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Author: Maya Maria Brown, M.A. Counseling Psychology, Relationship Expert

10 communication exercises for your relationship

There are a number of ways to develop good communication in a relationship. Healthy communication comes from practicing relationship communication skills.

 

We are all about practical tools and easy steps you can take to be proactive in your relationship. So we’ve come up with some communication exercises for couples to help you learn how to effectively communicate with each other.

 

Here are 10 skills - with exercises - you can develop for how to communicate effectively in a relationship:

1. Identify your strengths.

When we want to improve our communication, we might want to go straight to what isn’t working. But, research shows that it’s best to first focus on your strengths, and work together from a positive place. Then you’ll be ready to take on the more difficult aspects, equipped with the confidence you need to work through the challenges.

 

Couple communication exercise:

Write down three things you do well when it comes to communication, and three things your partner does well. These could be things like:

 

  • “I am good at finding words to describe my feelings.”

  • “I do a good job of not raising my voice when I’m upset.”

  • “I am a good listener.”

  • “You do a good job of showing me that you understand me.”

  • “You tell me nice things that make me feel good.”

  • “You ask me if I’m ready to talk about a conflict instead of launching into it.”

 

Share what you wrote with each other, and celebrate the things you both do well.

2. Notice - and potentially change - your self-talk.

Self-talk is that constant narrative going inside our heads, and specifically what we think about ourselves. How does your inner voice respond when you make a mistake, try on a pair of pants, take a risk? 


Communication with our partner can be influenced by the way we communicate with ourselves, so learning to hear - and adjust - the way we talk to ourselves is an important step in improving our interpersonal communication.

 

Couple communication exercise:

Have your partner say something nice to you. Notice the first thing you think when you hear the compliment, and see if you are critical or supportive of yourself. 

 

Reverse roles, and have your partner notice what they think when you give them a compliment. Try noticing your self-talk throughout the day, and see if you can push back against any negative things you think about yourself.

3. Be mindful of what you say and how you say it.

When we think of communication, we think about talking. So of course, when we’re working on our communication, we need to take into account the things we say. Paying attention to the words we use when talking with our partner - whether it’s making plans, giving compliments, arguing or sharing our experiences - can set you up for the kinds of conversations you want to be having.

 

Couple communication exercise:

It’s important to challenge any “black or white” thinking we have. Throughout the day, write down any times you say the words “always,” “never,” “completely,” and other words that don’t leave room for the grey area. Think about if things are really as concrete as your words make them out to be.

4. Be aware of your unspoken communication.

Words say a lot, but so much is also conveyed by unspoken communication. That’s everything from our facial expressions and body language, to our silences and what’s not being said.

 

Ever heard nice words coming from someone whose face looks angry? That kind of changes the way you experience the words. So much of our unspoken communication is unconscious, so it’s a good idea to start paying attention to what we’re saying without words.

 

Couple communication exercise:

Tell each other about the facial expressions you notice the other person making on a regular basis (e.g. “You make *this* face when you’re deep in thought”). This is a good first step in recognizing what we are communicating without even realizing it sometimes.

5. Share your inner world with your partner.

Many miscommunications come from when we try to share something we’re thinking or feeling, but it gets lost in translation somewhere and the other person doesn’t understand or connect with what we’re saying. Understanding our own inner worlds, and communicating our internal experiences with our partner, can bring us closer together. When we feel close with our partner, our relationship can lead to long-term health and happiness.

 

Couple communication exercise:

Have a conversation with your partner that focuses on feelings. Start sentences with things like “I feel…” and “___ makes me feel…” They can be simple things from your day, or things about the relationship.

Be careful to not use non-feelings; “I feel like it’s hard to think of a feeling” is not a feeling. Instead, try, “I feel challenged by this activity.”

6. Pay attention to the deeper meaning.

Have you ever heard the idea that when couples argue about the dishes, they’re not really arguing about the dishes? Often when we communicate, there are deeper meanings beyond what we’re expressing in the moment, whether we know it or not. Sometimes you or your partner can feel that there’s something else going on, but aren’t sure what it is. Grab your shovel, because it’s time to do some digging.

 

Couple communication exercise:

Try having a conversation with your partner in which neither of you says what you mean. You can use innuendos, or say the complete opposite of what you mean. Even if it gets super silly, pay attention to the tactics you use to “bury the lead” and see if you use them in real life too.

7. Stay with the issue during conflict.

When we’re in an argument, or talking about something difficult with our partner, many of us have trouble staying emotionally and mentally focused on the issue at hand. 

 

Some of us go inside - we shut down and get lost inside ourselves, and stop communicating with our partner altogether. Others go outside - we become desperate in our expressions and want to talk talk talk until everything feels better.

 

Staying with the topic instead of going inside or outside can help you work on how to communicate with your partner when you’re in conflict.

 

Couple communication exercise:

Next time you have a difficult conversation, set a timer for every two minutes. When the timer goes off, stop talking and take three deep breaths. Ask yourself: “Am I inside, outside, or grounded in the issue?” If you’re inside or outside, give yourself a nudge in the other direction to come back to being present with your partner.

To keep growing and improving relationship communication skills, give the app Coupleness a try. With the super easy daily tracker, you and your partner will have fun as you strengthen your relationship and communication skills.

How to keep building relationship communication skills

8. Feel and express gratitude.

Gratitude has been proven to have huge positive impacts on our well-being as individuals and couples. Expressing gratitude helps our partner feel appreciated and loved, and helping our partner feel appreciated is one of the most important things we can do for our relationship. Try saying or doing one thing each day that demonstrates your gratitude for your partner.

 

Couple communication exercise:

Have a shared gratitude journal as a couple, where a few days per week, you each write some things you’re grateful for. Gratitude can help you regain and maintain the spark in your relationship. You can do this on paper, virtually, or in the app Coupleness.

9. Practice active listening.

One of the best ways to communicate better is to practice active listening. This demonstrates that we are curious about our partner, and curiosity is one of the three keys to a strong relationship according to the Gottman Institute. This includes asking specific, open-ended questions, having open and “leaned in” body language, repeating back what you hear to make sure you’re understanding, and staying present through the conversation.

Couple communication exercise:

Have your partner tell you one thought or feeling they had today, and practice responding by repeating what they said in your own words and checking if you understood.

 

For example:

  • Partner: “I was thinking about where I’d like to live when we are old.”

  • You: “It sounds like you were thinking about our lives in the future, wondering about where we’ll be, is that right?”

 

Once your partner has confirmed or clarified what they said, switch roles.

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10. Ask each other questions and have fun conversations.

It’s easy to fall into communication patterns that revolve around chores, to-do lists, work, or our children. But to communicate well together, we also need to have fun and meaningful conversations that aren’t about those things.

Couple communication exercise:

We have a list of 100 questions for your relationship that can help you communicate in new ways with your partner. Try them out! Pick one each day, or see how many you can get through in one sitting. But don’t rush your answers; let the conversation flow.