Improving Couple Communication – Setting “Ground Rules”

Suggested communication “ground rules” for handling issues within your relationship:

1. When we are having trouble communicating, we will use the Speaker-Listener Technique (see my blog post “Speaker-Listener Technique” from last week).

2. When conflict is escalating, we will call a “time-out” or “pause” and either (1) try talking again using the Speaker-Listener Technique, or (2) agree to talk about the issue later, at a specified time, using the Speaker-Listener Technique. (For more information on using “time-out”, see my blog post next week).

3. We will completely separate Problem Discussion from Problem Solution.

4. We can bring up issues at any time, but the Listener can say, “this is not a good time”. If the Listener does not want to talk at that time, he or she can suggest a better time or take the responsibility for setting up a time to talk in the near future. You will need to decide how you define “the near future”.

5. We will have weekly/fortnightly/monthly couple meetings. During these times we will note the positive changes we are making and discuss what we wish to focus on for future change. We will check in with each other to see if both our needs are being met in the relationship. Schedule a time now for your meeting – there is no time like the present!

6. We will make time for great things: fun, friendship, and sensuality. We will agree to protect these times from conflict and agree to deal with our issues at times separate to our positive relationship time.

You may want to modify these rules or add to them – write up your own set of “ground rules” to suit your relationship. Review the ground rules during your couples meeting, after you have used them for a while – give your new “ground rules” for communicating a chance to work in your relationship before you decide to toss them out.


Written by Raylene Chen, relationship counsellor at the CBT Professionals Psychology Clinic. CBT Professionals are a team of clinical psychologists on the Gold Coast with offices in Coomera and Nerang. Gold Coast CBT psychologists offer services to adults, children, and couples.

Source: Markman, H.J., Stanley S.M., & Blumberg, S.L. (2001). Fighting for your marriage. CA: John Wiley.


Disclaimer: Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only and is not intended to replace advise from your doctor or registered health professional. Readers are urged to consult their registered practitioner for diagnosis and treatment for their medical concerns.

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