Romantic relationships thrive when spouses or partners embrace positive communication. Indeed, it is impossible to completely rule out hiccups every once in a while. However, partners can reduce relationship disputes or misunderstandings when they commit to learning active communication skills.
If you want to improve the quality of your communication (and, by extension, your relationship), I invite you to keep reading as I share ways to foster active communication.
Relationship Communication Styles
Along with a lack of communication, poor communication styles can negatively impact any relationship, especially romantic ones.
A healthy relationship takes work, one of which is deliberately taking steps to improve communication.
While there are several communication styles, I’ll briefly discuss active and passive communication styles as well as mention a few others.
What Is Active Communication?
Active or positive communication is a highly involved communication technique that promotes mutual understanding by getting messages across in the most effective way.
With this technique, partners explore intentions, moods, and circumstances to understand each others’ viewpoints. As you may have figured, this type of communication reduces conflicts and misunderstandings while promoting happier and healthier relationships.
What Is Passive Communication?
People with a passive communication style typically don’t assert themselves and avoid expressing their needs, feelings, and opinions. They bottle up their feelings until they can no longer hide them, which usually results in “explosive” episodes and toxic relationships.
Other poor communication styles include:
- Passive-aggressive communication: People with this type of communication style usually express their needs or feelings indirectly. While they may seem passive on the outside, they are deeply focused on their needs. And while they try to hide their true feelings, they are often resentful and display their aggressiveness subtly, like using sarcasm or muttering to themselves.
- Aggressive communication: This communication style involves blaming, criticizing, interrupting, and speaking in loud tones. People with aggressive communication styles focus more on their needs without much thought about their partner’s needs.
Now that you know the different communication styles, let’s see how to develop active or positive communication skills.
How to Foster Active Communication in Relationships
1. Talk About the Small Things
Whether you’re married, cohabiting, or seeing each other frequently, one of the simplest ways to maintain healthy and effective communication is by talking about the little things. There’s something about chit-chatting and sharing laughter with your significant other that strengthens your bond.
Don’t wait until something big happens before talking with your spouse or partner.
Talk about your day, including the inconsequential stuff. Share funny stories, blunders, insights, and ideas with each other.
No topic should be deemed too uncomfortable or awkward to discuss, especially in marriages or committed relationships.
The more you open up to each other about virtually all topics, big and small, the easier it is to broach difficult conversations.
Here are a few tips on fostering active communication through casual conversations:
- Talk about the past
- Get into a healthy debate (avoid sensitive topics)
- Share random thoughts, no matter how bizarre they may sound
- Talk about a new hobby
- Make each other laugh
- Ask about their day
2. Be Open and Honest
Positive and effective communication is not the absence of disagreements or opposing views. Instead, it is being honest with your spouse or partner, even though it might not be the easiest thing to do.
According to a 2014 study on the quality of dating relationships, honesty ranks high among the characteristics of a healthy relationship.
To be honest in your relationship is to share your thoughts, feelings, doubts, and hopes with your partner. It means being vulnerable and not hiding your true feelings. If something doesn’t sit well with you, say so instead of bottling it up until things get worse.
Honesty with your partner also means admitting when you are wrong, apologizing, and taking responsibility for your actions. To be honest is to be accountable instead of making excuses when you are wrong.
To learn more about the differences between accountability and blame in relationships, check out this article.
3. Validate Each Other’s Feelings
Out of all the ways you can tell your partner you hear and understand them, validating their feelings is one of the most effective.
Validation involves genuinely listening to your partner and tuning into their feelings. It means valuing their thoughts and words, but most importantly, listening to the message of their emotions.
But be careful when your spouse or partner shares their feelings.
Often, they are not seeking advice; what they want is to feel heard and understood. Your partner wants to know that their thoughts have worth and their feelings are appreciated.
For example, your partner is unhappy and tells you they feel lonely because you’re not always around.
One way to respond is to get defensive and tell them how your tight work schedule keeps you away from home. Or you can turn the table on them and blame them for not appreciating your efforts and contribution.
As you probably guessed, this passive or aggressive communication style won’t help your relationship.
Even if you don’t agree with what has been said, a better approach would be to acknowledge your partner’s feelings without focusing on their specific behavior. In this example, you could say, “I can see you feel lonely as if you’re all alone, and I understand how frustrating it can be.” And then proceed to talk about the facts.
Validating your partner this way paves the way for a more open dialogue.
4. Be Fully Present
Give your spouse or partner your full attention, whether they share something trivial or important. Be attentive and focus on your significant other during conversations.
Avoid distractions like TVs, phones, and computers. Let your body language say you are 100% present. For example, make eye contact, lean toward your partner, nod at intervals, repeat their exact words, and seek clarification when necessary.
Remember, being fully present during conversations isn’t just about being physically present.
You want to stay in the moment and be mindful of your thoughts and responses. Sometimes, the atmosphere will be friendly and happy; at other times, it can be tense. Stay in the moment, no matter what.
While it is easy to remove physical distractions, being fully present and staying in the moment when tensions are high can be challenging. And this ties perfectly into the next active communication strategy.
5. Listen Without Interrupting
Be an active listener. Avoid interruptions when communicating with your significant other. As mentioned, interrupting is a sign of aggressive communication and is a quick way to upset your partner’s feelings, bruise their ego, and escalate arguments.
Positive or active communication skills involve allowing all parties the chance to speak freely and share their thoughts without feeling muzzled.
Resist the temptation to interject your views while your partner is talking, especially when trying to communicate something important. Even if you think they are wrong, wait until they’ve aired their views, and it is your turn to speak. This is good listening.
But here’s the tricky part.
It is not waiting patiently for your partner to finish talking that really matters. It is what you do while waiting that makes it healthy or poor communication.
Preparing a defense in your head while your partner is speaking is not positive communication. Remember to be fully present in the moment (good or bad) and not merely wait to give a rebuttal.
6. Make Physical Contact When Talking
Making physical contact with your partner while talking can promote healthy nonverbal communication.
Why is that?
Science says low-intensity stimulation of the skin releases oxytocin, the love hormone that promotes pair bonding and makes individuals more cooperative and trusting.
Cultivate the habit of gently touching or stroking your partner on the arm, shoulders, or thighs when talking with them. This action of nonverbal communication is soothing and can make them more open to hearing you out.
7. Ask Open-Ended Questions
It’s hard to keep a conversation going beyond “yes” or “no” when you use close-ended questions.
For example, if you say things like, “Did you hear what I said?” you limit your partner’s response to yes or no. In other words, there is no room for explanation, understanding, or further dialogue with this kind of verbal communication.
On the other hand, using open-ended questions encourages dialogue, further explanation, and better understanding.
For example, instead of saying, “Did you hear what I said?” you could say, “What’s your view about what I said?”
Asking open-ended questions allows your partner to share their views and feelings about the subject, gives you insight into their thought processes, and offers you the chance to clarify any misunderstanding.
These active communication strategies allow partners to get their messages across and feel heard, whether it is a discussion about something important or trivial.
As you practice these skills with your partner, you will notice the bond between you growing stronger. That’s no surprise because positive communication helps communicators identify and meet each other’s physical and emotional needs. This strengthens your connection and helps you work out disputes in a healthy manner.