By Matthew T. Saxey | March 1, 2021

5 Ways to Improve Communication in Relationships

couple walking on a beach

A job applicant once said to me she was “really good at communicating—like, really good.” After the interview, I began to wonder what the applicant meant by being “really good at communicating.” Did she mean she is good at following up? Did she mean she is a great teacher?

As someone interested in what contributes to healthy marriages, I began to examine what being “really good at communicating” might mean in a marriage. 

Here is a list of 5 sound ways to improve communication in relationships:

happy couple1. Show Empathy

Fundamentally, humans want to be understood—especially by their spouse. A recent article in the BYU Family Perspectives journal recommends empathy over sympathy when you’re communicating with your spouse. Sympathy may entail telling your spouse you’re sorry they had a bad day while empathy may lead someone to ask why someone had a bad day and what might make it better. 

In short, seek to understand your spouse—not just their words but also their emotions and how their situation may be impacting them. As you strive to show empathy for your spouse, you are taking a large step toward healthy communication in your relationship. 

2. Do You Want Me to Listen or to Offer Advice?

Before beginning a conversation with your spouse, consider asking them if they want you to listen or to offer advice. Surely, there are some cases when your spouse comes to you for advice. However, when asking this question, it may surprise you that your spouse may often simply want you to listen. 

A recent Psychology Today article suggests that one of the better ways to help your spouse is to listen. Sometimes, after feeling listened to, your spouse’s problems may not seem as daunting, and their stress can be reduced. As you use and act on this helpful question, you can more attentively meet the needs of your spouse.

3. Metacommunication

Therapists and researchers are interested in a process called metacommunication, which is, essentially, communicating about the way you communicate. It’s no secret: productive communication in relationships can be especially difficult. When communication practices are not effective, consider finding an appropriate time and place to discuss your communication patterns with your spouse. Consider sharing with your spouse that you understand they may not be intending to communicate in a certain negative way but that you would really appreciate a slight course correction in the communication in your relationship.

More than just discussing what could be improved, share with your spouse communication practices that work well. For example, you may say, “When I am frustrated and you say ______, that really helps me.” Or, you might also say something like, “When you respond calmly when I am stressed, I really appreciate that.” As you metacommunicate, you can take more steps toward healthy communication in your relationship. 

4. On a Scale of 1-10 . . .

couple sitting together

Tammy Hill, a licensed marriage and family therapist, suggests asking your spouse this question weekly, “On a scale of 1-10, how are you doing physically, spiritually, emotionally, and sexually?” Hill also recommends discussing why you answered the way you did and what could be done to address specific concerns or problems. As you discuss each of these aspects in each other’s lives on a weekly basis, you can know, specifically, how your spouse is doing in important areas of life—along with how you can help.

5. What’s Your Why?

Simon Sinek, a New York Times bestselling author, invites others to consider the importance of contemplating why they do what they do. This flow of thought can be applied to education, careers, different familial roles, and relationships—asking why you’re doing what you’re doing. Further than a simple “I am in a relationship because I am married” response, a Sinek way of thinking may lead you and your partner to consider, “Why are we in this relationship? What is our goal or our ‘why’ of creating and maintaining this relationship together?” 

Being reminded of your ‘why’ in your relationship can help motivate you to remember the specific, important reasons you’re putting in concerted effort to have productive communication in your relationship. As you are reminded of your ‘why’, following through with improving communication in your relationship may be easier. 

Really Good at Communicating—Like, Really Good

The pursuit of creating and maintaining productive communication in relationships can be an extremely difficult task. Indeed, solutions to all problems you have with communication may not be solved by these 5 things. However, as you consistently show empathy, ask your spouse what they need from you (advice or to listen), practice metacommunication, ask your spouse the scale from 1 – 10 question weekly, and regularly consider your relationship’s ‘why’, you’re on your way to being “really good at communicating—like, really good” in your relationship.