Improving communication

Psychologist John Gottman has spent 20 years studying what makes a marriage last. In his book Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last, he describes a characteristic behavior of successful couples he refers to as "bids for connection". These bids for connection are small physical gestures, or even fairly mundane comments to our partner that help us stay connected with him or her while being together.

Often a history of poor communication gets in the way of establishing those bids for connections. In working with clients in couples counseling I often see that the rules for positive, healthy communication have simply broken down between the couple. To address this I recommend thethe book, Non-Violent Communication, by Marshall Rosenburg, a model of NVC is posted here. I also find the following handouts very helpful.
Once my couple are familiar with this material I'll go over this handout to give them some specific tips and suggestions for having conversations.
I'll then have them rehearse a conversation with them using a communication template described in this handout. This is a communication tool developed by Harville Hendrix PhD, author of "Getting the Love You Want: a Guide for Couples" and co-creator of Imago Therapy.
I spend the good part of a session going over this exercise and having each partner practice it on the other. I then ask them to practice this at home at least twice a week for no more than 20 minutes at a time. Typically, couples will notice a substantial difference in how it feels to talk with their partner when they do the exercise, and they more easily see the role of negative thinking patterns and communication errors in their conflicts.