I come from a family of non-communicators. We wear it proudly like a badge — which is ridiculous because the only thing that comes from not telling someone what you want or need is frustration that festers until you explode 12 years later and blindside your spouse because you never liked the color of the downstairs bathroom.
Communication is one of the, if not the biggest, elements to successful relationships. This includes friendships as well. Here are the most effective things I’ve learned about communication from adulting:
1. Be clear.
I have a tendency to assume my husband “should just know” what I’m thinking or feeling. He does not. I have learned that telling him exactly what I need, and maybe even how that thing needs to be done, makes for smoother communication and less frustration over misunderstandings. For example, if I need to be by myself, there was a time when I would mentally will that message to him by being upset and stomping around. Turns out, saying, “Hey, I had a hard day, and I need to walk around the block,” is much more effective than kicking a laundry pile around my house (that I’ll have to clean up anyway).
2. Say how you feel.
Don’t say, “I’m fine,” if you aren’t fine. The other person will assume you are fine — because you said you were. That’s like saying, “Oh yes, I love live squid in my clam chowder,” and then getting angry at the waiter when he serves it to you. It’s confusing. And terrifying for others — squid included.
3. Let it go.
If we learned anything from Elsa, it’s that this song is impossible to get out of your head, her snowman is adorable, and this is pretty good advice. It’s tough to do at first, but learning to pick and choose your battles is liberating, not to mention it saves a ton of unnecessary arguments and resentment. Eye-rolling allowed.
4. Don’t keep score.
Seriously, don’t get that game going. Once you start keeping score, you open the door for the other person to start keeping score, because fair is fair. Then you pull your scorecard out four years later and so does the other person. You start with the topic at hand, and before you know it, you’re hurling insults back and forth over insignificant issues that have been festering since the time you both said, “No, I’m fine.” The result is neither of you is speaking anymore, you hate their shoes, and they think your hair is stupid.
5. Be the bigger person.
Sometimes this is the worst thing in the world. I know for me it takes swallowing a huge amount of pride as I clench my firsts and grit my teeth. I tell myself, “Fine!” the way Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “Newman.” I hate being wrong when I think I’m right. But when it comes to clearing the air to keep from reigniting the longest war since the Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years’ War, it takes someone to stand up and do the right thing to stop the nonsense. If you do, you can at least relish in the fact that you were the bigger person. Then, do Nos. 3 and 4.
6. Say, “I’m sorry” when you do something wrong.
Because you were wrong, and saying sorry is the right thing to do. See No. 5. Humble pie is the least delicious of pies. Apple is really the best.
7. Accept the apology.
It’s also the right thing to do and the first step toward moving on. No one says accepting apologies means forgetting what someone said, it means accepting this person is sorry and making an effort to right their wrongs and then letting it go. In non-abusive relationships, accepting apologies is a chance to strengthen your bonds and grow together. It also gives the other person a second chance to do the right thing.
8. Don’t assume.
It makes an ass out of you — and me. Do you know how many times I’ve spent time wondering how in the world I would forgive someone for something they weren’t even aware they did? Communicate. See No. 1.
9. No guilt trips.
Also known as manipulation. It accomplishes nothing but one-sided selfishness and builds resentment. It’s an ugly trait. We all do it (or have done it at some point), but it’s a horrible thing to practice, especially with people you love.
10. Don’t be a doormat.
Just say no to things you don’t want to do. See Nos. 1 and 2.
Communication is more important to relationships than anything else. Unless you’re telepathic, then it should be pretty easy for your significant other or best friend. It’s also pretty important for parenting. The more clearly I communicate, the better my kids understand and communicate as well. Unless I’m asking them to clean up. Then I become the family ghost only the cat can hear, and that’s if it’s time for her to be fed.
The first few years of my marriage were about my husband and I learning to work together. A huge part of that was me not being afraid to communicate and to do it clearly without holding it back. Once I figured out how to do this, things smoothed out, and life surprisingly got easier. So don’t be afraid to say how you feel, be the bigger person, and never kick laundry around the house out of frustration. I’ve got pretty good odds that you’ll be the one picking it up anyway.
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