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Disability Resources & Educational Services

Communication in Relationships-Jan/Feb 2015

You have probably heard it a million times by now that one of the keys to a healthy relationship is “good communication.” But what does that mean? What does it look like? How do you know if you are communicating effectively with your partner? And perhaps most importantly, how do you foster good communication?

It is crucial to first acknowledge that communication, like anything else, is a skill that can be learned and honed through practice.

Communication Style

Communication style is unique to every person and to every relationship. How you communicate with your friends is undoubted different from how you communicate with your parents, which is probably unique still from how you address your professors.

Each person has different needs when it comes to communication in relationships. However it is important that a partner should make you feel safe and valued through their behavior and communication.

Love Languages

Communication and affection are displayed in many ways. You and your partner should express affection and love in ways that are mutually beneficial. Popular relationship counselor Gary Chapman PhD outlines five widely accepted “love languages” or ways in which to express affection (Chapman, 2004). These love languages are: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. You and your partner should express affection in love languages that are compatible (Chapman, 2004).

What is your love language?

Body Language

Communication is not just about what you are saying. Body language, facial expression, and tone of voice play a critical role in communication. Well documented studies by Mehrabian and colleagues (1967) found that over 93% of communication is conveyed nonverbally! This means that your body may be relaying messages to your partner without you even being aware of it. Try to remember about the importance of nonverbal cues when communicating by text message or even by phone call because there is a higher potential for miscommunication over these media. Also notice how your disability informs your body language, or how your disability may impact your ability to read the body language of others.

Healthy Communication

Disagreements are an inevitable part of any healthy relationship. So what are some ways to communicate more effectively?

            1) Try to listen more than you speak.

            2) When stating your position use “I” statements rather than blaming or attacking your partner’s position.

            3) Be as honest and straightforward as possible.

PositivePsychology.com suggests ways to improve communication..


Chapman, G., (2004). The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate (new edition). Northfield Press

Mehrabian, A. (1972). Nonverbal Communication. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.