Every relationship book in existence advises struggling couples to communicate more effectively. Well, that’s a bit easier said than done. Aside from knowing how to approach communication from a genuine and nonjudgmental place, the idea of opening yourself up to criticism and emotional attack can be daunting.

While nobody has the definitive answer about what it takes to create the perfect setting for real communication to take place, there are a few tips that can help you on your way.

Develop an Open Dialogue. First, try to be as open as possible with your partner. Keeping your problems private can create a chasm of isolation between you and your significant other. One of the perks of being in a relationship is that you don’t have to face the perils and pitfalls of life solo. When you worry alone, when you face the world alone, you may as well be alone. Allow your partner to share your burdens. Tell him or her what is on your mind. Let them in. Don’t hold back. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and honest, even when the topic at hand has something to do with his or her behavior.

I’m not suggesting that you tell your significant other about every minute detail that meanders into your mind, but I am telling you that when something significant occurs, you should not hold back.

Find the Right Time. Timing is also of the essence. Ambushing your partner with a heavy discussion will only breed discontent. If you need to schedule a time to talk with your partner, don’t hesitate to do so. Especially if you need time to collect your thoughts. If you find that you’re in a bad mood, in a hurry or can’t commit at least a half hour to your discussion, try to initiate communication at a different time.

Build intimacy. If the goal is to build overall intimacy, one particularly effective communication strategy involves creating a weekly companionship inventory where you and your spouse sit down for an honest conversation and gut check about the status of your relationship at least once a week. This can typically become a housekeeping discussion after the initial lines of communication have been opened.

Use this time to check in with each other. What in your relationship is working? What needs improvement? Are your communications efforts helping you to reach your overall goals or is there something you need to tweak? Talk about your feelings, and yes, the level of intimacy you’re experiencing.

Keep your cool. Realize that there is a right way to argue. Don’t allow your talks to devlove into something base and ugly. If you are tempted to begin hurling accusations or resurrect past hurts, remember the purpose of these weekly check-ins. And never allow yourself to begin attacking your partner with hurtful insults or contempt. Remember, these talks are designed to increase your intimacy and save your relationship, not hurl derogatory sentiments and hurt your partner. The ability to express harsh words may feel like a relief when they’re expressed in the moment but the old cliche is true: be careful what you say because you can’t take it back.

Remain positive. In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to remember to stay positive. Even if you find your inner dialogue trailing off into negative territory, pump the brakes. For every criticism that pops into your mind, remind yourself of at least one positive quality your partner possesses. You fell in love with him or her for a reason. Tap into those early emotions.

Remember, winning isn’t everything. This may the toughest effective communication component on our list. When emotions are raw and you feel justified in your anger/hurt/lack of empathy, the idea of focusing more on the bigger picture can help you fend off the urge to just be right. You are opening yourself up and creating a vulnerable space in an effort to save something that is or once was precious to you. Stay internally connected to your purpose, and you’ll be able to quiet the negative barbs that seem to crawl up your throat of their own volition.

“Sorry” is not a dirty word. Be willing to apologize without hesitation when the situation warrants it. Real intimacy can only be created when both parties are open to change. This means being able to admit when you’re wrong.

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