“We need to talk,” are undoubtedly four of the scariest words to hear from a spouse. They send a message to the other party that something ain’t right. They are words that precipitate some of the most difficult conversations between couples. That being said, knowing how to communicate with your spouse is going to be critical, if you are to effectively address your relationship concerns. Here are my top three tips in being a more effective communicator.

1. Build connection

Connection with your spouse is one of the most significant components in effective communication. According to Dr. Brene Brown, connection is “The energy that exists between two people when they feel seen, heard and valued, when they can give and receive without judgement, and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” In other words connection is deep friendship and the closeness you feel with your spouse.

When two people in a relationship feel seen, heard and understood, it makes a world of difference in the communication process. Hence, couples who share a deep friendship in a relationship, will be better at problem solving and communicating how they feel than those who do not.

2. Avoid sending mixed messages

When we are engaged in any form of communication, we send messages that we hope the listener will receive and, in turn, respond favorably towards us. Every message that is sent during the process has three components: The first is the actual content which accounts for 7 percent of the message sent, the second is the vocal or tone of the voice which accounts for 38 percent of the message sent, and finally, the nonverbal, which accounts for 55 percent of the message sent.

If there are incongruencies between your tone of voice and your behavior, your spouse may interpret what you are saying as misleading. To avoid mixed messages, and to be more effective when communicating with your spouse, ensure that the three components are complementary, since people tend to trust nonverbal cues more than they trust your words.

3. Describe your feelings rather than going into attack mode

As you talk about what’s bothering you, describe how you feel as clearly as possible and avoid the temptation of going into attack mode. Attack mode is generally characterized by the use of “you” statements. The essence of a “you” statement is that; “I am hurting and you did it to me.” This approach will escalate the problem, as it blames your spouse, who now goes into a “fight or flight” mode, due to the feeling of being under attack.

Using “I” statements are more disarming and express how you feel. For example; “I feel jealous when I see you hugging that woman each time you meet.” This approach is non-threatening and tells your partner what you are feeling, without any form of criticism or judgment in the process.