Dear Soon-To-Be Mr. and Mrs. Smith,Congratulations on your engagement! It must be a very exciting time for the both of you, and I really appreciate how you both decided to reach out to me in regards to this issue. Yes, as the cliché goes, communication is key, and the earlier you learn that, the healthier your relationship will grow. This is something I can promise. Interpersonal communication, as the technical term goes, is all about principles, not methods. This is an important distinction, because, as the great Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods.” This is to say that every couple is different and will always be different, so I cannot prescribe to you any direct “methods” by which to effectively conduct discourse. I can, however, tell you about the principles I myself have been learning.

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The first important principle to keep in mind is that of mutual respect. Respect is a tough concept to grasp for some, but the most basic way of understanding it is via that age-old adage: “Treat others how you yourself would like to be treated.” Many people do not engage in much needed discourse because of an underlying issue that gnaws at them, and they fear that this underlying issue will rear itself during the course of communication and topple any type of productive and cumulative effect a good discussion might provide. In many cases, although a front might be put up to make it appear as if these underlying issues are not there, humans are uniquely tuned to be able to detect, what we frequently refer to as, passive-aggression: a phoniness in the way that we talk to each other and one another that just feels as if one person is placing themselves on a higher playing field than the other. This is where communication can break down, especially between couples engaged in a romantic relationship such as the two of you. Obviously the “level” of respect one gives a peer differs based on that peer’s relationship to you.

One thing to consider would be what “level of disclosure” you two consider yourselves at. Are you the type of couple that tells everything to one another or do you keep some things secretive? In most cases of romantic relationships, I must say, open communication has been proven to be more successful than selective communication. Still, every couple’s sweet spot is different. Obviously, gender has to be taken into account when communicating effectively. You would not talk to your female co-worker the same way you would to your fiancée. Therefore, effective communication also stems from knowing exactly how much “personal information” to divulge and, importantly, when it should be divulged. It’s been said that the best time to communicate for couples is the morning – because the body and mind is refreshed, and because grudges are largely forgotten or downplayed in the morning – especially if the couple sleeps in the same bed. But I digress. The second foundational principle on which to base effective interpersonal communication is not to interrupt or talk over the other person when they are attempting to communicate something to you. Today, many people have trouble listening to something they don’t necessarily agree with without interjecting. They tend to feel the nagging urgency to immediately refute whatever argument is being made. This is not necessary and usually leads to the complete breakdown of the otherwise cordial communication. Equal proportioning of listening and talking is what makes some discourses more productive than others. The key to understanding how communication can be leveled the most effectively is by taking into account now only the myriad of potential contexts that it can play out in – psychological (who you are and what concerns you bring), relational (your reactions to the other person’s grievances), environmental, cultural (the social upbringing that you were raised in), and environmental (the context of where you are when the communication takes place).

My solid piece of advice for the ultimate flourishing of your communication is to understand that everything that can go wrong in a discussion will go wrong if you don’t adhere to the principles of letting the other person talk, being respectful, and knowing the context. If a message can be misunderstood as a slight, it will, so make your messages be clear as possible. There is always someone who knows your message better than you, so do not act like an expert and put yourself above your partner.