How to Improve Your Relationships With Effective Communication Skills

Tips for conflict in your relationship

Verywell / Laura Porter

Conflict in a relationship is virtually inevitable. In itself, conflict isn’t a problem; how it’s handled, however, can bring people together or tear them apart. Poor communication skills, disagreements, and misunderstandings can be a source of anger and distance or a springboard to a stronger relationship and a happier future.

What Is Healthy Communication?

Healthy communication is the effective exchange of thoughts and feelings between people. It often involves people taking turns speaking and listening. Ideally, when you engage in healthy communication, the people involved are devoted to the exchange. Both people are aware of how they are acting during the conversation.

For instance, if you are the speaker, you might be making eye contact or using your body language to express that you are present and engaged. If you are the listener, you are open to hearing what the speaker is saying and not cutting them off from finishing a sentence or focusing your attention on what you're going to say next.

The Importance of Healthy Communication

Healthy communication is crucial for sustaining long-term relationships. One study found that effective communication increased relationship satisfaction for couples. Healthy communication can increase intimacy in relationships as well.

The way you and your partner communicate with each other often determines how you resolve conflicts. If you use healthy methods of communicating, you are likely to find common ground even during a disagreement. This can help strengthen your relationship over time.

Of course, the healthiest way of communicating varies based on the situation. If one person becomes unresponsive to a softer communication style when a serious matter needs to be addressed, you may need to be more direct. For everyday relationship issues, on the other hand, an approach centered on affection, forgiveness, and validation can be helpful.

It's important to know how to approach healthy communication and how to adjust your style of communication based on what the situation calls for.

Effective Communication Tips for Conflicts

Next time you’re dealing with conflict, keep these tips on effective communication skills in mind and you can create a more positive outcome. Here's how.

Stay Focused

Sometimes it’s tempting to bring up past seemingly related conflicts when dealing with current ones. It may feel efficient or necessary to address everything that's bothering you at once and get it all talked about while you're already dealing with one conflict.

Unfortunately, this approach often clouds the issue and makes finding mutual understanding and a solution to the current issue less likely. It might make the whole discussion more taxing and even confusing. Try not to bring up past hurts or other topics. Stay focused on the present, your feelings, understanding one another, and finding a solution.

Practicing mindfulness meditation can help you to learn to be more present in all areas of your life, including communication.

Listen Carefully

People often think they’re listening, but are really thinking about what they’re going to say next when the other person stops talking. Try to notice if you do that the next time you're in a discussion.

Truly effective communication goes both ways. While it might be difficult, try really listening to what your partner is saying. Don’t interrupt. Don’t get defensive. Just hear them and reflect back what they’re saying so they know you’ve heard. Through this exercise, you’ll understand them better and they’ll be more willing to listen to you.

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Try to See Their Point of View

In a conflict, most of us primarily want to feel heard and understood. We talk a lot about our point of view to get the other person to see things our way. This is understandable, but too much of a focus on our own desire to be understood above all else can backfire. Ironically, if we all do this all the time, there’s little focus on the other person’s point of view, and nobody feels understood.

Try to really see the other side, and then you can better explain yours. (If you don't "get it," ask more questions until you do.) Others will more likely be willing to listen if they feel heard.

Respond to Criticism With Empathy

When someone comes at you with criticism, it’s easy to feel that they’re wrong and get defensive. While criticism is hard to hear and often exaggerated or colored by the other person’s emotions, it’s important to listen to the other person’s pain and respond with empathy for their feelings. Also, look for what’s true in what they’re saying; that can be valuable information for you.

Own What’s Yours

Personal responsibility is a strength, not a weakness. Effective communication involves admitting when you’re wrong. If you both share some responsibility in a conflict (which is usually the case), look for and admit to what’s yours. It diffuses the situation, sets a good example, and shows maturity. It also often inspires the other person to respond in kind, leading you both closer to mutual understanding and a solution.

Use 'I' Messages

Rather than saying things like, "You really messed up here," begin statements with "I." Make your statements about yourself and your feelings, like, "I feel frustrated when this happens." This approach is less accusatory, sparks less defensiveness, and helps the other person understand your point of view rather than feeling attacked.

Look for Compromise

Instead of trying to "win" the argument, look for solutions that meet everybody’s needs—either through compromise or a new creative solution that gives you both what you want most. This focus is much more effective than one person getting what they want at the other’s expense. Healthy communication involves finding a resolution that both sides can be happy with.

Take a Time-Out

Sometimes tempers get heated and it’s just too difficult to continue a discussion without it becoming an argument or a fight. If you feel yourself or your partner starting to get too angry to be constructive, or showing some destructive communication patterns, it’s OK to take a break from the discussion until you both cool off.

This can mean taking a walk and returning to the conversation in half an hour, "sleeping on it" so you can process what you're feeling a little more, or whatever feels like the best fit for the two of you—as long as you do return to the conversation.

Sometimes good communication means knowing when to take a break.

Keep at It

While taking a break from the discussion is sometimes a good idea, always come back to it. If you both approach the situation with a constructive attitude, mutual respect, and a willingness to see the other’s point of view or at least find a solution, you can make progress toward the goal of a resolution to the conflict. Unless it’s time to give up on the relationship, don’t give up on communication.

Ask for Help

If one or both of you has trouble staying respectful during conflict, or if you’ve tried resolving conflict with your partner on your own and the situation just doesn’t seem to be improving, you might benefit from a few sessions with a therapist.

Couples counseling or family therapy can provide help with altercations and teach skills to resolve future conflict. If your partner doesn’t want to go, you can still often benefit from going alone. You can also use apps like Happy Couple to improve your relationship.

Communication in a Long-Distance Relationship

One study found key differences between the communication styles of couples in long-distance relationships and those of couples in close proximity to each other. The participants in long-distance relationships:

  • Engaged more in video calling, voice calling, and texting
  • Expected their partner to be more responsive to calls and texts
  • Experienced greater relationship happiness with more frequent and responsive texting

Both partners in a long-distance relationship need to feel that the lines of communication are open.

If you are managing conflict long-distance, typing out everything you're thinking over text may not be the best way of communicating. This can lead to misunderstandings, and it doesn't let your partner respond in the moment.

Audio and visual mediums can help offer increased intimacy compared to other forms of communication, like a text or an email. While texting may suffice for quick check-ins, consider video calls or phone calls for bigger discussions.

Try not to do other things while you're on the phone with your partner. Staying present and honoring your time together will go a long way in making the other person feel valued.

Treat a video call as you would an in-person conversation. Try not to hang up on your partner if they're saying something you don't want to hear. Agree that you'll both hear each other out. If one of you needs to take a break and schedule another time to pick up the discussion, that's OK, too.

But don't leave your partner hanging. It might seem easy to ignore your phone for a while while in conflict with your long-distance partner, but that will probably hurt them even more. You want to make sure you still feel accessible to each other, even when you're not in the same room. Try picking the next time you'll have a phone call or video call before hanging up.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that the goal of effective communication skills should be mutual understanding and finding a solution that pleases both parties, not "winning" the argument or "being right."

This doesn’t work in every situation, but sometimes it helps to hold hands or stay physically connected as you talk. This can remind you that you still care about each other and generally support one another.

Keep in mind that it’s important to remain respectful of the other person, even if you don’t like their actions.

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