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Communication, Conflict & Commitment

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Improving Couples Communication


This is the process of talking or communicating about the way you communicate. This can be difficult to do in the midst of an argument, but it is a great thing to do at a time when both of you are calm. Take the opportunity to talk about the verbal and non-verbal messages you send each other. Talk about how you can avoid serious arguments or resolve them quickly and peaceably when they do happen. Some couples agree before-hand on certain things they will do or say to break the tension and stop an argument if one gets started (e.g., just begin laughing with each other or say a silly word or phrase to stop the cycle).

Small Talk - The Ritual of Communication

Small talk is very different from business talk or merely rehearsing the events of the day. Small talk means talking with your partner about whatever he or she would like to talk about. Small talk can be serious in nature but it does not have to be. In fact, it is probably better if it is not. Plan a time each day when you and your partner will sit down together and small talk for 10 to 15 minutes. If you don't schedule the time and the place, it will not happen. Small talk is all about connecting with your partner. It is your opportunity to discuss your hopes and dreams or whatever you would like on a daily basis. If you do this consistently you will find that your relationship will grow because you are putting energy into connecting with and learning about your partner.

Ice Hurts as Much as Fire

Linda Roberts, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has conducted research indicating that physically or emotionally withdrawing from your partner during an argument can be just as hurtful as flying off the handle. Avoid the extremes of hostility or withdrawal. Be sensitive to one another. Look for acceptance. Remember that even when you are mad or upset with your partner, you still love them.

Reality vs. Reality T.V.

Watching television is a pretty solitary activity and it inspires little interaction with others. For a change, turn off the television or hide the remote and do something together. There are hundreds of activities that you can share together that will draw you closer because you are talking with one another while you are doing them (e.g., sports, hobbies, classes, concerts, home projects, etc.). Reality really is more entertaining than reality television.

Talking Games

Most couples who are seriously dating or engaged really enjoy spending time with one another. Spending some of that time doing talking games will not only allow you to spend time together, but build your relationship as well.

  • "Ask me a Question"

    Although you may feel like you know your partner very well, you'd be surprised how much more there is to learn. You and your partner each think of one new question every day that you would like to know the answer to. When you and your partner talk, take turns asking each other the questions you have thought of. This should start some great, and occasionally even difficult, conversations. Be creative in developing meaningful questions and remember that you may not even know the answers about some of your partner's basic preferences (e.g., favorite color, food, pet, time of year, music, movie, date, etc.) Consider using the Un-Game too think of questions and promote conversation.
  • "Confused in Colorado" - Dear Abbey Game

    Stephen Duncan, a professor at Brigham Young University, recommends choosing an advice column from your local newspaper, such as Ann Landers or Dear Abbey, and reading the question but not the answer aloud to one another. Once you have read the question, take turns giving advice and your reasons for the advice. Do this without criticizing, insulting, or making fun of one another. This is a great way to communicate, get to know each other better, and understand how your partner may respond in different situations.
  • "Shower Me With Praise"

    Praising your partner is not really a game. It is a serious and sincere business. You should look for opportunities, even excuses, to praise your partner on a daily basis. Sincere and genuine praise will open up the lines of communication and strengthen your relationship. You will also find that when you are making conscious efforts to praise your partner you will have little time to dwell on the negatives. This will make your relationship one that you both really enjoy being a part of.


Get in the habit of using I-messages. This is a way of owning your own feelings and realizing that they are your feelings. Your partner cannot "make" you feel a certain way and if you consistently blame your partner for the way you feel your relationship will suffer. For example, if you find yourself saying things like, "You make me so mad when... [you don't get the trash out in time]," or a variety of other endings, then try something better. Get in the habit of saying, "I feel hurt, mad, or upset when we do not get the trash out on time." This statement shows ownership of feelings, whereas the first statement shows blame.

Practicing the use of I-messages will help you and your partner develop skill in expressing your feelings or concerns without insulting, fighting with, or blaming one another.

Practice using I-messages with your partner by taking turns filling in the following sentences.

  • "I am excited about __________ because __________."
  • "I am frustrated about __________ because __________."
  • "I am happy that __________ because __________."
  • "I am nervous or uneasy about __________ because __________."
  • "I am hopeful about __________ because __________."

Avoid "Never" and "Always"

The words "never" and "always" are rarely helpful or accurate descriptions of reality. Be more specific and accurate in what you say. Make your comments more about the action of the person than the person him or herself. This will feel less attacking and critical. It is possible to love someone even though we may not always love everything they do. For example, instead of saying to your partner, "You NEVER help with the housework," say "I have cleaned the house by myself the last two times. Will you do it with me?" An invatation to act allows for choice, for ownership, and for credit to be given.

Communication Workshop

Attend a couples' communication workshop. These are often sponsored through churches, schools or community organizations. You can also check the website for links to many great workshops presented by nationally known professionals. Invest in your relationship in a fun and educational way.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, December 09). Communication, Conflict & Commitment. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License