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How 'effective communication' can help couples stop arguing

The idea is to talk about your feelings and needs without making judgments so you can really be heard.
Raluca and Adrian Loteanu and their baby
Like most couples, Raluca and Adrian Loteanu found it hard to find balance after their baby was born.

Anger, resentment and blame. Those are the feelings blogger Raluca Loteanu felt towards her husband in the stress-filled, sleepless months after their son was born.

“I often felt powerless because I had no help, and I felt like I was doing everything alone even though my husband was helping me,” Loteanu tells NBC News BETTER. “So I was struggling to find a balance, and it was harder than I imagined before having a baby.”

The “Playful Notes” blogger says her husband, who works full time as a software engineer, had his own frustrations.

“He was working all day,” she says, “and then in the evenings, he was helping me with the baby. So this left him with almost no spare time for the things he used to do before having the baby.”

I think he started to feel unheard and alone even though we were together.

Instead of trying to see things from his perspective, Loteanu acknowledges, she accused him of not helping her. He would get defensive, she recalls, and the two would bicker constantly.

“I wasn’t such a great wife then because I was complaining all the time about how hard it was for me, and I was blaming him for some things that weren’t working in our relationship, and I think he started to feel unheard and alone even though we were together.”

Switch the focus from anger to empathy

Exhausted from all the conflict, Loteanu tried a different approach: “effective communication.” Also known as non-violent communication, she says the technique involves resolving frustrations with empathy instead of anger.

“I started to talk more about my feelings and my needs without making any judgments about him,” Loteanu says.

For example, rather than telling her husband “I’m tired because you never help me,” she would tell him: “I feel very tired, I feel very overwhelmed with the changes in our lives and I really need your help. How can you support me in this?’”

It’s simple: Effective communication involves switching the focus from your partner to yourself, she explains.

“This made a huge difference for both of us,” she says.

It’s a way to talk with a partner about frustrations and the partner just listens without judgment, without trying to offer a solution.

Be specific

Effective communication alone isn’t enough, explains Loteanu. When you’re talking to your partner about your needs, be specific, she says.

For example, telling your partner “I need more help with the baby,” leaves your needs open to interpretation, Loteanu explains.

Instead, ask him for something that will fulfill a specific need or desire, she advises.

For example, you might ask instead: “I need two additional hours to sleep in the morning. How can you help me with this?” says Loteanu.

This specifies a problem and gives him an opportunity to think of solutions, she explains.

Create a schedule

Once you’ve listened to each other’s specific needs, work out a plan you both agree on.

For instance, Loteanu needed more time to work on her blog, so she explained to her husband that she needed him to watch their son in the evenings. He was reluctant, she says, because he was exhausted from working all day. So they created a set time for when he could help her, she says.

“We agreed on a weekly schedule with days when I work and days for when he has some spare time for his hobbies, and so on,” she says. “So we found a balance that is working great for both of us.”

Sit down and talk about it

Couples can prevent fights before they happen by scheduling judgment-free talking sessions, according to Loteanu. Sit down with your partner once a week or more. This gives you a chance to vent about your feelings without blaming each other.

The blogger calls these sessions “listening partnerships.”

“It’s a way to talk with a partner about frustrations and the partner just listens without judgment, without trying to offer a solution,” she says.

During their sessions, Loteanu says, she tells her husband how she feels without judging him or complaining, and he does the same.

“It works very well because after this kind of listening partnership, I feel calm, I feel in a positive mood again, and the same for him,” she says.

Be committed

Couples who are trying effective communication for the first time may take a while to adjust, explains Loteanu.

“It’s very difficult to make the shift when you are used to getting angry,” she says.

To make it happen, she says, you both need to make a promise to stay committed.

“For example, in our case, as we practiced this approach over and over again, we started to use it naturally instead of fighting, so now it’s easy for us, but it wasn’t easy at the beginning,” says Loteanu. “We needed to make a commitment to make it work.”

How to use effective communication

  • Move from anger to empathy: Also known as non-violent communication, “effective communication” involves resolving frustrations with empathy instead of anger. The method involves switching the focus from your partner to yourself.
  • Be precise: When using effective communication with your partner, be specific about what you need.
  • Schedule it: Once you’ve listened to each other, work out a plan you both agree on for how you are going to meet each other’s specific needs. You and your partner can prevent arguments before they happen by scheduling weekly listening sessions. During these sessions, simply talk and listen to each other without judgment or blame. Afterwards, you’ll both feel less angry and more relaxed.

NEXT: Why a "good enough" relationship is one that can last a lifetime

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