what I understood you to say was. . . .” This step alone can sometimes short circuit a fight based on a misunderstanding.

Restrain Yourself: Couples who “edit” themselves – are intentional about what they do or do not say, and do not say all the angry things they may be thinking – are typically the happiest. “Softening” the beginning of a fight is important. In situations where one partner makes a critical or contemptuous comment “right off the bat,” conflict escalates quickly.

Adopt a “Win-Win” Position: A “win-win” stance means that your goal is for the relationship rather than either partner to “win” in a conflict situation. This may mean asking yourself: “Is what I am about to say (or do) going to increase or decrease the odds that we’ll work this problem out?” If your partner feels bullied, out-talked, or otherwise the “loser” in a fight, you may win the battle but lose ground in the relationship. A better approach may be to use “fair fighting” techniques. A “fair fight” involves a step-by-step strategy for resolving conflict in which both partners negotiate a mutually acceptable solution to a problem.

Adapted from the UT Counseling & Mental Health Center | The University of Texas at Austin

Communicating Assertively

Communicating assertively means asking for what you want or saying how you feel in an honest and respectful way that does not infringe on another person’s rights, degrade that person, or put that person down. Here are some ways to start the conversation if you need to communicate something to your partner, but don’t know where to start.

Taking care of yourself
  • I want to take it slow, I’ve got issues with trust.
  • I don’t want to be on the pill, so let’s talk about our other contraceptive options.*
Negotiating to get your needs met
  • Let’s try to spend more time together on weekends.
  • Would you be okay with giving me backrubs sometimes?
  • I’m feeling kind of pressured when it comes to sex, like, I’m uncomfortable just being alone with you.
  • If you don’t use a condom, I won’t have sex with you.
  • I feel like you are invading my privacy with all these questions about my exes.
Setting limits
  • Yeah, we can go to dinner, but I’d rather drive myself and meet you there at ____ time.
  • I need some time to think about the commitment that I am ready to make.
  • As much as I want to turn you on, I don’t enjoy__________.
Denying a request
  • No, I can’t do that for you.
  • No, that won’t work for me.
  • I don’t feel comfortable with that.
Denying unreasonable demands
  • I will not be involved in a relationship where I am doing all the work.
  • I enjoy being with you, but I cannot spend every night of the week at your place.
  • Don’t pressure me into something I don’t want to do.
  • I will not be held responsible for your feelings (or needs).
  • I feel like you are putting me down because I don’t agree with your opinion.
  • Trying to make me feel guilty about spending more time with you won’t work.
Protecting yourself from abusive or inappropriate behavior
  • Don’t call me names.
  • Please step back; you are invading my personal space.
  • I won’t let myself be treated this way.
  • I’ll hang up the phone if you continue to raise your voice/yell.

Pushing, hitting and/or other physical or sexual violence in relationships is inexcusable. You deserve to be safe in all of your relationships. If you do not feel safe, please click here for more information and assistance.

Boundary setting is another important part of healthy and effective communication. Click here to learn more.

Other Resources for Learning to Communicate Effectively

Effective Communication

Simple Keys to Effective Communication

 How Can We Communicate Better? from