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We all know that communication is essential for a happy relationship — yet we often engage in unhealthy communication patterns. Want more affection from your man? How do you ask? Do you whine? Are you passive aggressive? Does your friend have an annoying habit that bothers you? Have you ever told them? Listen, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of communication breakdowns in my relationships and I’m over it. So I’m asking for help!

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According to relationship expert Michelle Skeen, PsyD., fears often push people into harmful speaking styles that end up undermining their connections with others. In her forthcoming book, Love Me, Don’t Leave Me, Skeen reveals six communication skills that will help people build better relationships. Would you like to arrange an interview with

1. Self-Disclosure

If revealing the true you makes you feel unsafe and vulnerable, chances are, you’re hiding in your relationships. Just the thought of self-disclosing can trigger feelings of fear and shame. But revealing parts of your true self to people who are deserving results in increased self-knowledge, closer relationships, improved communication, lighter guilt feelings and more energy. Start gradually by only disclosing facts about yourself; when you are comfortable with that move on to disclosing your thoughts, feelings and needs but keep them in the past or future; and when you are ready you can take the final step to disclosing what you think, feel, and need right now.

2. Listening

A variety of “listening blocks”–comparing, judging, filtering, rehearsing, and mind reading–can keep you from hearing what the other person is really saying. It’s important to bring awareness to what is getting in the way of truly understanding what is being communicated to you. When you get beyond the roadblocks you can establish healthy communication and build meaningful relationships.

3. Need Expression

Expressing your needs is a skill that is more challenging to master than it may appear. While need expression will not always result in your needs being met, the following guidelines will increase you chances of having your needs met more often than not. Your need should not blame or assign fault to the other person; it should not be pejorative or judgmental; it should be tangible (i.e. I would like you to hold my hand while we watch TV) rather than intangible (i.e. I need you to be more affectionate); and it should not ask for too much at one time.

4. Validation

Validation confirms to others that you are listening and understanding them. It is an important communication skill for you to learn because it creates a healthy cycle of verbal exchange. Additionally, validation increase self-disclosure. You should validate emotions, wants and desires, beliefs and opinions, actions, and suffering.

5. Empathy

Empathy is critical for building deeper and more lasting relationships; the key is to learn how to connect with someone else’s experience. You may not agree with someone else’s attempts at dealing with his or her pain, but you probably have the capacity to understand his or her experience. Understanding does not mean agreeing. It means connecting with another person’s experience–feeling what he or she must be feeling.

6. The Apology 

Many people never learn how to apologize. An apology can be a powerful tool to ease the other person’s pain; it can also make him or her feel like you are connected to his or her experience. The recipient of your apology must feel like you understand that what you said or did hurt his or her feelings. “I’m sorry that your feelings are hurt” (not taking responsibility) is very different than “I’m sorry that I said something that hurt your feelings” (taking responsibility). An effective apology can go a long way in building trust and developing a meaningful connection.

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