In this, the second article on communication in marriages and relationships, the focus shifts directly at HOW we communicate.

We are continuously in communication with each other. The guideline provided relates to more serious in-depth communication. This requires a favourable time and circumstances to be successful.

TIMING can be essential in having a spouse truly hear what you are trying to communicate.

Effective communication is dependent on the circumstances under which it takes place. There are specific circumstances under which it is NOT CONDUCIVE to communicate for obvious reasons. This is referred to as the H.A.L.T. method. This method is one of the good communication tools to consider when you have anything important to discuss. H.A.L.T. yourself from trying to talk about anything important or that could cause conflict when either of you are:

  • Hungry
  • Angry
  • Lonely
  • Tired

If either of you are experiencing any of these … don’t engage in communication yet! You have less success of things going in a good direction with what you are trying to discuss. H.A.L.T. times are troublesome in that they can close off a partner from truly hearing and listening to what you are really trying to communicate.


To be able to communicate the key is for one person (the person initiating the communication or “sender”) to express themself as clearly as possible and the other person (the person receiving the message or “responder”) to listen attentively. Once both parties are comfortable to communicate the following guidelines are suggested:

Step 1: The sender making the statement.

State feelings and needs with “I” statements, not “You…” statements.

I feel … because … and would like …

“I feel…” (State your feeling)

“…when you…” (State the other person’s behavior)

“I would like…” (State what you want to happen)

For example:

Say: “I feel anxious when you don’t call me when you are out with your friends.”

Don’t say: “You never call me when you hang out with them!”

Be specific about what you are asking for. Avoid generalizations (“You always…” “You never…”)

Say: “I would like you to call me once at around 10pm the next time you are out.”

Don’t Say: “I want you to prioritize me over your friends.  I want more attention”.

Also focus on talking about the positive feelings that you have for the other person.

Say: “I miss hanging out with you on Friday nights”.

Don’t Say: “When you do this, I can’t even remember why I’m still dating you”.

Step 2: The responder listening to the statement

While the sender makes a statement, listen attentively to understand what is being said. Take care not to pre-judge or defend:

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Concentrate on your partner’s emotional reactions.
  • Show Empathy/Put yourself in his/her place.
  • Ask Clarifying Questions/Make sure you correctly understand your partner.

Say: “Are you saying that you feel like I don’t care about you when I don’t call you?

Don’t Say: “You never allow me time out with my friends.”

  • Restate what you hear your partner saying in your own words.
  • Tell your partner what you think she is feeling/experiencing.

Say: “You seem to be feeling worried that I don’t think about you when I’m with my friends.”

Don’t Say: “This is ridiculous. You are just being jealous.”

  • Validate

Say: “It makes sense that you feel anxious when I don’t call you when I’m out late at night.  It must be difficult when you have no idea where I am or wondering if I am hanging out with other men/women.”

Don’t Say: “Why do you need to control everything all the time and not allow me time with my friends?”

Step 3: Change roles

After the validation, the person listening makes a statement in response and the steps are followed as before:

Say: I appreciate (feel appreciative) your understanding …

Say: … how I feel about you contacting me when you are out …

Step 4: Problem Solving

Once each person has had the opportunity to listen and respond, agree on the way forward. Focus on the specifics:

  • Who will do what?
  • How often?
  • When and where?
  • What could get in the way?

Avoid future disappointments by discussing circumstances that might make the agreement difficult to follow. Follow-up. Set up a time to follow-up on the plan. Discuss how well the plan is working and make any needed changes at that time.

  1. Difficulty initiating communication.

It so happens that some couples struggle to manage initiating communication yet love each other and want to be able to communicate. One partner may for example struggle with depression or is over-sensitive about certain issues which may complicate entering communication.

One option may be to make use of the CARD method of dealing with issues. This method is an alternative to discuss important matters and get your TIMING right.

On a 3X5 card, write the following words:

“I’m feeling angry right now… Is it a good time to talk?”

Put this card on the refrigerator door and some other easily accessible place. The next time you feel anger toward your spouse, run for the card. Holding it in your hand, read it to your spouse as calmly as you can.

  • If it’s not “a good time to talk” then set a time to talk.
  • At the appointed time, begin the process of seeking understanding of the issue that motivated your anger. Start off by saying: “I know that I could be wrong about this and that’s why I wanted to talk with you. Allow me to tell you what I am feeling and why I’m feeling that way. Then if you can clarify the situation, please do so because I need help in resolving this.”

Such a beginning creates a non-threatening atmosphere in which to discuss the event that stimulated ineffective communication leaving matters unresolved. If most attempts at verbal communication fails, would writing to each other serve as form of communicating?

Author: Peter Schultz