8 Ways to Communicate Better in Your Relationship
Do you struggle to express yourself clearly to your partner? Do you often argue about the same things?
Do you wish you could stop the conflict, but don’t really know how?
Maybe you already don’t argue very much, but still want to work on your partnership (awesome).
In my work as a sex coach, these are the most common tips I find myself telling my clients when it comes to their partnerships — here they are for you, too.
1. Validate your partner’s feelings
This can be incredibly hard, but it’s incredibly important.
The moment your partner starts expressing themselves to you, search for the root of what they’re saying.
What we complain about is often not what’s really causing us to feel a certain emotion. (We’ll talk about that more in tip #3).
Especially if you feel yourself getting defensive, take a deep breath and start by acknowledging that it makes sense for your partner to feel how they’re feeling.
This is basically you saying that you understand how, if you were them and had all of their past experiences, you might also feel the same way.
The key sentence here is: “I understand how that could feel _____ to you.”
“I understand how me not cleaning up could feel frustrating to you.”
“I understand how it could feel hurtful when I don’t call you back.”
“I understand how me looking at my phone could make it feel like I don’t care about what you’re saying.”
This doesn’t mean your partner is right, and it doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.
It just acknowledges that you hear their feelings and that their feelings make sense from their perspective — and when you can do that, you create a bridge into finding common ground.
2. Truly listen
Listening to your partner isn’t about you hearing what they’re saying.
Listening to your partner isn’t even about you understanding what they’re saying.
Listening to your partner is about you giving them the gift of your entire presence.
You are giving them the gift of being heard.
This is something most people don’t know how to give. It involves putting down what we’re doing, fully focusing on our partners, and listening to hear, not listening just to respond.
Having 100% of our partner’s attention immediately can make us feel like the most loved, significant, and celebrated person in the entire world.
If your partner is talking to you and you are doing something else, try saying: “I want to give you my full attention. Can you tell me this in ten minutes?”
If you are talking to them and they are doing something else, try saying: “I want to tell you this story but you look busy. Can I have your full attention? (or, when is a better time?)”
It’s not realistic to be able to give our partners our full attention all of the time, but it’s incredibly helpful, especially when the subject is important.
3. Listen for the emotion underneath what your partner is saying
This is incredibly important if you’re arguing, because often what we argue about isn’t really what we’re arguing about.
For example, maybe your partner gets annoyed when you throw the laundry on the floor — but what’s underneath that is that they feel like you don’t care about their opinions or feelings.
Maybe your partner gets aggravated when you complain about them not texting you back—but what’s underneath that is that they feel hurt you don’t trust how much they care about you, and it makes them feel like a failure.
There are always layers to how we’re feeling. Look for the emotion that is coming up for your partner.
At the root of many emotional reactions is that we are feeling unloved, unsafe, or not good enough.
This will give you compassion for your partner, and help you to not take things they complain about personally.
(This doesn’t excuse abusive or awful behavior — it is possible to understand the root of your partners reactions and still not tolerate them treating you badly).
4. People have different ways of communicating
All people have some amount of what is typically referred to as “masculine” and “feminine” energy. Masculine energy is direct and penetrating, and feminine energy is soft and receptive. These do not always correspond to gender, and I wish I knew different terms to describe them. We all have both energies in us, and it’s typical (though not absolute) for a person to feel more natural in one than in the other.
Generally, people with more feminine energy want to be able to empty out allll the contents of their day to their partners, sometimes all at once.
Other feminine people tend to innately know how to listen to this.
But for masculine people, the key to listening to a feminine person when they’re doing this is to let them talk, without trying to figure out what the point is or what they want.
When they finish talking, it can be helpful to ask: then what happened? Is there more? What else did you do?
Give them the gift of fully listening, knowing that this is them showing you their self-expression.
People with more masculine energy typically don’t communicate this way. And because they tend to use less words, and think about what they’re saying more, the key to listening to masculine people is to be patient and wait longer.
If you are a feminine person listening to a masculine person, stop interrupting them. If they stop talking, wait 30 seconds — often they’ll continue speaking if you give them space.
We communicate differently. We know this, right? In general, the answer to “how was your day?” from a feminine person is minutes long — the answer from a masculine person is usually: “good.”
*I know the language here is a bit awkward — it is hard when using English to communicate along a spectrum of gender. There are men with more feminine energy, and women with more masculine energy. There are nonbinary people who resonate more with one than the other, and people who feel balanced between both. The play between these energies is a topic for a whole other article.
5. Own your own stuff
When having an argument, it can be really helpful to feel inside your own body to understand what’s happening.
What is this activating in you?
Usually, arguments with our partners either trigger things from our past relationships, or things from our childhoods.
As an example: when my partner raises his voice at me, I tend to immediately feel hurt, unloved and defensive.
I know this is my trigger because in reality, he didn’t do anything wrong — he was just feeling frustrated and his voice went up.
When I feel into my body, I understand that there’s a little girl piece of me that feels like her father is yelling and she doesn’t understand why, and she feels hurt.
Does that mean my partner should never raise his voice? No, not necessarily. It has to be a combination.
I have to recognize that me feeling immediately unloved and afraid when his voice raises is my stuff.
And he has to learn what that triggers in me, too, and to understand why he’s yelling in the first place.
We are rarely taught how to do this. If you want help understanding triggers in your body and how to take care of them, I would love to help you work through it.
6. Make an effort to see them and meet their needs
Your partner is different than you. This means that their needs are different than yours, and their entire world perspective might be different than yours.
Not only that, but you and your partner are both changing every single day.
Essentially, your partner is a tiny little bit different every time you see them. Which is really the most beautiful thing in the world, when you think about it. That’s why we need to choose each other over and over again.
This means that it’s incredibly important to get to know them and their needs — and to understand that needs can change over time.
Part of being a caring partner is to get to know your partner’s core wounds: what triggers them the most? Do they often feel insecure or unloved by you? Do they often feel unsafe?
Can you check in with them to see if they are actually feeling that way, or if you’re projecting that onto them?
How can you better meet their needs?
7. Tell your partner what you need and how to handle you
The last tip kind of makes it seem like it’s all on you to figure out what your partner needs — but that’s not true.
It’s true it’s partially your responsibility to learn about your partner, and to want to help them work on themselves.
But if your partner never tells you what they’re feeling or how to handle it, you’re going to have a really hard time.
This is why it is essential to let our partners know how best to handle us.
Do you tell your partner what you need? Or do you expect them to read your mind, and then get mad when they don’t?
Perhaps the most important part of communicating well with our partners is to understand *ourselves* so deeply that we know what is coming up for us in each moment.
This is a long process, and doesn’t happen overnight. It requires understanding our own wounds (number 5) and getting to know our partner’s (number 6), so we can express when they are triggering us and understand when we are triggering them (and not take it so personally).
A really helpful tip I have for this is to literally explain to your partner how you would like them to handle you in your worst moments.
This maybe isn’t the most magical or most romantic, since it means they are not reading your mind and automatically knowing exactly how to handle you. But it works.
Do you frequently get depressed by the weight of the world? Do you get incredibly irritated when you’re hungry? Do you get really sad sometimes for no reason? Do you sometimes shut down and become unable to speak during an argument? Do you sometimes freeze during sex?
What would you like your partner to do for you in those moments?
Something my partner knows to ask me when I’m emotional is: “What do you need in this moment?”
It works well for me, and it works so well because months and months ago I told him to ask it to me.
Prep your partner ahead of time. Whenever you have a breakdown or a conflict, analyze it after and let them know what came up for you and how you would like them to handle a similar moment next time.
And let them know how you would like to handle it better next time, too.
Relationships frequently have the same “themes” come up in arguments — the key is to understand why, what this theme activates in you, and to learn how to deal with it better and better, together.
Do you do this with your partner? What are some things or phrases that help you?
8. Talk about sex!
If your sex life is suffering, your relationship is suffering.
I know, you don’t want that to be true — but it is.
Our sexual energy feeds our life force energy, our power, our creativity, and more. If we aren’t flowing in that area, we’re blocking other areas of our lives, and we’re being restricted from our full access to pleasure.
Our natural essence is joy and pleasure.
No one is born knowing how to have incredible, ecstatic, mind-blowing sex.
And instead of anybody teaching us, most of us grow up learning that sex is dangerous, dirty, and not allowed. We learn that it should be hidden.
And also, we should be really good at it, but only with our spouses, and only in private. But we should look sexy to everyone. But not too sexy. Right?
On a deep, deep level, we tend to register that being sexual is dangerous. This is exponentially increased if we’ve experienced trauma in this area — and lots of us have.
Talk to your partner about sex. Let them know what you need in order to orgasm. Let them know the things you like during sex, the things you might like to try one day, and the things that don’t. Let them know things past partners did that you didn’t enjoy. Let them know the things that make you feel unsafe or that trigger you or take you out of the moment. Let them know what they did well, and let them know what you didn’t like.
It can be hard to give constructive criticism to our partners about sex, since it can be such a touchy topic to begin with. A good way to handle this, if it feels too sensitive right after, is to wait for a time when you’re not both naked in bed.
It can be really productive to bring it up later, clothed over dinner, and just say: “Know that thing you did earlier? I really liked that. I don’t think I like when you do ___. Maybe if we could try ___?”
And encourage your partner to tell you what they like and what they don’t. Let them know that you would be happy to hear constructive criticism.
You want to please them, right? Ask them how you can do it better.