Communication is so foundational to the quality of our relationships. In our work with couples, we emphasize the below 4 communication tips: 

1. Using “I” Statements vs “You” Statements

“I” Statements

  • Using “I” statements is a good way to communicate feelings, triggers, perceptions and requests without coming across as blaming or attacking your partner.
  • An “I” statement is descriptive versus judgemental. It focuses on describing your own internal experience (emotions, wants, needs) versus persuading your partner of their faults, failing, motives, etc.
  • “I” statements lead to greater self-awareness and understanding.
  • “I” statements defuse rather than escalate fights. Communicating with “I” statements usually involves vulnerability and softer feelings that trigger your human need for belonging, security, support, and love.
  • Examples: “I feel scared and alone,” “I would like to work with you to find a solution,” “When I am interrupted it makes me feel like my feelings are not important.”

“You” Statements

  • “You” statements use the word “you” in a critical, blaming and judgemental way. “You” statements trigger fights.
  • The message in a “You” statement is “the problem here is you. You are unacceptable. You have done something wrong. We are in this conflict because of you. The weight of fixing this relationship is on you.”
  • “You” statements allow you to avoid being vulnerable and real.
  • “You” statements keep you stuck as they are critical and blaming.
  • Examples: “You are always making me upset,” “You are being crazy,” “You never listen to me,” “You are never home anyways”

2. Affirming & Validating 

Affirming your partner is a critical skill to develop, and it can make an enormous difference in changing the tone of your communication. Affirming can help reassure your partner by clearly letting them know that you respect them and that they are important to you, even when you are frustrated or disagree with them. In other words, find a genuine way to affirm your partner at the same time as expressing your feelings. Let them know what you value about them as a person, or about their position or perspective, or about their efforts. Let your partner know that you want to find a solution that feels good for both of you. If you have positive intentions, let them know what they are. Let your partner know that you realize their experience/reality is just as valid as yours.

Affirming means you find some way to acknowledge what your partner is saying. There will be some truth in your partner’s words, especially their feelings. You might ask, what if I don’t agree with my partner? Then try one of the following:

  • Agree in principle with your partner’s concerns
  • At the very least, affirm the truth about their feelings based of their perception/viewpoint
  • Instead of focusing on the part you don’t agree with, try focusing on the part you do agree with

Affirming statements:

  • “Yes, I can see how that must have felt like I was insensitive.”
  • “I can understand why you feel so upset.”

Validation is an important listening skill. Validation means acknowledging and accepting another person’s perceptions, feelings, and thoughts as understandable.

Validation is not the same as agreeing completely with a person’s perspective or position. It’s accepting the other person’s felt experience or subjective reality as understandable from their point of view. It’s communicating the understandable part of what your partner feels. It’s helping your partner feel heard and understood.

Most often, when a client tells me they  “don’t feel heard,” they are seeking validation from their partner. Validation is what helps us feel heard. Genuine validation fosters connection and repairs hurt feelings. 

Below are some examples of validating comments:

What Your Partner Says: “I felt blindsided when your sister started criticizing me. I expected you to speak up and say something. It hurt when you didn’t.”

An Invalidating Response: “Well, you deserved it. You were acting like a bitch.” OR “Well, that’s just how my sister is. She can be a jerk. Just don’t pay any attention to her.”

A Validating Response: “I can understand that you feel hurt that I didn’t say anything. It must have felt like I did not have your back. I didn’t mean for that to happen, but I know it did. I would like to figure out a way to better support you in those situations.”

What Your Partner Says: “I wish we could spend more time together at night, after work when the kids are in bed. We never spend time together anymore. There always seems to be so much going on.”

An Invalidating Response: “Why would I want to spend time with you? You are always criticizing me and making me feel like I don’t do enough.” OR “Our lives are just too busy. It’s not like we have that much time just to hang out with each other. Maybe if our kids weren’t so overscheduled we might have more time. Just don’t sweat it.”

A Validating Response: “Sounds like you are missing “us” time. It does seem like there is too much distance between us lately. I feel it too.”

3. Assertiveness

Assertiveness is the ability to express your feelings and ask for what you need in the relationship. Rather than assuming your partner can read your mind, share how you feel and ask clearly and directly for what you want/need. When sharing a need with your partner, it is important for it to be an affirmative need that invites your partner in. Rather than a negative need where you find blame/fault in what your partner is doing, in which case your partner will likely feel criticized. 

Here are some examples:

Affirmative Need Statement (invites your partner in):

“I am feeling lonely. I need/want for us to prioritize some time together this weekend.”

“I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed. I would really appreciate and need your help cooking dinner this week.”

Negative Need Statement (comes across as critical to your partner): 

“I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed. I need you to stop playing so many video games and to start helping around here.” 

“I am feeling lonely. I need you to not always be at work.”

4. Active Listening

The most important part of communication is listening. How well you listen has a major impact on your relationship. Active listening involves not only hearing the words your partner says, but more importantly, the complete message being communicated including your partner’s underlying emotions.

  • If you find it difficult to focus on all of what your partner is saying, try repeating (in your head) a few of the important words they are saying. This will reinforce their message and help you stay focused.
  • Active listening does not mean you agree with everything your partner is saying. Instead, it means that you hear them.
  • When your partner is finished talking, reflect on what they said by paraphrasing back to them: “What I’m hearing is …” and “It sounds like you are saying …”
  • Ask questions to clarify points: “What do you mean when you say …” “What I heard is … is that right?”

We hope these tips are helpful! Please reach out if you’re interested in improving communication in your relationship. 

Written by: Hadley Mitchell, R. Psych
Map Psychology Solutions
[email protected]
(587) 330-2999

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