"We Can't Communicate": How to Create Healthy Communication in Relationships
Updated: Feb 28
Healthy communication is something that we're taught as children, but for adults who grew up with emotionally immature/neglectful parents, you're left to figure out how to have healthy communication in relationships as adults or you're struggling to figure out why you're stuck in relationship patterns where partners keep telling you you can't communicate. Maybe you've accepted that as just being a part of who you are, but I'm here to challenge that belief.
As humans, we have the wonderful ability to evolve. When we know better, we can do better. But knowing it is one thing; implementing it and ditching unhealthy communication patterns we've been using for decades is another. The majority of the time, the act of actually implementing healthy communication patterns in your relationships takes working with a skilled therapist who can help you process through and work through insecure attachment and the root issues behind unhealthy communication patterns. But thankfully, Drs. John and Julie Gottman, MFT, founders of The Gottman Institute and Gottman Therapy, have found highly effective ways for couples to learn how to have intimate, genuine, healthy conversations.
Connect, Connect, Connect
It's impossible for us to truly connect with other people on a deeper level if we don't actually take the time to connect by spending time together, laughing together, sharing a meal, and investing in the friendship. The same is true for your relationship. How long you've been together doesn't take away from the importance of continuing to connect with your partner. Think of it like a little love bank: every time you do something that brings you both together, whether that's spending time watching a movie together, drinking morning coffee together on Saturday mornings, or going for walks, you're making an investment into your relationship that builds over time. When the hard times come (and they will), you've both built a strong foundation of connection, and you'll be able to face that challenging moment together instead of in elevated conflict.
The essence of communication is knowing that first and foremost, even if you disagree, you and your partner are on the same team. You have mutual respect and honor towards each other. Connection brings forth this respect and honor. Without connection, our attempts at healthy communication, especially in hard times, falls flat.
If you're struggling to find ways to connect, a great place to start is Gottman's Card Decks, which you can download for free on the Apple or Google Play Store.
I don't mean aggressive. Being assertive when it comes to healthy communication means not allowing weeks to go by to have a difficult conversation you've been wanting to have with your partner. When we wait, we allow emotions to pent up and fester, possibly causing us to feel resentful, bitter, and overwhelmed when the conversation does actually happen.
Having assertive communication means that we separate our thoughts from our feelings, and we express our feelings and what we need in ways that are not hurtful to our partner. Here are a few ways we can practice assertiveness in our communication with our partners:
Be Kind - remember, you both are on the same team, no matter the issue. Being on the same team doesn't mean you agree about everything; it means that first and foremost, your love, respect, and honor for each other comes before everything. You both desire peace in the relationship and compromise. Simply by saying "I love you, and I'm here" can move mountains.
Precision - Bringing up past issues or exaggerating the current issue won't solve the present issue. Make sure you're talking about your needs in regards to the current issue.
Think About Your Partner's Emotions - no one wins or loses in communication, because that's not the goal of healthy communication. The goal of communication isn't to figure out who's right or wrong. It's to connect. Your partner has emotions, too. Avoid using a passive-aggressive or offensive statements. You could even come up with a tagline that you both repeat to each other, and it can sound something like this: "In this house, we don't call each other names or say mean things to each other." Adopt it as your house rule when you communicate!
Learn to Listen
Communicating has less to do with talking and more to do with listening. The backbone of healthy communication is good listening.
Many of us like to believe we're good at listening, but truthfully, as a whole, we all struggle to listen well. While someone's talking, sometimes we're thinking of the next thing we want to say, or our phone is sitting on the table and we got distracted because we saw a text come through. True listening isn't about waiting for your turn to speak. It's about patience and presence in the conversation, even allowing moments of silence to exist in the space while you process what your partner said.
When your partner is talking, show genuine interest in what they're saying by maintaining eye contact, putting your phone down (or better yet in another room), and attempt to comprehend what your partner's saying. If you need clarification, ask for it.
Make Time to Check In
Every day, we have the privilege of having beautiful conversations with our partner. So, here's a little challenge for you:
This week, take 30 minutes each day to check in on your partner. This doesn't mean just talking about the errands they did or simply how their day was, but rather going deeper. "I remember you telling me you had that project coming up at work and you were feeling nervous about it. How are you feeling about it now?" After their response, respond with more follow-up questions.
Being a better communicator means checking in on your partner's needs every single day. A simple, "Hey, I would love to know how I can love you better today" or "what's something that you feel like your heart really needed today that you didn't receive" creates that deep, intimate connection.
These types of conversations take longer than others, so make sure you set aside enough time to have them (at least 30 minutes).
Healthy communication can be learned; we just have to be willing to take the time to learn it and implement it into our relationships.
Gottman Connect Staff. (2022). How to communicate better in a relationship. https://info.gottmanconnect.com/blog/how-to-communicate-better-in-a-relationship.
At Root Counseling, we help clients learn how to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and needs to themselves, their partners, and their friends in ways that are healthy by exploring attachment. We also help couples learn how to have healthy communication. If you're interested in scheduling an appointment, you can visit our therapists here.