Dr. Michelle Vandegriend
Registered Psychologist
Professional Counselling Services

Communication: Essential Tips for Keeping Your Marriage and Relationship Strong

Communication: Essential Tips for Keeping Your Marriage and Relationship Strong

Communicating well is an important foundation in any healthy relationship. Although it may seem easy on the surface it does require a deeper level of awareness and integration of skills as you progress through your marriage or relationship. The following are a few key skills that you can begin to review and practice:

  1. Validate what your partner is saying. Validation does not mean that you agree with everything your partner is saying - it simply conveys to your partner that you are acknowledging, listening, and understanding them. It helps provide a safe and accepting space to discuss what it important to them. An example of this may be, "I hear what you are saying - that would be difficult".
  2. Be mindful of defensiveness. An ongoing pattern of defensiveness within a marriage or relationship is harmful. Over time it creates a barrier in communication. In fact, in his research Dr. John Gottman describes defensiveness as an important predictor of divorce or separation. Building a greater awareness of when and why you become defensive and changing this pattern can help prevent repeated escalations of conflict. For example, work through the following statement: "when I begin to feel defensive I notice that I ... because .... In the future I will..."
  3. "Begin with an end in mind". This quote comes from Steven Covey's book, "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People". In its application to couples and communication think about how you would like your conversations to end - what is your goal(s) of what you would like to convey and what are some possible factors to consider for your partner.
  4. Keep "stuff" focused on the present. Bringing up "stuff" from the past often does not lead to a healthy resolution of the current issue. Stay focused on what is occurring in the moment.
  5. Find a way of saying it with respect. In communicating with your partner or spouse it is not necessarily what you say but "how" you say it that can make the biggest difference. Take note of your nonverbal communication such posture and eye contact - for example eye rolling while your partner is speaking could escalate into conflict. As well, listen to your tone of voice when speaking or even record it so you can play it back to yourself first. Other aspects to listen for are: rate of speech (e.g., are you speaking so fast it is difficult to understand and then feeling frustrated because your partner did not understand what you were saying?), volume (yelling vs. whispering), and style (too much humor or animation vs. too slow and methodical).
  6. Avoid interrupting. Listen well by waiting until your partner has completed their full expressed thought or feeling.
  7. Use caution when texting. Texting can often lead to miscommunication especially at the onset of a new relationship or if the relationship is already experiencing strains and challenges. Unless it is used to communicate something positive speak with each other over the phone or directly in person - this also allows one to pay attention to their partner's body language as he/she can be saying one thing but looks or behaves differently.
  8. Turn off distractions. When communicating with each other it is best to turn off all distractions especially if it is a significant conversation - this may include turning off the television, computer, cell phones, music etc.
  9. Practice choice. A central aspect of a healthy marriage or relationship requires choosing each day to make a conscientious effort and practice communication skills. In doing so, couples become stronger and are better able to resolve any conflict(s) that arises.


Gottman, J. & Silver, N. (1999) Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Covey, S. (2004) Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, NY: Free Press.

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