Previously, I focused on the part of communication involving listening.  The focus of this article is “How to Speak So that You are Heard” with some tips to improve your communication in all your relationships. 

Just by changing how you communicate- your approach, timing, body language, tone of voice, and the words you choose -YOU can make a big difference in how your partner reacts    

Avoid the Biggest Communication Mistakes: It’s easy to make the assumption in a personal relationship that when you are ready to talk, that your partner will be ready to listen.  We seem to forget the common courtesies we give to others.  Pay attention to what is happening for the other person.  Trying to have a conversation with your wife while she is cooking dinner and the kids are running around is likely not the best time for her to listen.  Calling a spouse at work to share a complaint won’t be the best time either.  It is ok to ask your partner, “is this a good time for me to have a conversation with you?” or “Can we set up a time to chat later?”  

Pay attention to your body language.  Depending on the source, our body language and tone of voice can convey up to 80% of our communication.  This is often the cause of mixed messages.  You know the one where you sense some irritation in your spouse, their arms are crossed and they are barely able to look you in the eye?  You ask, “What’s wrong?”, and you get a “nothing” through a clenched mouth?  You don’t believe them do you?  

The other big mistakes include blaming, sarcasm (unspoken resentment disguised as humor), threats, dragging up the past in the current conversation, and judgmental “you” messages, i.e., “You always do this to me”    

Deliver Clear Direct Messages: There are four parts to a clear message and they are listed below.  

Observations– what you notice without judgment, facts, etc.

Thoughts– what this triggered in you, what you decided about it

Emotions– how you feel, what it brings up in you

Needs– requests, ask for what you want, don’t use hints or expect mind reading  

Imagine a husband and wife at a work party where she doesn’t know anyone and he asked her to go with him.  She does and her expectations are that he will be by her side.  He is not and leaves her to go off and talk to other people, especially women, she notices.  This triggers her because of a past situation. She finds herself getting really mad, jealous, and uncomfortable there at the party.  

She has some options and many of us can imagine what she might do.   As soon as they get into the car she begins yelling at him for being such a pig and threatening him.  She might hold on to resentment and not talk to him for days.  She might do it to him the next time or refuse to ever go with him again.  I am sure you can imagine the scene.  

How about direct communication? Tonight I noticed that you spent time talking to other people, especially women when I was left alone.  I thought that you didn’t care about me or you didn’t want to be with me.  I felt really lonely, jealous, hurt, and then angry.  In the future, when you invite me to your company party, I would like to be included in the conversations.  Please notice me and don’t leave me just standing there alone or I would rather not go in the future.   

Usually at this point, people think to themselves, “I could never say that”  “My spouse would just make fun of me.”  Or they think to themselves, “I’ll just let it go, it really wasn’t that big of a deal”   

With practice, this is what creates:    

Emotional Connection   These types of communication are what people usually want when they say that want to feel emotionally close to their spouse.  When you can talk to your spouse this way, when he learns active listening; He can share with you that way, and you can use active listening you each learn what is going on for the other person. 

When you understand past triggers and are not blaming your current spouse for them, you can enlist them in being a good friend and sparing you of that emotional hurt. Sometimes this is hard to do on your own and it takes a counselor to help you sort out what is happening in the moment so that you can be coached to do it differently.  


1.     The short cut model to this, which is often taught, is,

When You….I felt…..I need…..

This is good to remember, but I like the tweek (so that it lowers the defensiveness)

When this happened….I thought…..I felt…….I need……

2.     Begin to notice large emotional reactions that seem out of proportion to the event right in front of you.  Sometimes this is a past issue that hasn’t been healed in you and it will take some extra work on your part with a professional.

3.     Pay attention to your timing, your tone, and your body language and begin to notice the incongruence so that you can change.

Nancy Ryan, LMFT

Nancy Ryan, LMFT

Nancy Ryan, LMFT specializes in working with individuals and couples who want deep, satisfying relationships with themselves and their partners. She works with couples who are ready to stop the destructive patterns and want to build the love, friendship and romance back into their partnership. We see clients in Roseville, CA and Fair Oaks, CA

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