Couples Communication Skills Exercise

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

Couples face many challenges in their relationships. One of the most common issues couples deal with is poor communication skills. Couples engaging in poor communication skills may break up, file for divorce, engage in constant arguments, develop feelings of resent, or describe their relationship as unhappy. Many couples who do not develop healthier communication skills will break up because they incorrectly assume that healthy communication happens naturally. Instead, it takes practice to communicate effectively in a romantic relationship.

It is important to practice and learn communication skills so that they become second nature. It is also important to practice new and healthy skills to replace those unhealthy skills you have continuously been practicing all of these years. Below you will find steps that will make communicating in your relationship more effective. At first, these steps may seem separate and unnatural, but by practicing them in your relationship they will soon feel like second nature.

Try this communication exercise.

Step 1: Decide on a time together to start the exercise and decide on a topic to discuss. The first few times your start the exercise you will want to pick non-confrontational topics. You will also want to both agree with the chosen topic. If you do not agree, do not start the exercise until you decide on a mutually agreed upon topic.

Step 2: Decide who will be the first speaker. Each person will have the opportunity to be the speaker and the listener.

Step 3: The speaker will have the opportunity to talk for two minutes about the chosen topic. It is important that you stay on topic, are directive, and do not overwhelm the listener. Effective speaking requires the speaker to know their audience.

*You may want to prepare for the conversation by writing out your thoughts on the topic. This may help you be more concise in what you say.  For others writing out your thoughts may you feel prepared and decrease the amount of anxiety you experience.

* You may choose to set a timer for two minutes. It is easy to get caught up in the conversation.

* The speaker should always use “I” statements. For example, “I feel upset when ____” or “When ____ happens, I become ____”.

* Never use all or nothing statements. Usually in life things do not always or never happen. It is more accurate to use words such as sometimes, occasionally, at certain times, etc. This will help to make the listener feel less defensive. When the listener feels less defensive they will be more effective in listening to your experience.

The speaker may state:

“I wanted to talk with you about how I feel when you sometimes do not let me know what you are doing and instead make plans without consulting with me. This makes me upset because I feel like you do not think about my needs and wants. I also feel that in these moments I sometimes want to be around you and you are not there, making me feel very disconnected from you.”

Step 4: The listener will have time to summarize what the speaker said.

1. Thank the speaker for sharing their experience with you.

2. The listener will then summarize to the speaker what they heard them say. (Remember, as the listener we may not always be accurate in how we interpret a statement. It is important to check in with the speaker).

3. Consider the importance of validating and empathizing while practicing this exercise. By summarizing you will start to validate and empathize with the speaker’s experience. Validation refers to when we communicate and recognize that the experience of another person is valid. You can validate someone else’s experience even if you do not agree with them. Empathizing refers to our ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.

Examples of summarizing are:

“Thank you for sharing with me how you feel when I do not tell you about my plans. I heard you say that when I forget to tell you my plans you feel disconnected from me and unimportant. Did I get it? Am I missing anything that you wanted to me hear and understand?”

Step 5: After the listener checked in with the speaker, the speaker will clarify any misconceptions that the listener presented. The speaker may take this opportunity to acknowledge their appreciation for being listened to by the listener.

Some examples include:

“Thank you for listening to me. I feel like you picked up on everything I wanted you to hear.”

                or

“I really appreciate that you listened to my experience. I just wanted to let you know that I feel like you understand most of what I was saying. You especially understood that I feel disconnected from you when you do not tell me your plans. You also said you thought I also feel unimportant. Instead of feeling unimportant, I actually feel dismissed.”

Step 6: The listener again will check in with the speaker.

Step 7: The speaker will clarify any misconceptions and will invite the listener to share their experience. The speaker at this time can also express one positive feeling associated with being listened to by the listener.

An example could be:

“I just wanted to say thank you for listening to my experience. I felt like you understood my experience, which helps me to feel more connected to you. I also felt like you cared about my feelings. I am interested in hearing your experience.”

Step 8: The speaker and the listener will switch roles and repeat the exercise.  

Couples may have a difficult time starting to practice new communication skills. Some of the issues you may experience include:

1.Viewing the conversation as a debate.

The goal of communicating with your romantic partner is not about wining a debate or about blaming your partner. Rather, the purpose of communication is to share yourself with your partner and allow your partner to share themselves with you. Instead of approaching the conversation with a commitment to win a debate, approach the conversation with a commitment to curiosity. 

2.Becoming defensive towards your partner.

It is easy to become defensive during difficult conversations with someone you love. This exercise is set up to help you listen and understand your partner. Defensiveness gets in your way of truly being able to listen.

3.Having unrealistic goals for change.

Making a behavior change and learning new skills takes time. You need to first practice new skills for them to become habit. Give these new communication skills a try for three months. By practicing often and frequently you have a better chance to automatically practice them in your every day life. As you are practicing have patience for both yourself and the one you love.

You must acknowledge that healthy communication skills vary with each relationship. Every person brings to a relationship their own unique communication styles. In order to effectively develop healthier communication skills within your relationship, you must understand the communication style of each person in the relationship.  Even though what works for one relationship may not work for another, there are basic communication skills that will be helpful to all relationships. These communication skills are the foundations to developing effective communication within your relationship.

If you find yourself really struggling to develop more positive communication skills, and are too overwhelmed with the idea of starting on your own don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation.  Each of our therapists is trained in helping clients develop the skills to have more satisfying relationship.  To contact a therapist at The Center for Growth / Sex Therapy in Philadelphia call 267 324 9564.