How You Can Communicate Better With Your Partner

How You Can Communicate Better With Your Partner

I write so much on this blog about chemistry and compatibility, about online dating, about infidelity and sex and flirting, but even if you get past all of that, the one thing that trips up potentially happy couples more than anything is poor communication.

All the attraction, all the money and all the love in the world will not redeem a relationship where one or more of the parties doesn’t know how to communicate in a healthy fashion. And while I wish I came up with this list, credit to the folks at LifeHacker for putting together this spot-on diagnosis of what people do wrong in relationships.

All the attraction, all the money and all the love in the world will not redeem a relationship where one or more of the parties doesn’t know how to communicate in a healthy fashion.

Know how to communication in healthy fashionMen are responsible for a lot of problems in love, but some of these areas would seem to be particularly fertile ground for well-meaning women:

Too much talking. If men have one complaint about women, it’s that every detail of a relationship needs to be dissected and analyzed to death. I’ve never heard a man say, “What does she mean when she…” but I get dozens of emails a day from women asking some version of the same question. Men may be clueless and unanalytical in general, but overthinking is poisonous because it leads to overtalking and the death of a normal relationship.

Can’t read each other’s mind. I’m so passionate about this idea that I’m probably going to create an entire product around it. Basically, men are doing the best they can, but they always end up falling short. Why? Because they’ve never been told exactly what to do. They’re just supposed to KNOW, y’know? Alas, that’s not how real life works. We’re generally pretty good at following directions, but really shitty at reading minds. So anytime you have a guy and you even THINK the phrase, “He SHOULD do XYZ” hold that thought and let him know that it would make you REALLY happy if he did XYZ. Voila. Problem solved.

Conflict avoidance. I didn’t even know that this was a thing until I became a dating coach. When I grew up – for better or worse – I was always encouraged to speak my mind and be self-expressed. I soon learned that most people don’t operate this way; they live in fear, they bite their tongues, they’re afraid of the consequences of actually speaking up. Maybe he’ll get upset. Maybe he’ll dump me. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Think of how good you’ll feel when you have a conversation about getting your needs met, without making him wrong, and he RESPONDS positively. With the right guy and the right tone, speaking your mind shouldn’t cause too much conflict. If it does, find another guy.

Think of how good you’ll feel when you have a conversation about getting your needs met, without making him wrong, and he RESPONDS positively.

Refusing to compromise. I think women are better at this than men. Guys play the “You’re not the boss of me!” card a little too much out of fear of losing their freedom or independence, and they do it to their own detriment. In a perfect world, you’re completely aligned on everything, but in real life, that’s unrealistic. Those who refuse to compromise – especially on things that aren’t important – are bad partners, no matter how deep their convictions.

Lack of empathy. If anything, it’s what I hope to do on this blog – give you a man’s perspective on how he can reasonably see the world in a different light than you do. But if you don’t acknowledge his reality (and he doesn’t acknowledge that your perspective is valid, there’s not much to talk about. Empathy is what makes us sensitive to strangers suffering in other countries, kids who are bullied, minorities who are discriminated against, and yes, our partners, who have their own unique set of beliefs and insecurities. You may disagree with your boyfriend, but you have to do your best to validate where he’s coming from.

Your thoughts, as always, are appreciated.



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  1. 1

    If people aren’t aware, they should take the time to explore the basic principals of strengthening relationships from Dale Carnegie.  Principals fit into all aspects of life and are as simple as what were taught in kindergarten. …….don’t criticize, condemn or complain, be a good listener, give honest, sincere appreciation, make the other person feel important and do it sincerely!  Just to name a few.  I was fortunate enough to take this accelerated course through my employer and it changed my life at work and with family and friends.    

  2. 2

    I think I need the most help with the third issue: conflict avoidance.  I would love to read a few posts on how to express disagreement without being disagreeable; when it’s best to express one’s negative feelings vs. when it’s best to bite one’s tongue and “suck it up”;  how to word difficult conversations.   I would like to be an agreeable person and never learned how disagree in a way that is not unsettling to me.   I have a tendency to try to avoid conflict until I get to a point of snapping, which is certainly not ideal.

    1. 2.1

      Conflict is hard if you are unsure about your own right to have your feelings heard and validated. My own experience told me this was rooted in childhood. As for the present, taking it step by step can be a good method.
      Assertiveness is usually quite the opposite of harsh; it can be firm and gentle. Politely disagreeing with someone about an opinion might be a start. It doesn’t have to be confrontational. (‘I never thought about it that way, I personally feel that…+whichever opinion’ So, it’s not about who’s ‘right’ but sharing different conflicting views so both people are validated even when there is strong disagreement.).
      Moving on to areas which are harder (for me it was expressing my needs in a relationship in a positive way: ‘I would love it if..’ as Evan recommends!) could be a way forward. If you are with the right partner/date they will respond well and this can boost your confidence to express yourself the next time. If they respond ‘badly’ look at what is happening. Don’t take it personally. Re-state your need if necessary and/or ask questions. Someone who doesn’t try to see your side is probably not the right person.
      I learnt that conflict can move me closer to the person I love (because I feel I have honoured my own needs and let the other person in) whereas suppressing it gets me worked up and ironically creates the distance I thought that healthy conflict would bring!

      1. 2.1.1

        This is such perfect advice!

    2. 2.2

      here are my tips.  Please note, I work in an area where I am constantly negotiating (finance), and very often the outcome is a zero-sum game (one party wins what the other party loses) so I have had lots of training how to express disagreement without killing the deal. 
      1.  Count to 10 before responding in a negative way. As a general rule, do not go into conflict situations unprepared (not knowing in advance  what to say). If you see yourself being dragged into a conflict situation by the other party, find an excuse to exit, and set up a time to discuss.  If you are to say something negative, speak slowly and quitely, learn to not raise your voice.
      2. Repeat what the other party just said and ask them if you understood correctly. A lot of times disagreements come out of verbal misunderstanding. Also, the repetition gives you a moment to think before responding, and consider 2/3 possible responses.
      3. Be clear in your head about your own plan B (and C and D) but keep your cards to yourself.
      4. Be extremely polite and likable in general, and “train” your counterparty to see you in a positive light. This way, you teach them (and yourself) to separate the problem from the person.  Do not sweat the small stuff.
      5. You need to have your own routine which distresses you, and about which you know it will relieve your tension before/after important discussions. For me it is running or the gym.  Take good care of yourself, so that you would not be tired and grumpy and irritable.
      6. It is never a good time to express your negative feelings to the party you are negoitiating with. If you think he is mean, stupid, whatever, you are better off complaing to your best female friend (to someone from your team if you are in a work situation), but then, when the actual discussion takes place between him and you, do approach him with respect. Would you not want the same thing for yourself?
      7. Men (and negotiations counterparties in general) do not like to be told what to do.  What I usually do, is I show them that they have a few options, and lay out the consequences from each of those, and let them choose. From my experience, people would choose rationally in 90% of cases.
      8. Be willing to use alternative ways to communicate your wishes, even if this might seem manipulative to you.  Sometimes I get my husband’s mother or our daughter to talk him into things which I know he would reject from me.
      9. Apologize profusely to mend things up, even if you think you were right and he was wrong.  The apology means simply that you value the relationship more, than the particular topic, and you put the value of the relationship above your own ego. 
      10. Find someone who is more compatible with you :-).

      1. 2.2.1

        Dear Kiki – I’m not sure what I’ve done to deserve the consistently kind, thoughtful responses you write for me but please know how much I always appreciate them. 
        This list is helpful; I ought to print and laminate it and tape it to my refrigerator door.  I wish I could hire you to coach me in person re negotiating ~ I’m not dating these days but I know I could use these skills in many areas of my life ~ but I suspect we live on different continents.  :)
        As far as #6 is concerned, I do think it is important to be able to express negative feelings to a romantic partner, but only in the appropriate context and in a manner that does not seem hostile.  I tend to simply avoid expressing the negative until it boils over in unpleasant ways.   And then I excel at #9.  I apologize often and sincerely for getting upset… and the core issue is not resolved. 

        1. Kiki

          thanks for the kind words.  I really like your writing style, you come across as very intelligent, thoughtful, kind, and self-depreciating, and willing to improve.  Also, I really like the way you express disagreement (very rarely on this blog, but I have noticed it) – you do it kindly and with grace, and you do not seek to hurt/humiliate your opponents, which I think is wonderful.
          I am not a dating coach so I can not swear whether or not  these qualities make for an attractive partner to someone from Mars ;-).
          But I would like to draw attention to the fact that your style is pleasant to people from different schools of thought (e.g. Chance has written you the most kind and considerate response as you yourself notes) and I suspect you are in fact a very good communicator, but you have very high standards for yourself and others.
          Please note, that all couples argue and quarrel. The ones who are successful (in my humble opinion) are the ones who apologize, make up, overcome, forgive, forget and move on.
          My friendly advice – go out and date. If you are not, you are  depriving some potentially very lucky man the love of his life :-)

      2. 2.2.2

        cool Kiki well explained

    3. 2.3

      Such excellent advice from Jay and Kiki.
      I just wanted to add, Henriette, being vulnerable about how you feel can make a man much more receptive to your message.  Making it clear that you feel a bit worried, or fearful, or confused, rather than making him doing something wrong, is a more effective way to communicate about something you don’t like.
      Also, be willing to state your feelings, but be willing to walk away.  Don’t harp on the same issue.  State how you feel in context, at the time that something happens, listen to what he has to say, then leave it.  Give him and the issue breathing room.  Be willing to either drop the issue and accept the status quo if it’s not changing, or walk away from the relationship.

      1. 2.3.1

        Thank you, Clare.  Interesting.  I agree that it’s best to state how I feel at the time something happens but often I am so hurt or knocked off balance “in the moment” that I cannot bring it up until later.  Best case scenario: later,  I’ve had time to calm down and word my concerns in a non-confrontational manner.  Worst case scenario:  I’ve been stewing for hours/ days and bring up the concerns that have been festering in an unhealthy manner and I come across as angrier / more bitter than I am, in fact.
        I totally agree that showing vulnerability is helpful and touching.  Sometimes I just feel so vulnerable that it’s hard to open up about the issue…  When I am utterly vulnerable and the person I’m dealing with is dismissive, it emotionally decimates me.

    4. 2.4

      Its best to say what you feel.  Talk slowly, use «I» a  opposed to saying « you this or that ». 
      If not, things can blow up later down the line.  You will be angry with yourself for not being open about what you want. 
      If you find yourself avoiding certain answers or conversations, its very possible the answers will reveal a reality you are not ready to face.

  3. 3

    “We’re generally pretty good at following directions, but really shitty at reading minds. So anytime you have a guy and you even THINK the phrase, “He SHOULD do XYZ” hold that thought and let him know that it would make you REALLY happy if he did XYZ. Voila. Problem solved.”
    I would really like to hear more on what you think about this Evan because my cumulative dating experience has taught me that 9/10 men can’t follow basic directions (in the context of relationships anyway) and telling a man what simple steps he can take to make me happy has never once lead to a man taking those steps. If a man doesn’t have the full range of social and dating skills when I meet him I now write him off immediately because I have never succeeded in getting my message across, even though to me I cannot see that it could be any simpler.  
    Essentially I would just like a man who can show an interest in my life and who I am as a person.  I’d like to be asked my opinion on things or if a man is talking about his own experience of something I’d like it if he asked me what my experience of the same thing has been. If he expresses an opinion about something I’d like it if he asked me what my opinion is (and hopefully also show some interest in my reply). I’d also like to be able to talk to my boyfriend about the things I struggle with in life or that I’ve struggled with in the past.  I’d like him to make this easier by interacting with me so that this is a conversation rather than him just staring at me while I talk and then getting up and leaving and then never mentioning the subject again.  I have stated that these are my needs in 3 or 4 individual relationships and in not one case has it lead to any change in behaviour whatsoever.  I told my first serious boyfriend that I wasn’t getting what I needed and what I would like him to do on four separate occasions before I ended the relationship due to him not taking this in. He was devastated, heartbroken and has said ever since that he has no idea why I broke up with him, that he had no idea anything was wrong and didn’t know I was unhappy.  He still occasionally says this to my friends even 12 years later when he meets them in the bars of my home town. If this were an isolated experience it would be some-what amusing but I have had the same thing happen in almost every relationship I’ve been in.
    This has been mirrored in my general experience of online dating.  When I wrote my profile I dithered about how much to give away about the kind of person I was looking for.  I want someone who is curious about me and who makes an effort to find out what’s going on in my life and in my head.  I initially thought that maybe stating this in plain and simple terms would be a bad idea as it might lead to men pretending to be what I was looking for when in actual fact they didn’t actually have these attributes.  But I decided to just be blatant and now I feel my profile is a step by step guide setting out what kind of person I’m looking for and what I need to be happy in a relationship.  And yet men still can’t seem to grasp it.  I say I want someone who is inquisitive about the world and curious about me and getting to know me and hoped this would make it clear that I like to be asked about myself. Instead I get lots of men writing to me saying “I’m curious about you”.  And then proceeding to talk all about themselves.  These are (supposedly) intelligent, successful men and yet they just don’t seem to get it!
    I should add that all of the men I have been with have been nice, decent people who appear to care about me and the ones I have broken up with have seemed genuinely upset about it. I don’t think they just didn’t care about me.

    1. 3.1

      What you described has been almost my exclusive experience with online dating. I know, Evan, you like it.. but some of us have had a lot of trouble with it. I did attract some quality men, but they were almost exclusively into telling me about them.. not asking me about myself at all. I would sometimes try to interject something about myself, any they would just

      1. 3.1.1

        Not sure what happened to the rest of your post Kathy but I’ll reply to what you’ve written! I would say that these men shouldn’t be classed as “quality” men, irrespective of their intelligence or career success.  It’s just so frustrating!  
        What I’d like to know though is if you’ve ever been in a relationship with a man like this and talked to him about why it’s making you unhappy?  I’m at the stage now where I just move on to the next guy but if I thought there was a way of communicating this effectively eternal happiness would look a lot less elusive!

        1. Kathy

          My post accidentally got sent before I finished it . But you get the gist of it :) I  think there is a way of communicating  unhappiness effectively, but the man has to care enough to listen and respond accordingly!  I think that’s the trick.. not just about the delivery if you are somewhat respectful. 
          If you communicate the important stuff to a guy and he doesn’t  pay attention or express a desire to please you at all, than yes, I think it is time to move on!

    2. 3.2

      @AlmostSpringNow – I don’t think can apply Evan’s advice about communicating your wants to make men want to be more curious about you. You can say, honey it would make me happier if you did more household chores, or if you spent more time with me, or if we cuddled more. It doesn’t work to say, honey it would make me really happy if you were more fascinated by me, want to know the inner workings of my mind, show an interest in my life, and in general be more curious about me than you actually are. Your big blind spot is that maybe you’re just not that interesting. I’m not saying this to be mean, but the common denominator of your long story happens to be you. You have to be the one to inspire other people to want to know more about you, to want to dig deeper because there’s a depth there that they want to access. You can’t just tell someone to be more interested in you and expect that to magically happen if you’re not all that interesting. My tip — if you want the guy to be fascinated by you, get under his skin, understand him and his motivations, who he is, what makes him tick, and be fascinated by him. There is nothing more electric than to draw someone in with this kind of connection. He will not leave you alone after that. My friends always marvel, how do you get your husband to talk to you so much, to be interested in everything you do. It’s pretty simple (though I admit he is a cut above in terms of a male communicator) — I understand who he is, I make our conversations a dance of wits, unexpected, interesting, fun or deep but completely unpredictable at times. He talks to me because he is genuinely interested in my opinion. He feels energized. He is fascinated. He seeks me out. I don’t have to tell him to do a thing for that. Sorry I am going on a bit of a rant because women are constantly complaining about men not being interested in what they have to say. Well women are 50% of that equation, take some responsibility.

      1. 3.2.1

        Your right and I have been deeply interested in someone in this way for ages

  4. 4

    My guy and I have really gotten better with some of these communication tips, but one seems to be hanging us up. Its the issue of compromising. I really do feel like he loves me most of the time. Things are great if I’m just going with the flow and enjoying his hobbies (fishing) and things he likes to do. However, when I express that I would like him to make more of an effort to participate in things I like, it always turns into a big fight. I would love to make some progress on this issue. 

  5. 5

    My boyfriend and I had the same problem. What I did was, I started to do things that I liked on my own and he slowly is coming around. I also stopped having the conversation about what I wanted. I realized that after a few times of telling him, to keep repeating my self is not going to help me. I knew he heard me because we had discussion after discussion and fight after fight about the subject. So I just let it go. The one thing that my boyfriend said to me, when I asked him what made him change his mind and do more of what I would like, is that “you stopped nagging”. He said he finally felt like he could do it in his own time not when I wanted him to.

  6. 6

    @Marie – my point is that I could be the most interesting person in the world or I could be the most boring person in the world but most men never find out either way because it doesn’t occur to them to ask anything about what’s going on in my life.

    And I’m most definitely not the common denominator. My exes were exactly the same around everyone else I ever saw them around; my friends and family, their friends and family. As are the partners of pretty much all of my friends.

    You say “My tip — if you want the guy to be fascinated by you, get under his skin, understand him and his motivations, who he is, what makes him tick, and be fascinated by him. There is nothing more electric than to draw someone in with this kind of connection. He will not leave you alone after that.”

    I have mastered this. I do this with every man I go out with and as a result I have had many men fall in love with me and want to spend every minute of the day with me. They don’t want to leave me alone but they don’t get that I need the same back. When I dump them they are often heartbroken and confused. I also do very well at online dating in that the vast majority of the men I meet want to meet me again and many imply that they think we have some unique connection that they don’t have with other people. But it is one way because I show an interest in their life and they don’t show an interest in mine.

    You say “You have to be the one to inspire other people to want to know more about you, to want to dig deeper because there’s a depth there that they want to access.” But how do you do this when most men seem completely unaware that there is a world beyond their own life?

    Here is an example from a recent relationship, on meeting up the night after I’d been to a really good party:

    Him: How was the party?

    Me: It was fantastic – I haven’t met so many funny, interesting people in one place in years and I came away feeling like I learnt a huge amount about a lot of new things in addition to hearing enough funny stories to entertain everyone I know with for years!

    Him: Great. I’m glad you had fun [Starts talking about his own life again].

    These encounters just make my heart sink. I feel like I’m saying loudly and clearly: “I have loads of funny, interesting anecdotes to tell you as a result of going to this party if you would like to hear them” and yet it isn’t even picked up on. If I had got to tell them and my boyfriend didn’t actually find them funny and interesting then that would be fair enough but I feel I don’t even get given the chance. And yes, this example is about passing on other people’s anecdotes but so what? it would still have made for a fun, interesting conversation that I’d have hoped would have sparked some funny, interesting stories from my boyfriend too and I might have given my own take on what I learnt or told my guy some of the stories I told in response to the ones that other people told me (and that the people at the party all seemed to enjoy and laugh at).

    You say it is simple to get your husband to be so interested in you. This is because he is an interested type person. You quite simply would not get the same result with every man no matter how fascinating you are as an individual.

    1. 6.1

      I completely agree with you @almostspringnow when you commented that on maries response that she has no problem getting her hisband to be interested etc has more to do with him being a very communicative and interested person… I think that there are certain types of mEn who value self improvement in themselves and in their relationship that they allow or welcome influence from their partner… i am a good communicator in terms of expressing exactly what i want and need out of a relationship if i feel neglected, hurt or taken for granted i say exactly how i feel and how my partner can make me feel better im not one of those women who get upset  and men get frustrated with having to read their minds… I say exactly what needs to get done so we can move past the issue and have a better more fulfilling relationship and get past the drama.. But i found that in my experience being too direct dd not help me at all. Ive had a 4 yr partner who just stonewalled me and ignored my very direct requests for small changes such as “can you pls text me if youre not spending the night bec i jst brought food and i was expecting u to be home ” followed by so many similar requests to talk and to change things but he just ignored it until finally i stopped trying to talk to him about things because ifelt irs pretty useless nothing ever changed,he just said he doesnt like being told what to do and just basically ignored what i was communicating, i fell out of love etc but then he chased me afterwards (i felt completely nothing then) and called me passive aggressive i could not believe it i told him directly for years what i needed which was more communication where we resolved things and he ignored it and wen i left im called passive aggressive?! Lol im with a new partner now and when were fighting i sometimes go the route of ” pls treat me this way etc etc or it would make me feel better if you would handle it this way or do things in so and so manner in tbe future” but he just gets upset and said” men dont like being told what to do, u just have to be that kind of person u want to do certain things for..” Im really at my wits end w that comment.. granted my new partner is more stubborn than the regular make but he made me research a lot more and made me realize heh maybe im not that great of a communicator.. It made me start to read “thank you for arguing”  and it explains about how we should be careful about our “tenses” when we argue w a spouse. Avoid past tense an present tense which may attack a persons chaacter or values because they will try  their damnedest to live up to the reputation uv ascribed to them,but move  the statement to the future tense example. Youre insensitiveyou never ask me about my day or the experiences i wanma share w you (past-criticizes) , feels like u dont care about me at all and are not interested in me that much (present-value system) vs putting it forward in a future tense. (Sorry ths example deviates from yours u presented a dating scene scenario where ur getting to know someone and casualy talk w each othet hoping ud see some curiosity, my example is more for a settled couple where its hard to get the male partner to do what u want or accept any influence because they have a default i dont want to be told what to do stl learning more stuff frm the book like setting the mood to make it easier to persuade etc and il be applying them, my husband has got to be the most stubborn man inthe planet but im not giving up on him yet lol

  7. 7

    @AlmostSpring.  I agree with you.  I am a good communicator and always tell my partner what I “need.”  Rarely do I see a  man implement my requests, no matter how many times I ask, or how nice I am.  Usually, men decide to make changes after it’s too late.  The woman has either left emotionally or physically, or both.   They always say, “just tell me what you need” and then ignore what you say. 

  8. 8

    @AlmostSpringNow . . .  I agree with you.  Men always say, “Just tell me what you need.”  I am a very communicative lady and always tell my partner what I need, and mostly they ignore it.  It doesn’t matter how many times you convey it, or how nice you are, they just ignore.  My experience with men is that they take action on these things too late.  They “get it” after their partner has left emotionally or physically, or both.  Then they whine and say they don’t know what happened. 

  9. 9

    Very interesting article and I hope it is a recent one.  I’ve found myself on old threads lately and no one is actively reading them anymore.
    I am in a similar situation, I’m in a “we’re in a relationship but we haven’t sealed it yet” with a LDR guy in another country.  We met online.  Things were going really good at the beginning, he was fasicinated with me, couldn’t get enough of me.

    That was then and this is now.  Nowadays I have to wait until he unwinds from his day at work before I can skype him, he’d prefer to text because he loves to watch tv.  It irks me that I look forward to the brief time we can spend at night to talk and all he wants to do is just text occassionally…He skypes me every night but only if he’s going to walk the dog or if he’s looking for some fun…
    I lost it yesterday when I told him i had something important to tell him, he skyped me right away and when he found out it wasn’t anything big he had the tv on and was dividing his attention…I hung up on him and all he could say was, goodnight with a smile emo….
    I told him that this arrangement wasn’t working out for me. I want to talk to him on skype because it compensates for the fact that I can’t see or touch him.  I want to have what people IRL do, they talk or hear from one another everyday.  Maybe I am asking for too much.
    He said he felt bad and that he’d change his ways, but I think he’s gradually gotten bored of me…things aren’t new or exciting anymore. It’s gotten to the point where I go to bed really late because I’m waiting to talk to him or talking to him through texts…
    I suggested we break it off because he can’t give me his time and I think I deserve to be with someone who wants to talk on the phone regularly as much as I do…Ok I admit, I am one of those people that always has something to say…
    He apologized, didn’t realize how I was feeling and wanted to do right. Well, the problem is now I feel like a prat for being so petty in wanting his time. 

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