In any marriage, there are times when couples feel greater and lesser degrees of intimacy. Sometimes the stresses of work, raising children, paying bills and other circumstances in life can cause a married couple to become focused on other things and drift apart temporarily.

However, if you find that a lack of closeness has become the rule in your marriage rather than the exception, it might be time to take steps to fix the problem before it causes irreparable damage.

One of the most important ways to do this is to establish healthy communication between you and your spouse. This can be a difficult process. It requires a great deal of humility, patience, understanding, and forgiveness. The good news is if you are both committed to making positive changes in your relationship you will be well on your way to a stronger, more fulfilling marriage. The following tips will help you to open the lines of communication and recapture the intimacy and happiness that your marriage should provide.

1. Keep your emotions in check

You know when you're feeling too angry to communicate effectively, so make sure that you step away from a discussion when you reach that point. It is important, however, that you don't end the discussion abruptly. Agree on a time and a place to continue the conversation with your spouse when both of you feel more under control.

2. Recognize and avoid hurtful behaviors

Part of overcoming the negative communication in your relationship is learning to recognize and control those behaviors that hurt your spouse. If your goal is to increase communication and closeness, saying or doing unkind things to your partner will only take you farther from that goal. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to recognize your own habits.

One way to overcome this is to record an argument between you and your spouse and then analyze together what things are hurtful to each other. Another way is to have a controlled discussion in which one of you speaks while the other uses gestures or signs to show you when your behavior affects him or her negatively, positively or neutrally. These exercises will help you to understand how you can communicate positively with your spouse.

3. Respond to criticism with empathy

Instead of becoming defensive, try to see things from your partner's point of view. This often takes practice. One effective way to do this is to establish ground rules in which you may only speak after summarizing what it is that you understood from your spouse's comments. An exercise like this will force you to try to see things from your spouse's perspective.

4. Take personal responsibility for all of your statements

When we make suggestions to each other we often speak in the form of a command or an accusation (i.e., "You never listen" or "You should always call if you're going to be late"). These kinds of statements will almost inevitably create resentment. It is more effective to take personal responsibility by using "I" statements (i.e. "I feel like you aren't listening to me" or "I would appreciate it if you could call when you're going to be late"). These kinds of statements are much more likely to promote understanding.

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