How To Communicate In A Relationship, According To Experts – Forbes


The Forbes Health editorial team is independent and objective. To help support our reporting work, and to continue our ability to provide this content for free to our readers, we receive compensation from the companies that advertise on the Forbes Health site. This compensation comes from two main sources. First, we provide paid placements to advertisers to present their offers. The compensation we receive for those placements affects how and where advertisers’ offers appear on the site. This site does not include all companies or products available within the market. Second, we also include links to advertisers’ offers in some of our articles; these “affiliate links” may generate income for our site when you click on them.
The compensation we receive from advertisers does not influence the recommendations or advice our editorial team provides in our articles or otherwise impact any of the editorial content on Forbes Health. While we work hard to provide accurate and up-to-date information that we think you will find relevant, Forbes Health does not and cannot guarantee that any information provided is complete and makes no representations or warranties in connection thereto, nor to the accuracy or applicability thereof.
Medically Reviewed
Communication doesn’t always come easy, whether it’s with a romantic partner or someone else. But it’s key to the overall success and sustainability of such partnerships.
While some people have no problem communicating their needs in a clear and respectful way, others may struggle when it comes to expressing themselves—and that can make maintaining healthy relationships especially challenging.
Here’s a closer look at the different types of communication, how to work on the way you listen and talk to others and when it may be wise to turn to a professional for help.
Communication is the foundation of any relationship, says Darcy Sterling, a licensed clinical social worker in New York and host of E! Network’s Famously Single. “The extent to which each partner is skilled at expressing themselves, their needs and their preferences is the greatest indicator of the health and fulfillment of the relationship,” she says.
Research shows that in addition to allowing you to express concerns in a relationship, communication can help you problem-solve. “Communication is what keeps couples on the same page and feeling like they are solving problems together rather than against one another,” says Sarah Epstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Philadelphia and Dallas. Effective communication also enables partners to disagree in productive, respectful ways, she adds.
Clear dialogue matters in any relationship. Some individuals might focus more on the quality of communication in intimate connections and have higher expectations of romantic partners than with family or friends, says Sterling, but the importance of communication expands beyond that.
Certain skills are necessary to maintain open channels of communication that enable relationships to thrive, whether with a romantic partner or someone else.
“Every relationship requires communication—and the quality of that communication is a predictor of how fulfilling the relationship is for both people,” says Sterling.
We all need open communication in relationships to bridge gaps in the face of a misunderstanding, and to get through our most difficult challenges. “Open communication is the spine that holds up a relationship whether it is thriving or under strain,” Epstein says.
But talking it out isn’t just about getting through the tough stuff—like disagreeing with your boss about work hours or arguing with your brother about chores—it’s what helps people deepen and fortify their relationships, too. “Good communicators use their skills to communicate their appreciation, love and respect,” says Epstein.
At its most basic, the difference between good and poor communication comes down to problem solving and intimacy. “Good communication clarifies problems and creates closeness between partners, while poor communication intensifies issues and creates distance between partners,” says Epstein.
According to each expert, people exhibit good communication when they:
Meanwhile, individuals with poor communication habits might:
The ability to consistently communicate well in a relationship can help people face challenges and hardships more productively, according to Epstein. “Healthy communication helps couples de-escalate a situation, stay calm under stress, use humor appropriately, apologize effectively and make partners feel heard and understood—even during very stressful moments,” she says.
Seeking Relationship Counseling?
Whatever challenges you are facing, couples therapy can help you improve your relationship. Get help with Talkspace, you deserve to be happy!
Researchers generally group communication into three categories: Assertive, passive or aggressive communication. Additionally, people use nonverbal communication to send messages to one another without words at all. Here are four communication styles:
This is when you speak in a direct manner while communicating compassion and a desire to compromise on ways to meet your needs, the experts note. “Assertive communication involves clear, appropriate, respectful expression,” says Epstein. “It comes from a place of clarity about what a person needs.”
Communicating passively means you tend to defer to others when it’s time to make a decision, says Sterling. Passive communicators typically accommodate others and avoid resistance. “They are highly conflict-avoidant, tend to have a very long fuse and are more likely to walk away from a relationship than advocate for their needs within the relationship,” she says.
Aggressive communication often involves standing up for your own rights at the risk of possibly disregarding another person’s feelings. A person who resorts to this approach may likely have a low tolerance for emotional discomfort and tends to get upset more frequently than others, says Sterling. “When they are escalated, they have a need to resolve the conflict immediately, which more often than not results in the situation escalating because they’re so caught up in their own emotions that they don’t take into account whether their partner is capable or willing to discuss the issue,” she says.
This type of communication allows people to communicate information about their needs, attitudes, emotions and intentions without using words. Nonverbal communication can be healing and informative to couples when used in non-passive-aggressive ways. “Good nonverbal communication looks like relaxed posture, mirroring body language and eye contact while talking,” says Epstein. Though, it can take practice to pick up on certain cues.
The strategies below can help you learn how to better communicate with your partner, friends, family members and even co-workers.
Turning to different relationship-focused resources such as articles, podcasts or books, can add tools to your communication kit and open your mind to new perspectives. Epstein suggests checking out the book Hold Me Tight, by Dr. Sue Johnson, a therapist and researcher who helps couples strengthen their bond and navigate life’s challenges.
Epstein suggests checking in with each other (outside of heated moments) to explore wants, needs and areas where you need improvement. She recommends questions like:
“The first thing I do with clients who walk on eggshells with their partners is have them schedule a weekly relationship meeting with their partner,” says Sterling. You can use this designated time to practice good communication skills while discussing the week’s challenges and wins, reinforcing that conversations don’t have to lead to conflict, she says.
Couples can work with a licensed couples therapist to improve their communication skills. “This is exactly what a therapist with specific couples training is trained to help with,” says Epstein.
Research shows that turning to a mental health professional can decrease psychological distress, improve relationship satisfaction and help couples learn important communication and conflict resolution skills. So how do you know if you should reach out for help?
According to Epstein, some indicators that you may want to seek out a couples therapist include:
While the above indicators can be addressed with a therapist, research shows couples therapy can help people be proactive about their relationship—and not just as a last-ditch effort when a relationship is on its last legs. In fact, you can have a healthy relationship and still benefit from couples therapy. Sterling suggests seeking out a therapist who is certified in couples counseling early in the relationship before deep wounds occur. “The same way I don’t wait for smoke to come out from under the hood of my car before having it serviced, everyone should see a couples therapist throughout the relationship,” she says.
To find a licensed therapist in your area, visit the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). With the therapist locator tools listed on AAMFT’s site, you can review detailed listings for local professionals. Listings include credentials, specialties, types of therapy offered and whether or not you can attend sessions in person, virtually or both.
You can also turn to online platforms, such as Talkspace or BetterHelp, to get matched with a licensed couples therapist based on your needs, challenges and goals. In addition to video calls, these options allow you to speak with your therapist via phone call, chat or text.
Outside of couples counseling, it can also be beneficial to work with a licensed therapist one-on-one to better understand your communication gaps.
Serious About Saving Or Improving Your Relationship?
Get professional help from a licensed therapist with ReGain relationship therapy.
Information provided on Forbes Health is for educational purposes only. Your health and wellness is unique to you, and the products and services we review may not be right for your circumstances. We do not offer individual medical advice, diagnosis or treatment plans. For personal advice, please consult with a medical professional.
Forbes Health adheres to strict editorial integrity standards. To the best of our knowledge, all content is accurate as of the date posted, though offers contained herein may no longer be available. The opinions expressed are the author’s alone and have not been provided, approved or otherwise endorsed by our advertisers.
Nicole McDermott has worked in the creative content space for the last decade as a writer, editor and director. Her work has been featured on TIME Healthland, Prevention, Shape, USA Today, HuffPost, Refinery29, Lifehacker, Health, DailyBurn, Openfit and Sleep Number, among others. She loves to lift heavy things, eat healthy foods and treats, stock her makeup bag with clean beauty products and use not-so-toxic cleaning supplies. She’s also a big fan of wine, hiking, reality television and crocheting. She lives in Connecticut with her husband, son and dog.
Deborah Courtney is a licensed psychotherapist with a private practice in New York. She integrates evidence-based, trauma-informed treatments with spiritual healing approaches to honor the connection between mind, body and spirit. Specifically, she utilizes eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR), somatic experiencing (SE), ego state therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and reiki. She’s featured in various media forms promoting holistic mental health and wellness and is a speaker on the topics of trauma, holistic mental health treatment, self-care and mindfulness. Courtney’s other endeavors include creating the EMDR Journey Game, an internationally sold trauma treatment tool, and running her socially- and emotionally-minded day school for children in upstate New York. She’s excited to soon release an online learning platform to make holistic mental health education accessible to a mass audience.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.