Love Happy: Building better communication

Oct 5, 2011 at 11:00 a.m. ET

Welcome to Love Happy, where we help you successfully navigate the ups and downs of relationship life and share simple tips for keeping love fun, fresh and on track. In this installment, we look at how to improve communication in your relationship.

Couple talking in living room

Communication confusion

You would assume that after being in a relationship for several years, communication would be easy. After all, we know each other so well we should practically be able to connect telepathically, right? Sadly, this is not the case, and neither I nor my boyfriend have developed any psychic powers where communication is concerned. We still have our ups and downs, despite the fact we've been together for years, which got me wondering about how we can communicate more efficiently. I turned to Alisa Bowman, the author of Project: Happily Ever After: Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters and creator of, about some of the most common communication mistakes we make in relationships and how best to avoid them.

Why good communication matters

After hitting rock bottom and coming dangerously close to asking for a divorce, Bowman realized she needed to make a change in how she communicated with her husband. While I'm not about to kick my boyfriend to the curb, I do know we can always improve on how we communicate. After all, a healthy relationship depends on being able to tell your partner how you feel in a way that doesn't involve sarcasm or yelling and ideally doesn't require sign language, diagrams or charades. Whether you're discussing sex, finances, chores or future plans, if you want to get anywhere (and not have one person storm out or end up in tears), you have to practice good communication.

Communication traps to avoid

1Expecting your spouse to read your mind

You really can't assume that your spouse knows how you feel or what you want, Bowman explains. "You might notice the dishes in the sink or remember that the kids haven't done their homework yet, but he might not. When in doubt, say it out loud."

2Raising your voice

When we're not getting the response we want, our natural reaction is to say the same thing more loudly, Bowman says. We've all done it. I know I have and trust me when I tell you it does not have the desired effect of making the person you are speaking loudly to see things your way. They just get mad and turn up the volume on the television.

3Fixating on your feelings

You want your spouse to know how you feel, but going on and on about how angry or sad or resentful you are is a trigger for your spouse to tune out, Bowman explains. As a general rule she suggests mentioning one feeling just one or two times per argument.

4Being sarcastic

This is an area where I have a real problem. I think my first words when I learned to talk were probably a sarcastic retort of some kind. Rolling your eyes, sighing loudly and making cold, sarcastic remarks all turn your spouse off, Bowman explains, pulling you apart and creating a negative atmosphere in your relationship.

5Talking too much

Much like shouting, talking too much is often a failed attempt to get heard. When you go on and on, you again risk your partner tuning you out and not getting heard at all. Less is more when it comes to getting your point across.

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