Couples Communication: Care Instructions

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When you and your partner committed to be a couple, you formed a new family. You are now a unique combination, not a mirror of your parents or friends. You each bring your own ideas, values, and history to the relationship. Now your new family needs to form its own way of communicating.

You and your partner may love each other deeply and want very much to avoid anger and hurt feelings. But you may face unsettling issues, such as financial decisions, in-law tensions, or lifestyle differences. Being able to handle conflicts with love and respect is the key to working through difficult issues.

You and your partner can learn skills to build a considerate and supportive way to talk with each other. Ask your doctor about communication skills classes. Your doctor also can recommend a counselor to help you and your partner learn these skills.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Listen to your partner

  • Give your partner time to talk. While they talk, hear the words and notice the feelings.
  • To really listen, you cannot be thinking about what you want to say next.
  • Check in with your partner to see if you understand what is being said. Use questions such as "Are you saying. . .?" to make sure your partner's meaning is clear.
  • Try not to judge or make fun of what your partner says.
  • When your partner describes a situation they are troubled about, do not try to solve it. Instead, listen to your partner and offer empathy, such as "I understand how that might upset you."

Be clear in your speech

  • Do not expect your partner to know what you are thinking. Even if you think you have said it before, tell your partner how you feel.
  • Use "I" messages to tell your partner how you feel. Try statements such as "I feel sad when. . ." or "I am worried that. . ." Tell your partner why you feel that way.
  • Do not use "you" messages, such as "You always. . ." or "You never. . ." Instead, tell your partner how their actions affect you. For example: "I feel angry when you leave your clothes lying around, because a clean house is important to me."

Fight fair

  • It is okay to argue. All couples do! If you and your partner can agree to disagree in a loving and respectful way, you can work through difficult issues without hurting your relationship.
  • When you and your partner are talking about one issue, do not bring up other problems.
  • Think about what you and your partner agree on, rather than what separates you.
  • If things get too heated or confused, take a time-out, or sleep on it. Wait to talk about it until you both are calm and want to talk.

Understand different styles

  • If you have a very different communication style than your partner, you both need to understand what those styles are. A shy person may have trouble voicing their feelings, and an outgoing person may do most of the talking. Some people want to talk only about the facts, and other people are more concerned about feelings.
  • Find out how your partner feels about arguments. Some people take them in stride, but others are upset for days.
  • Before you have a disagreement, discuss subjects where couples often disagree. Talking about these subjects might help you work through them when they come up. Subjects might include:
    • Saving and spending money.
    • Receiving and giving affection.
    • Handling conflict.
    • Frequency of sex.

Build your relationship

  • Plan time together that is not spent running errands or taking care of your home. Make it a date, such as a walk in the park.
  • Once an argument starts, work toward agreement. That usually means both people give a little.
  • Let your partner know that you love and respect them, even if you do not agree on something. Take care of each other after a disagreement.
  • Accept that no relationship is perfect. Be patient with yourself and your partner.

When should you call for help?

Be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.