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Free marriage counseling: Constructive Communication

The following exercise will teach you the basics of healthy and effective communication. You need to practice it until it becomes second nature and becomes informally integrated in the way you and your partner speak with each other.

Words are the bridge between you and your partner. Your bridge needs to be healthy and strong in order to connect you and your partner properly and closely.

You may want to print this exercise for ease of use. Click the Print Friendly button above. From there you can also format this exercise into a PDF file or email it to a friend. Note: Printing from a computer works best.

Before you start

1. Agree to a time to speak. Both you and your partner need to feel relaxed and not pressured by children, housework, being over-tired etc.

2. Make sure you have at least 30-minutes to practice your communication.

3. Agree you are just sharing ideas and seeking solutions to problems or plans for the future. (Problem solving communication uses what you are learning in this exercise plus additional rules.)

4. One of you volunteer to be the "Speaker" and the other the "Listener."

Rules for the Speaker

1. Pick a topic. As you are learning this skill start with an easy to discuss topic, not the most controversial and anger provoking ones.

2. When speaking, use "I" messages. For example: "I felt..., I think..., When you …, I felt..., etc."

3. Stay on topic.

4. Stay respectful. Don't get angry or accusatory.

5. Don’t make assumptions about what your partner intended or felt. For example: Say, "It seems to me you were in a bad mood…" and not, You were very in a bad mood."

6. Use short and clear paragraphs – be concise.

7. Be prepared to stop to let your partner summarize what you are saying.

Rules for the Listener

1. Paraphrase what you hear the speaker saying. When your memory is reaching capacity, politely ask your partner to pause so you can summarize what you heard. This is your responsibility as the Listener to do.

2. When paraphrasing what you heard, don’t change what the Speaker said; don't give your own opinions or interpretations. Use the same words used by the Speaker as much as possible. Like a “mirror,” you are just reflecting back what you heard.

3. After paraphrasing, ask the Speaker if that is what he or she said. If they need to correct you, accept it and then repeat the summary with the "correction."

Rules for both the Speaker and the Listener

1. Take turns or agree on who will talk for this particular exercise.

2. If the rules begin to break down and things get hot, stop and either try again later to talk or try to talk about a less controversial topic.

3. The more you practice the easier it will get.