The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” quipped playwright George Bernard Shaw – an unfortunate observation many married folks will probably agree with.

Although much has been written and spoken about it, good communication is still a hard nut to crack for many couples. In the 2018 statistics on Marriages and Divorces in Singapore, 60% of divorcing women cited “unreasonable behaviour of spouse” as their main cause of marriage breakdown.

While your own relationship may not be in such a desperate state yet, it doesn’t hurt to keep a few handy tips in mind whenever conversations with your other half start to go south.

Tip #1: It’s about Team “Us”

In times of conflict, think collaboration not competition. When things get testy, keep in mind that you are both playing on the same team and act accordingly. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt and put yourself in his or her shoes. You may find yourself looking at things a little differently and choose a kinder response.

Remember, you’re playing doubles in a match for love, and not scoring points against each other in a duel to the death!

Tip #2: Show, not tell

Action speaks louder than words. It pays to pay attention to our own body language and nonverbal cues whenever we gab. That tone or facial expression may make a difference between soothing rising tempers or igniting them. So it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

Try some unspoken gestures of affection instead. A simple touch on the forearm or a gentle pat on the back says "I love you" without using words, and makes your message go down a whole lot easier.

Tip #3: Keep things light and easy

Turn up that self-awareness meter when you spar with the spouse and learn to spot each other’s temper triggers! If you know that comments about the in-laws are like red flags to a bull, side-step them and try another approach.

Find out what works and use them more. Step out of the room when things get heated or make yourself a calming cuppa tea to lift your own glum mood. Go with some light-hearted humour instead. A little gentle teasing at his “small laundry mountain” or her “personal shoe collection to rival Charles & Keith’s” instead of an intense search-and-destroy mission goes a long way!

That way, you can avoid the emotional booby-traps and work towards carrying constructive conversations together.