Healthy communication is one of the most important qualities of a satisfying relationship. It can be difficult to break down the pieces and determine what healthy communication means. Much of it is subjective, but there are general rules you can follow to keep your communication open and to help it serve as a strength of your relationship.

Most communication problems do not develop overnight and constitute a gradual decline in effort, attention, and empathy. Give your communication a reboot by recalling these simple rules to make your communication healthier and more effective at helping you feel heard.

  1. Use “I” statements.

    Being cognizant of your pronouns and taking ownership of your thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs is one of the most valuable rules to effective communication. You can reduce a partner’s instinctive response to become defensive or withdraw by differentiating your feelings from your partner’s. For example, instead of saying “You have no respect for me! How else do you explain your lack of following through?” Try saying this:

    “I feel like you are neglecting or disrespecting me when you do not clean the dishes after telling me you will take care of it. You may not mean it this way, and I want to understand how we can keep this from happening moving forward.” This statement tells your partner how you feel instead of you acting like you understand your partner’s intentions. It also explains why you are telling your partner this, i.e. to keep it from recurring.

  2. When listening, just listen.

    You can keep conflict from escalating by only focusing on listening when your partner is speaking. It is more natural to internally formulate your response, especially if you feel strongly affected by what your partner is saying. Try to overcome this instinct and focus on understanding your partner’s perspective before generating a response.

    This rule helps slow things down and promotes empathy through more thorough understanding of each other’s point-of-view. It takes practice and conscious attention, and through persistence, it can become your new norm communication style.

  3. Tone and volume matter, so remain mindful of yours.

    Healthy communication is not just about saying the right thing but also about communicating in a respectful tone absent of condescension, sarcasm, and yelling. If you tend to have a louder voice, be careful to keep it under control if you feel upset or frustrated. Start improving by simply being more aware of your tone in various moods. Use your increased awareness to begin altering your tone and take accountability afterwards if you learn you slipped up.

  4. Keep watch of your nonverbal behavior.

    Unhealthy nonverbal behavior like eye rolling, shaking your head, or sighing heavily can greatly impede your healthy communication. Sometimes you will not be aware when you do it, but your partner will be. You have surely been on the other end of such behavior and should be able to relate to the frustration when you are trying to communicate how you feel.

    Put an end to rude and escalatory nonverbal behavior. Maintain eye contact with your partner to show him or her that you are paying attention and genuinely care to know how your partner is feeling. If you find yourself getting frustrated, ask to walk away from the conversation for a short time, and then try again when you feel more in control.

  5. Be open and respectful.

    Always be open to your partner’s perspective and communicate respectfully. This rule is much more about intent than actual behavior, and it is not often something we keep in mind in our day-to-day communications. Set a reminder for you and your partner to be considerate with each other and to address any failures to do so in the recent past. It is helpful to establish a regular check-in to assess your communication style, express appreciation for helpful behavior, and make a plan to address any problematic habits.