Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Work on Communication for Healthy Relationships

Communicate your feelings

Discussing your feelings and needs can be difficult. However, people can only begin to understand you at a deep level if you share your feelings with them.

So go ahead and express yourself. When you don't want to talk, use a journal to explore the feelings that you have trouble communicating. This will give you some time to reflect until you are ready to talk about it.

Listen deeply

One of the best ways you can show your friends, family, or partner how much you care is to listen to them with an open mind and your full attention. Turn off the television and remove distractions. Make eye contact and try to hear what the person is saying, without letting your own judgments get in the way.

In her book The Five Keys to Mindful Communication, Susan Gillis Chapman says that by giving up our “toxic certainty” about what another person is thinking, we create an open space that allows us to fully understand them for who they are. This can make us better communicators and increase the level of trust and comfort in the relationship.

Be vulnerable

Although the idea of being vulnerable—exposing yourself emotionally to another person—may sound frightening, Brene Brown says that it’s the key to developing strong relationships with others. Without truly opening up to another person, we are unable to form bonds of complete trust and intimacy. In fact, she says, “Vulnerability is a glue that holds intimate relationships together.” You can be vulnerable by sharing your feelings, even when they are uncomfortable—for example, by telling a friend that you need someone to listen, or allowing yourself to cry when describing a difficult time in your life.

Build trust

Trust is the safe feeling that enables you to be vulnerable with another person, without fear of judgment, abandonment, or betrayal. John Gottman, marriage researcher and author of The Science of Trust, has found that there are particular times during a relationship when trust can be cultivated and strengthened: when someone expresses a need for emotional connection or support, during disagreements,  and when discussing a conflict from the past. Listening deeply to your friend, family member, or partner during these moments can pave the way for trust to build, enabling you both to be more open and supportive of one another.

Don't stereotype

It is important to see an individual as a person first, and not as a representative of a particular group. Within any given group, there is a very broad variation due to individual uniqueness. Gender, age, and cultural stereotypes are common in our society. Do the following statements sound familiar to you?

"Oh well, he's a guy."

"Of course she feels that way, she's a woman!"

"He's too old for that!"

If we approach our relationships with these attitudes, thinking we have all the answers and have others figured out, we lose harmony and balance, creating an environment for competition.

Manage conflict

Conflict management is one of the most important skills for sustaining healthy relationships. This includes clear and open communication, mutual respect, shared exploration, an orientation to collaborative problem solving, and a commitment to resolution.

Conflict management involves analyzing a situation and developing a solution that meets the needs of all concerned. Remember to actively listen and speak in a fair and balanced manner. If you are caught up in the heat of anger, try defusing it, so you can approach the situation less reactively.

While it is important to allow yourself to feel and express anger when it is warranted, you want to focus on the issue and how it impacted you rather than blaming or shaming the other. Take a deep breath and step away from the situation if necessary. When you are calm, you can tease out what part of your anger is desire to hurt back, and let that go—it is not helpful.

Expert Contributor: 
Karen Lawson, MD
Reviewed by: 
Kate Hathaway, PhD

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