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How do I Communicate Better With my Partner?

Zoe Mittman, LSW


Do you and your partner find yourselves in the same conflict patterns? Are you feeling unheard, frustrated, or even resentful? If so, then this blog might be for you. Oftentimes, cycles of conflict occur due to a lack of effective communication. Please keep in mind – it takes 2 people to build, break, and/or repair a relationship. While I am going to share tips on how to effectively communicate your feelings, wants and needs with your partner, these tips alone may not be enough to improve communication patterns. If you live in Chicago, please reach out to Symmetry Counseling to learn more about how individual or couples therapy may benefit you.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Relationship Communication:

Do use “I” statements when communicating your feelings. For example, “I feel frustrated that the dishes haven’t been cleaned yet.” Don’t start your sentences with “you” statements. Your feelings are valid; however, when you start a sentence with “you,” it can immediately lead to hostility and defensiveness. Your partner may feel as though you are attacking their character. With “I” statements, you are taking responsibility for your own feelings and not placing the blame on your partner


There is a misconception that a situation directly leads to feelings. In fact, it is the thoughts or beliefs we have about a situation that affects how we feel. For example, if your partner often puts their dishes in the sink, but not in the dishwasher, what are you telling yourself about it? Do you find your internal dialogue sounding like “I can’t stand it when they don’t clean their dishes”? Or does it sound more like “ugh, it’s really annoying that they don’t clean their dishes.” If you feel like you truly cannot stand what your partner is doing, then of course you are going to feel irritable, and that irritability will grow each time it happens. On the other hand, if you recognize your frustrations and express your feelings with “I” statements, it is more likely that you will be heard and better equipped to tolerate frustration.


Do focus on the situation at hand. Don’t use absolutes. Examples of absolutes are always, never, anything, nothing. When using absolutes, you are implying that something happens 0% or 100% of the time. Your partner may also feel like you are solely focusing on what they are not doing. If you focus on behaviors in a given context, you are not defining your partner by their behaviors. Rather, you are expressing behavior or lack thereof that is frustrating to you. An absolute statement might sound like “you never ask me how my day is.” A more effective statement might sound like “I feel upset right now because I had a long day of work and haven’t had a chance to talk about it with you. I feel like this happens often. Debriefing in the evening would really help me. Would you please start asking me how my day is?” Do word your needs/wants as requests. 


Do be honest. If you ever feel like you are purposely withholding information from your partner, that may be a sign of unsafety in your relationship. I encourage you to ask yourself, “why am I choosing to not share this information?” When you withhold information, the wedge between you and your partner grows. It creates room for you to not show up as your authentic self. Do respect your partner’s boundaries when it comes to communication. This will probably require compromise as no two people have the same exact communication needs. 


I hope that these communication tips can help you and your partner work together as one team!

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