Being able to express yourself clearly and being able to listen well can help you avoid a great deal of stress in your closest relationship. Unfortunately, we are more likely to communicate ineffectively with our partner just at the time when we most need to get our point across. In fact, communication itself often is a major source of difficulty.

When we feel pressured, we may not keep our partner up to date. Often we fail to listen properly because we are preoccupied. But effectively communicating our feelings and ideas can prevent unnecessary misunderstandings and tensions. It’s a good idea to try to open up channels of communication as much as possible. You might need to look actively for time to talk with your partner, such as during car trips or washing dishes.

Effective communication becomes even more crucial during high-stress times such as holidays. Little things can seem much bigger on important days which come with high expectations.

Make a conscious effort to practice the following basic communication skills:

  1. Listening. Effective listening requires concentration, tolerance and sensitivity. Concentration means focusing solely on what the speaker is saying. Tolerance involves keeping an open mind to what the other person is saying, rather than being judgmental or defensive. Sensitivity means taking on board the feelings being expressed as well as the words.
  2. Expressing yourself. First you need to listen to yourself to know what you want to get across. If you feel confused, spend a few quiet moments going over your thoughts. Then you’ll be ready to state your message clearly, honestly and constructively.
  3. Interpreting body language. It’s inherently difficult to explain nonverbal communication in words. Yet it a central form of communication. It is possible to understand how the other person is receiving your message through clues in his or her movements. We pick up on these clues all the time without realizing it, but sometimes ignore the messages.
  4. Being aware of your differences. Individuals’ perceptions of the same event or piece of information can vary a great deal. Different backgrounds lead to different expectations of the world, and we tend to hear what we expect to hear. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and gear your message specifically toward him or her. Make sure it has been received accurately by asking for feedback. Also remember that many words and concepts have different meanings and so they are often open to misinterpretation.
  5. Resolving conflict. Conflicts naturally will arise whenever people are living together. Conflicts can occur for many reasons including “black and white thinking,” clashing standards or beliefs, unresolved childhood issues, and the background stress of modern life.