Communication in Relationships: Why It’s Important and How to Improve It

We asked experts what healthy communication looks like and how to improve communication in a relationship

By now, you’ve probably heard that “communication is key” about a hundred times. Having good communication in relationships is fundamental, and yet how many of us have actually been taught why communication is so important? More importantly, how many of us have been taught how to communicate better in a relationship? 

Communication can foster trust, intimacy, connection, and even conflict resolution. It can help partners understand each other and build a stronger bond. 

But communication is also a skill that requires constant practice, so we asked experts how to improve communication in a relationship, and why it’s so crucial. 

Why is communication important in a relationship?

“Communication is truly essential to a healthy and fulfilling relationship,” says Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick, a psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor. “Communication gets everything out on the table and allows conflict to be worked through, opinions to be shared, and compromises to be reached.” 

Research found that healthy communication plays a huge role in relationship satisfaction. It helps with everything, from improving your sex life to resolving conflicts with your partner. 

What is proper communication in a relationship?

“Healthy communication can be defined as a dialogue in which both people take turns expressing their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives of a situation,” says Dr. Fedrick, who explains that good communication consists of patience, sensitivity, and making an intentional effort to understand how our partner feels.

“You’re on the right track when you feel you can discuss almost any topic without fear, when you aren’t seeking to hurt the other person, and when you want to understand your partner better, not just make your point,” adds Martha Teater, a licensed marriage and family therapist at Choosing Therapy. “It's a positive thing when you trust that your partner has your best interest in mind, not just their own best interest.” 

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Signs of good communication in a relationship

  • Feeling safe and comfortable talking openly and honestly.

  • Effectively and efficiently resolving conflict. 

  • Being able to walk away from a conversation feeling safe, heard, and validated. 

  • Doing an equal amount of talking and listening, where no one partner is dominating the conversation. 

  • Apologizing if you did something wrong or hurt your partner’s feelings. 

  • Remaining calm during an argument and not yelling.

  • Actively trying to understand your partner’s perspective even if you don't agree with it.

  • Validating each other’s feelings.

How do you improve communication in a relationship?

The problem is that good communication isn’t an innate skill — it takes time and practice to get good at it. 

“Humans are terrible communicators,” says Dr. Krista Jordan, a psychotherapist at Choosing Therapy. “Social scientists have been researching this for decades and the sad fact is that we are not that great at actually hearing what people are saying,” she adds.

“Many of us didn’t have effective or healthy communication taught or role modeled throughout childhood, and therefore struggle with how to do it in adulthood,” explains Dr. Fedrick. 

“Additionally, many people find it hard to communicate with their partners because they might be worried about upsetting or hurting their partner or are hurt or upset themselves, and thus are unsure how to effectively express this,” she adds. 

Luckily, anyone can learn how to communicate better in a relationship. Below, the experts share their tips on how to have better communication skills. 

9 tips to improve communication in relationships

  1. Listen. “Listen as much as you talk,” says Dr. Jordan. “Make sure you’re not dominating the conversation.” 

  2. Don’t interrupt. “Take turns talking [and] ensure the other person is done talking before you start,” says Dr. Fedrick.

  3. Agree with your partner. “Try to find points of agreement whenever possible and say ‘that's a good point’ or ‘I agree with you on that part’,” says Dr. Jordan. “It signals that you are trying to find common ground.” 

  4. Take a time-out. “Recognize when you are getting worked up and take a short ‘time-out’ if needed to calm down,” says Dr. Fedrick. “If one or both of you start to feel a lot of stress, mutually agree to take a break for 10-20 minutes and do something to get your body calmed down,” adds Dr. Jordan. “This could be breathing, meditation, yoga, time outside, petting a dog, going for a walk, taking a shower or bath, or anything that helps you to get back to baseline and feel calm again.”

  5. Validate your partner. “Validate the other person’s experience and emotions, even if you don’t agree with their viewpoint at that moment,” suggests Dr. Fedrick. “Don't argue about who said what in the past,” says Dr. Jordan. “Memory is highly fallible and recent research even shows that each time we recall a memory we reconstruct it from smaller parts, inviting in ‘junk’ data which can alter the memory,” she explains. “It's more important to validate your partner's perspective than to quibble about the experience. The phrase "agree to disagree" is powerful — we don't have to convince our partner to see things our way, we really just need to try our best to understand their perspective and vice-versa.”

  6. Make eye contact. “Don't talk about important stuff if you can't see each other (like from different rooms or when one of you has your back to the other),” says Dr. Jordan. “This increases the chances that you will miss-appraise each other.” One study even showed that couples who argue over text are less happy in their relationships. “Try to make eye contact and be face-to-face as much as possible. The face, especially the area around the eyes, conveys a lot of important emotional information. It's easier to see that your partner is feeling stressed or didn't like what you just said if you have the full view of their face from within a few feet away.”

  7. Use “I feel" statements. Dr. Jordan explains that shaming your partner or passing judgment provokes defenses and causes the conversation to be gridlock. “Instead, you can talk about how things impact you emotionally, such as ‘when you are late coming home I get scared you might have been in an accident’ rather than ‘when you’re late coming home you’re being an insensitive jerk.’ 

  8. Pick the right time and place. “Make sure you are both in a good headspace and an appropriate environment that is conducive to having a serious conversation,” says Dr. Fedrick. “Ask the other person if it is a good time to have a serious conversation before you start to share what you are upset about.” And if your partner is trying to have a conversation when you know you can't give it your full attention, Dr. Jordan recommends proposing a specific time to reschedule. “Saying ‘can we talk about this later?’ isn't specific! Say ‘I know this is important to you and I want to talk about it but can we do it after we finish the dishes?’,” she explains. “It’s important that both people feel like it's a time when they can focus on the conversation and use all of their skills to be good listeners.”

  9. Ask for clarifications. “Ask questions, don’t just make statements, [and] circle back to clarify things as needed,” says Teater. Dr. Fedrick also recommends using reflective statements, a technique known as mirroring. “Reflect back in your own words what you heard the other person say to ensure you understood correctly,” she says.

Download Paired for more expert tips on how to improve communication in a relationship. 

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