By: Drema Carpenter, Psy.D., Post-Doctoral Resident

Healthy communication is the key to a healthy relationship. When healthy communication is not used, false assumptions and misinterpretations occur. Understanding and identifying Do’s and Don’ts to communication is the first step to improving or maintaining a healthy relationship. However, this takes practice! There are four main Do’s:  Reflections, “I” Statements, Relationship Conflict Resolution, and Assertive Communication. 

Reflections guide us to become better listeners for our partners. They are used by repeating back what the partner originally said but in your own words. By repeating what your partner said in your own words, you are showing them you did not just hear them, but you understand them as well. An example of a reflection would be, “I get so angry when you come home late without calling. You do not care if I am waiting on you to eat dinner or not.” The partner could respond back by stating, “You feel angry and do not feel like a priority when I do not call to remain on the same page as you. It is important to you that I communicate what time I will be home.” Another important note when practicing reflections is the tone of voice that is being used. Use a tone that comes across as a statement. You want your message to your partner to come across as you attempting to understand them, as opposed to being argumentative. Your reflections do not have to always be accepted 100% by your partner. It is okay for your partner(s) to let you know if you missed something that is important to them or if they don’t think you understood what they were saying. If the partner did not mention an emotion initially, observe their tone and body language and reflect the emotion that is being sent to you to confirm if this is accurate for them. Examples of how to reflect back to see if you are understanding them more clearly are: “I hear you saying…,” “I imagine you feel…,” or “What I hear you saying is that…” By starting with these statements, you are acknowledging them and confirming the message you are hearing fits what they are saying and feeling. 

“I” Statements are used to focus on the person sending and to reduce defensiveness. By starting the statement using “I”, you are able to explain how you feel in a way that your partner can hear. A good “I” statement takes responsibility for one’s own feelings that is difficult to argue with, because you are speaking about your feelings. The statement goes as follows; “I feel_____(emotion) when____(situation).” Be careful how you verbalize the situation that caused the emotion. For instance, be aware of your tone and if your wording is blaming the other person. The following table shows some blaming versus “I” statement examples

Blaming “I” Statements
“You can’t keep coming home so late, it’s inconsiderate.” “I feel worried when you come home late, I cannot sleep.”
“You never call me, I guess we will only speak on your terms.” “I feel sad and my feelings are hurt when you do not call, I feel disconnected and insecure when you don’t call. 

Relationship Conflict Resolution involves focusing on the problem, not the person. This means that during a disagreement or argument, the tone remains calm, there is no blaming the other person, the argument does not involve personal insults, raised voices, or mocking each other. You simply focus on the problem, not the person. Using reflective listening during a conflict can be helpful; repeating back what your partner said in your own words. Use “I” statements, take a time-out from each other, and work towards a resolution. When working towards a resolution, sometimes a compromise (or finding a middle ground you are both comfortable with) has to take place.

Assertive Communication is when both individuals are able to express their thoughts and emotions and feel respected at the same time. When assertive communication is used, the person is providing information regarding their needs, wants, and feelings. In order to use assertive communication effectively, you want to listen without interrupting, clearly state what the needs and wants are, show that you are willing to compromise, stand up for your own rights/morals, use a confident tone and body language, and make good eye contact. Examples of assertive communication include: 

“I completely understand what you’re saying but I have to disagree,” 
“I feel frustrated when you are late for meetings. I don’t like having to repeat information.”
Can you please explain the reasoning behind your decision, so I can try to understand why you chose it,”
“I understand that you have a need to talk but I need to finish what I’m doing. Can we meet in half an hour?” 
“I want you to help me with this report,” “Can you suggest a time we can talk about the missed deadline. I’m concerned.”

The two primary don’ts include Passive and Aggressive Communication. Passive communication is when an individual prioritizes the wants and needs of someone else even at their own expense. During passive communication, the person is not expressing their own feelings or needs, they are simply adhering to the other person’s needs. When this occurs, the person using passive communication is setting themselves up to be possibly taken advantage of, even by people that may not realize they are doing this. Some factors that fit with passive communication include being soft-spoken and quiet, allowing others to take advantage, prioritizing needs of others, uses poor eye contact (looks down or away), not expressing their own needs or wants, and lacking confidence.

In aggressive communication, the person is only expressing their own needs, wants, and feelings. The other person is being bullied, ignored, or dismissed. Aggressive communication signs include being easily frustrated, speaking loud or in an overbearing way, unwilling to compromise, using criticism and humiliation, domination, frequently interrupting and not listening to the other person, and acting disrespectful towards others.