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Improving Communication in Relationships

To paraphrase a realtor’s mantra, the three keys to a successful marriage are “communication, communication, and communication.” Without good communication skills and quality time dedicated to communicating, relationships soon flounder and fail, especially among couples with the stress of careers and a full family life. Couples need to learn that their relationship is not a thing, but a process.

There are three basic steps to being a good listener and therefore a good communicator:

  1. Stay on the subject.
  2. Listen to be sure you are staying on the subject.
  3. Adapt your behavior if you aren’t staying on the subject.

How can you keep healthy communication lines open? Recognize and implement these requirements:

  • People are relationships.
    We know our similarities and differences only in relationship to others. When we aren’t able to communicate with others, we become confused and begin to doubt ourselves or we build impenetrable defenses against change.

    Take, for example, Trish and Kurt. Within 10 years of marriage, they had moved three times to accommodate promotions for Kurt. But the moves had been good for Trish, too, since she’d moved into a higher-level job each time.

    Then Kurt was offered another promotion. He accepted it without discussing it with Trish, assuming that she would follow him as she had always done. When Trish refused to move, they didn’t know how to deal with it.

    Trish was tired of moving and wanted to raise their daughters in one community. But she was equally committed to Kurt and wanted to stay married. So for six months Kurt commuted 2,000 miles every other weekend to be home with his family.

    Ultimately, this couple had to look outside their current reality to discover what marriage, family, and career advancement meant to them. In order to move toward a win-win solution, they had to develop a plan that provided for their identities as businesspersons, as parents and as a loving couple. Surprisingly, their solution was to leave their jobs and start their own business.

  • Listening is at the heart of quality communication.
    Listening means that, instead of planning your next comment, you just listen and try to understand where your partner is coming from. Don’t comment. Don’t judge.

    Take, for example, Don and Maria. They were considering divorce when I met them. In spite of the great deal they had in common — they still loved each other and had three beautiful children and a successful business — they couldn’t communicate. Their lives were so full that they seldom made time to fill each other in on the day’s events. Each took care of their own responsibilities, Don as breadwinner, Maria as homemaker. Unfortunately, when conflicts arose, the couple had no mechanism for solving them and retreated to their own separate worlds.

    The first step in bringing Don and Maria back together was to teach them how to listen and to make time for listening. When they scheduled fifteen minutes daily for uninterrupted listening to each other, they began to rekindle their friendship. Maria learned that Don felt left out of the family because she handled all of their children’s affairs without consulting him. Don learned that Maria felt devalued because he handled all of their financial affairs without consulting her. Furthermore, by just listening, this couple recognized they had more in common than they had realized.

    Before you begin going into any depth on a topic, be sure that there’s agreement about just what the problem is. Once there’s agreement on the topic, the problem practically works itself out.

  • Conflict and confrontation are natural and healthy components of any relationship.Couples often have problems because they fail to confront issues head-on. They may fight openly or quietly seethe, but they have a terrible time confronting the real conflict respectfully and honestly. It’s as if confrontation and conflict are impolite.

There are four mistakes career couples make in handling confrontation:

  1. Allowing work or your business to run your life.
  2. Being too willing to compromise.
  3. Pushing to win at all costs or acquiescing to the persuader.
  4. Pursuing consistency to a foolish degree.

Conflict and confrontation are natural and healthy components of any relationship. It shakes us out of our comfort zone. And we need that in order to advance to the next level of development. You are neither bad nor wrong for causing a conflict or identifying one. Conflict is an opportunity to open up communication on a difficult subject. If you dismiss the communication, you may miss important information about yourself or the other person.

As you develop the art of listening and conversing, you’ll have more meaningful conversations and develop deeper relationships, which is what we all need.

Couple talking photo available from Shutterstock

Improving Communication in Relationships

Kathy J. Marshack, PhD

Licensed psychologist, Kathy Marshack, Ph.D. has worked as a marriage and family therapist for 34 years. Asperger Syndrome is one of her specialties, and she has counseled hundreds of couples, families and individuals who are on the Spectrum. She has authored three books and has been interviewed in The New York Times, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, CNN, the Lifetime TV channel and NPR. She practices in Portland, Oregon. To learn more visit or download a free chapter of her new book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome,” at

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APA Reference
Marshack, K. (2018). Improving Communication in Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 Oct 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.