couples therapy

The Two Most Important Relationship Skills You Need Right Now

COVID-19, sickness, death, isolation, a failing economy, racial injustice, job insecurity, relationship difficulties, political failures, homelessness, pollution.... the list of daily challenges right now is endless. Each of us individually is responding differently to the waves of emotions arising in us - grief, burnout, loneliness, sadness, despair, hope, fear, uncertainty - and acting out in our own unique ways. It can be hard to understand what is behind our loved one's seemingly disproportionate reactions. So when we are feeling isolated, alone, and afraid, how to we begin to come together with our partners, family members, and friends?


2 skills can help us get through these times. They may seem basic, and you might find yourself wanting to gloss over them, with a "yeah yeah, I know." But, if you can take the time to practice them, I promise you they will begin to transform your relationship. So, let's dive in. 

The happiest, healthiest partnerships are characterized by good communication, which is made up of respect, emotional attunement, and most importantly, assertiveness and active listening. Rather than assuming a partner can read their mind, members of healthy couples practice noticing, identifying, and expressing their emotions, as well as listening actively and intently to their partners. These skills are learnable and can be used to express emotions, better resolve conflict, and nurture intimacy with our partners. 

So, what exactly, are assertiveness and active listening?

Assertiveness is the skill and ability to express your feelings and ask for what you want and need in your relationship.  

  • “I feel bored by our bedtime routine and sex life. I wish to spend more time talking about our fantasies. If we did this, I would feel heard and happy.”

Active Listening is the skill and ability to let your partner know you understand them by restating their message back to them. 

  • “I heard you say you feel bored by our bedtime routine and sex life and would like to spend more time exploring talking about our fantasies. I heard that if we did that, it would make you feel happy.”​


​Rather than go further into the merits of these skills, I'd like to leave you with a practice for today. These skills, like deodorant, only work if you actually use them. Knowing about them is nothing. Applying them is everything. So, check out the practice below and give it a try with your partner, a family member, or a friend: 

Heart Talks
  • Schedule 15 minutes this week with your partner to practice this assertiveness and active listening. 
  • Before speaking, write down three wishes you have for your partnership. Have your partner do the same. Take turns sharing your wishes using the assertiveness and active listening format below. 
  • SPEAKER: Settle into your body and share: 
    • How you feel: “I feel…” statement
    • What you wish for: “I need…” or “I wish….” (be as specific as you can)
    • How you would feel if your wish came true.
      *Keep your sharing fairly short so your partner can easily remember and repeat what you said.

  • LISTENER: actively listen without interruption. 
    • If confused, ask for clarification. 
    • If you think you heard it, repeat it back as closely as possible. Check in with the speaker by asking “Is that right?” If the speaker says no, let them repeat or rephrase and try again.
  • You can use a symbolic object as a “talking stick.” Find an object that inspires and centers you in your intention for mindful communication. I use a heart-shaped rose quartz stone.

Communication Tips: 
  • Give full attention to your partner. Turn off the phone, TV, computer and make eye contact. 
  • Practice assertiveness: Especially “I feel” statements
  • Balance criticism with appreciation and positive comments (Try an “appreciation sandwich” - compliment, feedback, compliment) 
  • Listen to understand your partner, not to judge or evaluate them
  • Avoid blame
  • Listen for understanding, not “correctness” or who is “right”
  • Communicate your intention to work together to find a solution
  • Practice noticing your defensiveness rather than reacting from it 
  • ​Keep statements short
  • Speak slowly


​If you practice these heart talks regularly, you have engaged in mindful communicating and mindful listening practice by spending time trying something new, and nurturing intimacy with your own feelings and those of your partner, which helps you understand your partner, strengthen your relationship, and lay the groundwork for greater self-expression.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Q. How can couples strengthen their relationship through communication?

A. Communication is a vital part of any relationship. While there are many ways couples can strengthen their relationships, the most effective way is through communication. One way to strengthen relationships through communication is by scheduling time for each other in the day or week. This allows them to have conversations without creating an awkward situation and also helps them stay on track with their schedules.

Q. Why is active listening important in relationships?

A. Active listening is a skill that helps individuals to understand their partners and communicate effectively. It is important for relationships to be healthy and happy.

Q. How can you be more assertive in a relationship?

A. The most important thing to remember is that you should be assertive in a relationship. However, this doesn't mean you should be aggressive or rude. Assertiveness is about being honest and direct with your partner when you need something.


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