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Communication 101

By Marion Marold Vickerman, LMFT-S

Communication 101

By Marion Marold Vickerman, LMFT-S

I have been a practicing Licensed Marriage and Family therapist for over 20 years. When working with couples, the most common thing I hear in the first session is “we want to work on having better communication.” Good communication is the foundation of any relationship. The words that you share are important, but how you share those words is even more important. Here are some tips that I share with my couples and individuals in my practice.

The Male Brain vs. the Female Brain

Male brain is typically black and white while female brain is typically gray. Years ago, I heard it best described as the man brain is like a pie and every part of his life is a different piece of that pie. The female brain is like a colander of spaghetti. So, what does that mean? Females speak on average 20,000 words a day; men speak on average 7,000. When a woman is attempting to have a serious conversation with her male partner, she needs to keep it more black and white. When a man says something, it usually is exactly what he said. Women tend to overthink, rethink, and turn things inside out. If you are a female, remember: take it at face value until you can’t.


Curiosity is the cure-all for defensiveness. If you find yourself becoming defensive in a conversation, stop and get curious. Get curious about where the other person is coming from, but also get curious about yourself and why you may be reacting the way that you are. If it feels familiar, identify what feels familiar, why it feels familiar, and where it may come from. Curiosity also evokes empathy, which is a key need in relationships and good communication.

A couple cooking in the kitchen together


Absolutes are a deal breaker for most couples. When communicating, avoid absolutes such as “you never,” “you always,” “every time,” etc. When using these, the other person usually gets defensive because their brain says,“That one time I didn’t do that” and arguments usually happen.

I vs. You

I vs. you is another important concept for effective communication in relationships. It is natural for most of us to say, “You did this!” or “You did that!” and what happens is the other person becomes defensive. For more effective communication, instead of saying “You don’t care about me!” say, “I feel frustrated when my feelings aren’t acknowledged.” Using I statements helps the other person stay open to what you are saying. If you can learn to communicate clearly, simply, and concisely, you can avoid mistakes, conflicts, and revisiting issues.

Here are a few other tips to help you communicate more effectively:

Be Clear – People must clearly understand what is asked of them. If they are not delivering what you want, perhaps you did not communicate clearly enough.

Keep it Simple – State requests so that the other person knows what they are working toward and what the priorities are.

Be Concise – Respect the other person’s time by being brief and saying only what is important. Make your words count.
Be Honest – Honesty builds trust. When people trust you, they will invest in themselves, be open to change, and even become more vulnerable.
One of my favorite things to say to my clients is “If you don’t ask for it, you can’t expect to receive it.” Your partner, co-worker, boss, family member, or friend does not probably have the capacity to read your mind, so make sure to ask for it if there is something you need physically or emotionally.
Now that I have discussed tools that will help you to have better communication, I’d lastly like to discuss what to do if you “drive the bus over the cliff” while communicating with someone in your life. We all have those moments that we go “Ugh! I probably shouldn’t have said or did that,” and usually, we keep those thoughts to ourselves. If you have one of those moments, OWN IT! Apologize to the other person and take responsibility for how you handled a situation poorly. Remember, you don’t have to apologize for what you believe about the situation, but you must apologize if you handled the situation badly. This will allow the other person to trust that you see behaviors that are not working, and it will give them faith that they will be corrected.
I hope that these tips will help each and every one of you have healthier, happier, more fulfilling relationships in your life!