communication and relationships

How to Listen to Stay Together

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Intentional or not, every interaction we have with another person is about communication. We're almost constantly communicating with our body, tone, words and facial expressions.

If you want a healthy relationship that lasts over time, learning to communicate effectively using solid communication skills is essential.

Communicating poorly is one of the greatest predictors of a break up (or divorce).

So if you want to stay together focusing energy on improving your communication skills is essential.  Today we'll outline two critical communication skills that if practiced, will dramatically enhance your understanding of each other.


1. Self-awareness and reflective listening

Knowing if you tend to a react or reflect can help you shift the way you do conflict.  

Reactors usually respond to information immediately and interrupt quickly. 

Reflectors more often take time to stop and consider what's being said, before responding.

Imagine how different your conflict patterns might be if both of you reflected before getting defensive or jumping to assumptions.  Your conversations will be more meaningful the more you can shift this pattern.

Here's an example:

Partner’s phrase: “This argument comes up every time we see your parents…”

Reactor:“What are you saying?! It doesn’t! You don’t even know what you are talking about!"

Reflector: Pause. “I think I get where you are coming from. Can you tell me more?”

Take action:

Spend the next 48 hours noticing which contexts and situations you default to reaction instead of reflection.  The more you collect data on your patterns the more awareness you have to work with as you attempt to change them.

 2Respond to the meaning rather than the content

So often in an argument we respond to the content of a statement instead of the meaning underneath.  We get hooked by one piece of information and fail to see the bigger picture.

Usually this leads the whole conversation off track. Instead of making progress we wind around details and unimportant stories often leaving us confused or making the conflict last much longer than necessary. 

Instead of getting hooked, try to identify the core meaning in the messages your partner is sending. Filter through the less important information, stories, facts, or analogies and focus on finding the core meaning. 

Here are a couple examples:

Partner: “I see you flirting with other people! Why do you act that way?!”

Possible core meanings: 

  • I really like our relationship and I'm afraid it could end.
  • I am feeling insecure right now.
  • I want more fully present time with you, please don't get distracted by others.
  • I miss flirting with you and want more playfulness or romance in our relationship.

Partner: “You never help around the house!  I feel like I'm your maid!”

Possible core meanings: 

  • I need more support from you.
  • I want recognition and appreciation for the work I do.
  • Mutuality and equality are core values of mine.  Do they matter to you?
  • Does it matter to you that I'm frustrated?

Give yourself time to work on this, it doesn't always come easily.  But with practice you'll feel more confident in this practice and your conflicts will resolve more efficiently.

I created a toolkit that could be useful as you try to implement this at home.  Enter your information below and I'll send you the Compassionate Communication Toolkit (and you'll get access to a bunch of other great tools 

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If you want help working on these skills don't hesitate to give me a call. I'm now taking online clients and working with people all over the world in video sessions.

Polyamory counseling | open relationship counseling | online couples therapy

Hi!  I'm glad you're reading.  Let me know if I can help you:

  • rediscover passion in long-term relationships
  • repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
  • move beyond jealousy, insecurity or codependency
  • resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnect
  • break unhealthy communication patterns 
  • open your relationship and practice polyamory with care

Call me for a free consultation to rethink your relationship.


Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.  

Smartphone Boundaries for Relationship Success

Phone Boundaries | Uncommon Love Poly Counseling in Portland

I found this short film on Facebook today and was saddened by how true this depiction of cell use has become in our society.  

It is so easy to distance ourselves from uncomfortable moments and our phones have become a barrier even in happy times (watch the happy birthday scene).

Smart phones are wonderful for so many reasons.  I admit I have fallen into the trap of disconnection from time to time and have watched many friends fall into smart phone addiction.  "This candy's not gonna crush itself" a friend of mine told me on vacation while driving through the National Bison Range in beautiful Big Sky Montana.

Yeah, that's right, beautiful nature vs Candy Crush and the sacred buffalo were losing out.

Even though playing games amid the beautiful scenery was a big distraction, the phone also was very useful in finding us a pharmacy when someone needed medication in the middle of nowhere a few hours later.

So how do we set clear boundaries on smartphone use so they aren't in the way at the wrong time?  Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Don't text or talk while driving.

I know this has been said with regards to safety- and it is completely true.  BUT in addition to all the safety hazards, putting your phone away can actually decrease the stress you feel on that morning commute.  Seriously, it's not that far away and dates are already stressful without adding distraction.

If you need to use your phone for navigation set it for maps only and leave it in the car.  Nobody wants to date a stressball, or drive with one.

2.  Don't take your phone into nature.

When you set time to take a walk, hike, or go camping leave your phone behind.  Enjoy the scenery and tell campfire stories.  Turn down Candy Crush for games with your friends (or bison-filled views).  You really don't need a phone when walking the dog.  Enjoy the connections you can make  with your pets and with the land instead.

3.  Don't date your phone.

Here is the big one: when you are out put your phone away.  Don't leave it on the table, don't check it mid-conversation: be present with your date.  It is rude, and it creates disconnection in your communication and relationship.

If you are a big picture-taker or use your phone to take pictures designate one person as your photographer for the night and make sure you are all connected on social media.  This will help you stay connected and be more present with the group and your date!

4.  Sleep phone-free.

One of the best "rules" we made in our house this year was no phones in the bedroom.  We realized both of us were checking email right up until we turned the lights off and immediately after we woke up.  This left us feeling frazzled at bedtime and starting the day anxious.  

Set a no-phone space in your home and stick to it allows for greater presence and better sleep.

Of course smartphones are useful and helpful in hundreds of ways, using them within reason is great, but come up with guidelines so you can avoid the kind of distance in the film and be closely connected to those you love when you're on dates, parties or events.

What rules do you use to keep present and set aside your smartphone?  


Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationshipsjealousy, LGBTQ issues and infidelity.  

She can help you:

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Click here to download her free guides to strengthen your relationship (monogamous or not).