What is your Relationship Communication Style? 

A common goal that is often expressed by couples is the desire to build on and improve their communication skills within their relationship.

There are a number of things that couples can do to improve communication. The first step is to become aware of and build an understanding of the different styles of communication. There are four different styles of communication: assertive, passive, passive-aggressive, and aggressive.

Passive Communication Style:

These individuals tend to avoid expressing their feelings, needs, wants and opinions within their relationship. They are often described as emotionally dishonest, indirect, inhibited, self-denying, blaming and apologetic. These types of individuals tend to “bottle things up” and then “explode”, thereafter becoming apologetic or having feelings of guilt, which then results in them reverting back to their previous passive patterns of keeping to themselves.

Aggressive Communication Style:

These individuals tend to be described as: inappropriately honest, direct, expressive, attacking, blaming, controlling and self-enhancing at the expense of others. Individuals with an aggressive communication style frequently express their thoughts, often at the expense of others’ feelings. An aggressive communicator often reacts before thinking, which often has a negative impact on relationships.

Passive-Aggressive Communication Style:

Passive-aggressive individuals are often described as: emotionally dishonest and indirect, self-denying at first and self-enhancing at the expense of others later. These individuals tend to appear passive on the surface but are often known to have a more aggressive motivation driving their actions. While their words might sound agreeable in the moment, their actions don’t always align with what they say or have said afterwards.

Assertive Communication Style:

Assertive communicators share their thoughts and ideas confidently, but they’re always respectful and polite towards their partners. These people are often described as: Appropriately honest, direct, self-enhancing, expressive, self-confident and empathetic to the emotions of all involved.

They use a calm and clear tone of voice, they listen well without interrupting their partner, they respect others’ boundaries while ensuring others respect theirs, and they have a good sense of self-control. People with assertive communication are more connected to others and have a good sense of control over their lives.

How to improve communication within a relationship:

  • Become aware of your own communication style as well as your partner’s communication style.
  • Familiarize yourself with the characteristics of each style.
  • Recognize you and your partner’s differences and work together to integrate assertive communication skills.
  • Ensure the needs of both partners are being respected.
  • Encourage your partner to share and take or provide space when needed.
  • Take turns when talking and listen with the intent of learning and understanding, not responding, or defending yourself.
  • Ensure you are sharing your needs and feelings in a respectful way: use “I” statements and not “you” statements.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues and do not assume or make your partner guess.
  • And most importantly, remember you love each other.

Do you feel that your partner and yourself may need a counselling session to improve communication within your relationship? Take a look at our Counselling Services page.


Lounette Els is a registered ASCHP Specialist wellness counsellor with a Masters in Social and Psychological Research (Wits) and has a special interest in sexual wellness. She is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Sexualities and Reproduction at Rhodes University. She further holds training from the Integrative Sex Therapy Institute (ISTI) and is a member of the Southern African Sexual Health Association (SASHA).

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