There’s a million ways to say, “I love you.” You could write it on a sticky note, show it with a surprise lunch, or suggest it by blowing a kiss.

Unfortunately, there’s also a million ways to say, “I don’t.”

We use more than just words when we communicate with one another, and healthy communication requires a mix of the right words and the right non-verbal cues. How do you train your brain to work through your options instead of spewing off words triggered by emotion? Here are four easy ways to practice better communication.

1. Practice Active Listening

Good listeners do more than just sit silently while someone else talks. In relationships, we want to listen actively, not passively, when our partner is sharing. This means listening without distracting thoughts, judgement, and interruption—there is no quicker way to convince your partner that you don’t care about them than by cutting them off.

Your only goal should be to understand. Show your attention with nonverbal cues like nodding or softly “Mhm-ing”. A good way to practice this is by setting a five-minute timer and letting your partner speak for the entire time, only cutting in to ask follow-up questions.

You may find that your partner has more to say than you thought.

2. Interpret Your Partner’s Words Through Four “Ears”

According to the Four-Sides Model of Communication, there are four different “ears” we use to interpret meaning when someone talks. For example, say your partner mentions, “The gas was crazy low when I started the car today.”

According to the model, there are four ways you could interpret their statement depending on what you’re listening for:

FACTUAL INFORMATION: “The car is low on gas.”
SELF-REVELATION: “I like driving with a full tank.”
RELATIONSHIP NOTES: “You’re inconsiderate and selfish with the car.”
APPEALS FOR CHANGE: “Go fill up the car with gas.”

Conversations with loved ones can quickly descend into chaos if we’re only listening for specific information. Try re-interpreting what your partner said again through one of the four “ears” and see if you come up with a healthier way to understand and respond.

What might’ve felt like an attack before might look like a simple comment now.

3. Share Concerns in a Non-Judgemental Way

When you speak with words that aren’t meaningful or thoughtfully chosen, it ends up diluting the message you want to convey. Let’s say your partner left their laundry in the washer instead of promptly moving it to the dryer.

First, you want to objectively share the event with your partner: “I noticed that your laundry has been in the washer for two days.”

Then, communicate your feelings instead of hiding them from your partner, and express them in a non-judgemental way. This can be as simple as saying, “It made me annoyed.”

Next, take the time to understand your needs and share them with your partner. Like, “I want you to be considerate about the housework that I have to do, too.”

Finally, make a clear request as to how your needs can be met. “Please finish your laundry when you start it so it doesn’t get in the way.”

If you need more time to overcome those harsh first thoughts, try a handwritten note or text. These give you the space to craft exactly what you want to say, and you’ll find your words to be kinder and more accurate to how you actually feel.

4. Respond with Positivity and Genuine Curiosity

After years of knowing your partner like the back of your hand, it can feel easy to dismiss their exciting news, stories, and goals as something you already knew or could have guessed.

The older we get, the more we change, and so do the people we love. Stay curious about your partner and look for opportunities to re-discover them over the years. When they share news, respond in an active and constructive way that shows how truly happy you are for them.

We can solve a lot of our problems today with better communication. If you find your relationship needs help with healthy communication, schedule an appointment with one of our counselors today.