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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Cutillo

How to Have Better Relationship Communication: The Speaker Listener Technique

Does having a conflict with your partner fill you with feelings of fear and dread? It doesn’t have to be that way! Introducing the Speaker Listener Technique. This communication strategy comes from PREP®, or the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, where couples learn how to keep their relationships safe from the warning signs of a conversation getting out of hand.

Here are the basics:

  • If things are really heated, call a time-out. Don’t let the conversation escalate to yelling and name-calling! Calling a time-out (for, say, 15 minutes) gives you and your partner a chance to cool off rather than risk saying hurtful things you’ll both regret later. If the phrase “time-out” sounds too childish, pick another safe word or phrase that can be mutually understood to mean “I care about this conversation, but I need to take a chill pill before I lose it.”

  • When you’re ready to talk again: The Speaker has the floor and will start out by speaking for themselves, using “I” statements. For example: “I felt uncared for when I got home and saw the dishes still hadn’t been done.” Statements should be brief and to-the-point.

  • Next, the Listener will paraphrase what they just heard. Avoid mere parroting; the point of this step is to allow the Speaker to feel that they were truly heard and understood. For example: “What I hear you saying is that when you came home, you were hurt to see that I hadn’t taken care of the dishes and that made you feel like I didn’t care about you.” This is not the time for a rebuttal!

  • The Speaker can then agree with the Listener’s paraphrasing (“Yes, that’s right) or disagree and clarify (“Not exactly—it’s more like…”).

  • While the Speaker has the floor, they can continue making brief “I” statements, and the Listener can keep paraphrasing them one at a time.

  • When the Speaker feels fully heard out, share the floor: the Listener and the Speaker swap roles and repeat the process.

The goal of the Speaker Listener Technique is not necessarily to come to any agreements or conclusions—but you will be surprised at how much empathy and cool-headed clarity can come from exchanging sentiments in this way. Oftentimes, what’s really bothering a partner is not about problem-solving, but simply about the desire to be fully heard and understood. And you’re a lot more likely to come to a compromise this way rather than the screaming-over-each-other way!

To learn more about the PREP® approach for couples, visit


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