How do you typically communicate with your spouse? Do you burst into tears when you and your husband fight, just so he’ll give in and comfort you? Do you pout, sulk, or shut down until you get your way? Do you yell, berate, or nag him until he does what you asked? Although these techniques may get you what you want in the short-term, over time they will undermine your relationship and drive your spouse away. To prevent this from happening, you need to say goodbye to your old tactics, and learn healthy and effective communication skills for relationships. Here’s how to do it:

Step #1: Identify and understand your bad communication habits.

You probably already have an idea of what your bad communication habit is. For example, maybe you cry to get him to give you what you want, or maybe you withhold sex as punishment. Whatever your personal bad habit is, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When did this start? Where did I learn this?
  2. Do I have this habit in other relationships?
  3. What am I getting out of this behavior?
  4. How is this habit affecting my relationship?

Using the example of crying to get what you want from your husband, you may discover that you learned this tactic by watching your parents fight. Through this exercise, you might learn that you respond this way to get him to comfort you, so you won’t have to go through the fight feeling unloved. In reflecting on how this habit is affecting your relationship, you may realize that although it works in the short term, your husband has recently started to withdraw emotionally from the relationship, and is displaying signs of resentment.

Step #2: Commit to change.

Once you know what your bad communication habit is and where it came from, you have the power to change. To do this, you have to replace your old habit with new, positive communication skills for relationships. Here’s how:

  1. Be aware of your triggers. If you know that your habit always appears when you’re fighting with your husband, be extra aware of your actions during that time.
  2. If controlling the habit becomes too difficult, give yourself time to walk away from the conversation. Lovingly and calmly say to your spouse, “I’m feeling overwhelmed and need a minute. I’m going to the bedroom to calm down a little, and I’ll come back to finish this conversation soon.”
  3. Practice soothing yourself. Find new habits that soothe you and practice them when you’re feeling triggered. For example, take a few deep breaths, flip through a magazine, or get some fresh air.
  4. Set your intention and remember it. For example, “My intention is to be in a close, open, and loving relationship, and I need to handle fights differently in order to have that.”

This process is going to be difficult at first, but the more you practice these steps, the more your overall relationship with your spouse will improve.