Improving relationships by improving communication skills

When we stop to think about it, we all realize that good communications are vitally important in building strong, positive relationships with others. The problem is that most of us are leading such busy, often stressful lives, that we forget to really think about communicating effectively.

Good communication does require extra focus and effort. It requires understanding how we communicate and having a desire to improve.

One starting point in overcoming communication difficulties is understanding that, in most cases, men and women actually do communicate differently, according to researchers in the field. Compared to women, most men tend to talk less, are reluctant to discuss feelings, are quicker to seek solutions, interrupt more often, and are quicker to withdraw when confronted by the other person.

To improve how you communicate with others, especially with your spouse or other family members in regard to major issues, you need to get past those communication differences. There are various techniques that can help.

Simple things like making eye contact can make a real difference. You also want to use “I” statements, rather than “you” accusations which automatically will put the listener on the defensive.

It’s important to avoid words like “always” and “never” since such absolutes are virtually never true. Similarly, name calling, or being critical or sarcastic are all ways that hinder, rather than improve communication.

An essential element in communicating better is to listen better. It’s easy to assume you know what the other person is saying and to start formulating your reply before they’re done. Instead, what you really want to do is take the time to listen carefully to what’s being expressed. It often helps to repeat what you just heard to make sure you really understand what was meant.

Most of us tend to be unaware of our body language or voice tone, but these can communicate a number of messages. When you use a mocking tone, roll your eyes, put your hands on your hips or cross your arms, you’re actually sending a negative message. But when you maintain eye contact, keep a positive or at least neutral expression, and really listen, you’re giving positive communication a real chance.

Poor communication is one of the major reasons couples facing problems consult with professional counselors. Communicating well in a relationship takes practice and work, but it pays big dividends in the long run.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Comments and questions to or visit the ACA website at