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6 Tips for Successful Conversations

One of the top reasons couples come in for therapy is around communication difficulties. So often, couples find themselves stuck in a negative cycle when they try to have important conversations. Does that happen to you at times?

Often, those conversations about deeper emotions, about wants and needs, or issues we don’t see eye-to-eye on, are the ones that leave us feeling frustrated and dissatisfied, and that can end in an argument.

Here are a few of my favourite tips to support you and your partner to navigate those harder conversations.

Reflect on Your Thoughts and Feelings Before Bringing Up the Conversation

Some topics are delicate and can invoke strong emotions. This may overtake the conversation, obscuring the subject, and lead to confusion and frustration when we can’t properly express ourselves and feel understood.

DO: Reflect on what your thoughts and feelings are. If you can identify how you are feeling, and how important this is for you, it can help you communicate more effectively. This will help your partner follow what you are saying, and understand you better.

DON’T: Don’t use this as a technique to prepare your arguments, counter-arguments, and defenses. This usually leads quickly to a fight, because the conversation will no longer come from a partnership approach. It will bring up self-defenses and what you want to communicate will get blocked, possibly leading to a negative spiral.

Find a Strategic Time to Talk

It can be so difficult, with today’s life and family demands, to find time and energy for important conversations. But trying to have them when you are both exhausted or too stressed can set this up for failure.

DO: Find a moment when there is enough time to talk. Try to pick a time of day when both of you aren’t too tired, and limit distractions or interruptions as much as possible. Sometimes, it is easier if you both schedule in a time to connect and talk.

DON’T: Try not to spring important conversation topics on your partner. This will overwhelm them from the start, and then it is difficult to listen to what you are saying. Avoid times like late at night or first thing in the morning (unless these are times when you both have energy!)

Pace the Conversation

Express yourself, and then check in with your partner throughout the conversation to see if they are in sync with you in this conversation. Sometimes we get overwhelmed by feelings that come up in a conversation—either by our partner’s feelings or our own that comes up in reaction to what they are saying. When our brain gets overwhelmed, we no longer have the ability to stay present and listen.

DO: Check in and see if your partner is overwhelmed or confused by feelings that are coming up in this talk. Shorter exchanges throughout the conversation might be a better pace as a couple for the conversation.

DON’T: Don’t “test” your partner to see if they are listening or criticize them.

Take Turns

This is a conversation where both of you are working on coming together in understanding and supporting one another.

DO: Leave room for your partner’s thoughts, feelings, and responses. Resist the urge to interrupt. Give your partner a chance to respond and support you.

DON’T: Don’t assume your partner’s thoughts and responses. This can lead to an argument instead.

Acknowledge and Validate What Your Partner Is Saying

Often, one partner doesn’t believe that you hear them or understand what they are saying, even though you are. This can shift by making a point to let your partner know that you heard them. This doesn’t mean you agree. It communicates that you are listening and paying attention. It helps your partner feel important and what they say matters to you too because it matters to them.

DO: Indicate to your partner throughout the conversation that you are listening. Make eye contact, nod, verbal responses like “I think I get it” and “I’m listening—tell me more.”

DON’T: Don’t assume you know what your partner is talking about. If this topic keeps coming up, it means there is something important that is being missed. If you stay quiet too long, your partner may think you are no longer paying attention.

Make Conversations a Habit

It doesn’t mean deep and heavy talks all the time, but having a practice of talking will help the bigger conversations take place.

DO: Talk often about things that matter and you want to connect on.

DON’T: Don’t let things build up and then come out all at once.

I hope these tips will help you and your partner have more successful conversations and connect in a deeper way!

Hye Kam, MFT
A licensed couple and family therapist in Montreal specializing in relationship challenges.