Communication, communication, communication – yeah, yeah. You’ve heard it before. But before your eyes glaze over, know this: it’s the number one predictor of relationship satisfaction, according to a 2016 survey of more than 25,000 men and women published in the Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy.
So mastering the art of talking isn’t a total waste – it’s actually the ticket to a happy union. But unless you’re clocking hours on the therapist’s couch, no one ever tells you what to say. “Sometimes we feel we’re conveying what we mean, but the message isn’t being received in the way we intended,” says Dr Eli Finkel, psychology professor and author of The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work. It’s not just about getting the wording right, but paying more attention to context. The tone you use, and the circumstances in which you bring something up, can make the difference between conversation and confrontation. The reassuring news: by having key phrases ready to go, you can get exactly what you want (and need) from your relationship. Now you’re talking!
Say this to... power up your sex life
“I had a really sexy dream about you last night.”
Bringing up something new you want to try – or want more of – in bed can be awks. So blame it on your subconscious, says sex therapist Dr Ian Kerner, author of She Comes First. With this opener, your partner’s the star of your fantasy. Include specifics (eg, what you were wearing, who initiated) to really paint them an erotic picture and turn that dream into a reality.
“Oh my God, I love it when you do that.”
You don’t want to be in your head in the middle of sex, thinking of what to say. So stick to compliments about moves they do that you’re into. If words are too distracting in the moment, nix them and let out some moans instead, says Fleming.
“I’m not wearing any underwear. Can’t wait to see you later...”
Text them this when you’re at work. It’s so out of context that it can have an even stronger effect than if you were together. It’s a teaser for what old mate has to look forward to – kinda like an extended foreplay.
Say this to... feel more connected
“You just get me more than anyone else.”
This simple phrase is powerful for confirming how right you are together – your partner will really appreciate that, says Finkel. “The feeling that you really know each other is what keeps you a ‘we’ rather than two ‘I’s,” says Dr Amy Banks, director of advanced training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute in the US. “That’s perhaps the most important thing about partnering: knowing you belong with someone.”
“I love how kind you were to that clumsy waiter.”
Describing a character trait you admire in your partner is better than a generic “I love you”, because it’s something you’ve observed about just him or her, says sex and relationship expert Dr Megan Fleming. Pointing it out when you notice it makes your compliment feel more real – and more poignant – because it shows your partner’s strengths aren’t going unnoticed.
“You might hang all the frames crookedly, but you’re still pretty cute.”
On the flip side, feel free to playfully jab at their missteps. Psychologists call it “unconditional positive regard” – when we show our partner that we see their flaws but love them anyway. It encourages them to be more authentic around you, which can strengthen your bond, Finkel says.
Say this to... get them to open up more
“Let’s go for a walk.”
With no distractions (read: you’re not trying to talk while watching The Bachie) and no agenda, a leisurely stroll allows you to catch up with each other. If the convo veers in a heavier direction, the minimal eye contact here (compared with, say, a face-to-face dinner) takes the pressure off, making this a perfect way for them to speak their mind, says couples therapist Mary Jo Rapini.
“That must have been awful. What happened next?”
When they vent to you about how their boss exploded or that fight they had with their sister, put yourself in their position and empathise, says Rapini. Even if you disagree with how they handled it (“Well, sounds like she had a point”), wait to bring it up when they’re less heated. Problem-solving or judging right away will shut them down and discourage them from being forthcoming.
“Hey, the other day when you said that you felt XYZ, what did you mean by that?”
Bring up an emotion – sadness, anxiety – that your partner recently expressed and ask how things are going. Or ask about something specific (“How did that meeting go today?”). It shows you’ve been paying attention to what they have going on, even with your own full schedule. That has real meaning and will get them talking more often, says Banks.
Say this to... squash fights before they spiral
“What do you have on your plate this week?”
Asking this every Sunday will avoid blow-ups later in the week. Let us explain: people tend to attribute their partner’s “bad” behaviour to a personality defect rather than circumstances, says Finkel. In other words, if your partner is extra busy this week and they skimp on household duties, your frustration might skew you to think they never help out. Having this quick convo can prevent that kind of reactive criticism.
“I see where you’re coming from. What you’re saying is...”
When your S.O. expresses frustration with you, instead of firing off a defence, first rephrase their concerns (“So you’re saying my comments about your family put you in a tough spot”). That signals that you’re trying to understand their point, says Finkel. Then state your case as feelings rather than facts: “When you say that, I feel like I’m in second place to your family,” instead of “You ignore me when we’re with them”.
“Our relationship is more important than this.”
Every couple has points of contention, like politics or small-picture issues. And while disagreements won’t destroy your relationship, trying to “win” every one or change your partner’s mind can. Rapini’s rule of thumb: if it’s come up at least three times without resolution, consider it a trigger issue and avoid it. The key is to defuse tension and remember your relationship comes first.