Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Chocolate, flowers, special dinners or gifts are usually the norm to honor this day celebrating romantic love. I thought I’d honor Valentine’s Day differently this year by trying to find ways to improve communication with my husband and partner.

I’m obviously no expert (although I’ve actually played one on TV!) so I reached out to my friend, April Smith, a local couple’s counselor at Relationship Restoration in Raleigh. We met for a cup of coffee to chat about life, marriage and family.

As middle aged women (ugh, that term, tho’), we bonded over our many shared life issues. Kids that are getting older and need us in a completely different way than they used to. Facing our own mortality as we see peers begin to have health issues, our parents age and grandparents become a more distant memory. Hormone induced anxiety and depression. Oh, what fun, ammiright?

April finds that most of her clients struggle with something that should be a non-issue in well-established romantic relationships- communication. Invariably, 9 out of 10 “heated discussions” we all have with our partners stem from our inability to communicate our thoughts and feelings well.

What does that mean? Well, have you ever assumed that your partner understands what you’re feeling at any particular time? Have you been disappointed that they did not do, say, etc that thing you were expecting? Do you make sure that they know they’re loved? Have you heard “I can’t read your mind- why didn’t you just say that”.

What is it about something that should be easy and yet proves to be so difficult?

As a 2nd wife, I’ve learned a lot from the failure of my first marriage. Having suffered the trauma of divorce, my husband and I both dedicate ourselves just a bit more to having a close, meaningful connection. We are determined to never go through a divorce again. It was pretty brutal.

We are now more patient humans, a bit kinder and more understanding of our different, unique personalities and temperaments.

But let’s be honest, there are still days when we glare at each other over something dumb one of us has said (while neither of us acknowledge it aloud). Days when we communicate our feelings by stomping around. Or ignoring each other.

Typical heated discussions in our house may include any of the following:

“I mean, I can’t believe you didn’t feed the dog this morning!

“How many times do I need to ask you to please use a darned coaster?”

Or my favorite car ride debate:

“Yes, I need the phone charge more than you do- I’m at 9% You have 12%!”.

I learned from April that improving communication helps a relationship stay healthy and strong.

Here are some tips she gave me – just in time for Valentine’s Day:

1. Say what you want in very clear, simple terms.

Never assume your partner knows what you expect from them. Basically that means that when I come home and the toilet paper roll is empty I should avoid saying “I can’t believe you didn’t change the toilet paper!”

It may seem obvious to you that the roll needs to be replaced but your partner may have had a million other things on their mind and not noticed. Maybe just hadn’t not gotten to it yet. Simply ask them, “Do you mind changing the toilet paper?”. Easy peasy.

2. Practice Mindful Listening.

When your partner is expressing themselves, make sure you are really listening.  Avoid interrupting and don’t try to “mind read”. Reflect back what you heard. Summarize their thoughts or repeat what you think they just said. “Sure, I’ll change the toilet paper.”

I don’t know about you but I have a habit of answering back in my head and forget to actually say things out loud. This one I need to work on!

3. Affirm your love towards each other even when you’re arguing.

When your partner has made you sad or angry, first, affirm that you love them. Then, explain how they made you feel. Try saying “I love you very much. I want to let you know that what you just said really made me sad/angry/etc because of x, y, or z.

Remember to always express your thoughts and feelings lovingly. We do best when we pause, take a breath, walk away if we need to, and come back to talk when we’re ready.

4. Work to create an egalitarian relationship.

What does that mean? Remember to have mutual respect and kindness towards each other. Both of you are allowed to have emotions; to be angry, sad, anxious, stressed.

Embrace that, in a relationship, both sides are allowed to have feelings. Don’t mock or belittle your partner for feeling different emotions than you do at any particular moment. Treat each other as equals.

5. Make sure to use physical touch throughout the day.

Kiss your spouse goodbye in the morning, caress them, rub their shoulders. Find excuses for touch. Intimacy between partners is important and physical touch reminds them that they are valued and loved.

Nothing reminds me that I am loved more then when my husband takes my hand in his as we cross the street. It’s the little things. I won’t talk about that one in time he ran ahead across the street and yelled “RUN!” over his shoulder as a truck barrelled towards me. Sigh. None of us is perfect.

6. Use verbal affirmations.

Never assume your partner knows they are appreciated. Be sure to verbally affirm your partner. “Thanks for picking the kids up today!” or “The house looks great- thanks for cleaning up this morning!”. No one wants to feel underappreciated.

Saying “I love you” every day is also important. You can show love in your actions, but that shouldn’t replace the verbal affirmation of your love. Neither should be taken for granted.

7. Check in with each other every day.

Try to take 15-20 minutes every day to check in with each other. Make sure there are no distractions like cell phones, television or kids. Sit down with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and chat about your days, future plans, etc.

It’s important to have alone time in order to stay connected. It’s even more important to take an interest in each other’s daily lives. You’d be surprised how easy it is to disconnect from each other when you don’t check in regularly.

I hope these tips will help you improve communication with your partner or spouse and build or maintain a healthy, loving relationship. Relationships aren’t easy but improving communication skills will definitely help you navigate your journey to a happy one. Sending out much love to all of you and…

Wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day!

April Smith Couple's Counselor in Raleigh

April Smith is a couple’s counselor at Relationship Restoration in Raleigh. She is currently working on her Masters in Mental Health Clinical Counseling at Campbell University. April has 20 years of clinical experience working with clients as an Oriental Medical practitioner. 

She enjoys working with clients with sexual issues, gender identity dilemmas, couples counseling and medical support counseling and is a member of the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the North Carolina Counseling Association (NCCA).