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A Community Reinforcement Approach: Treating Cocaine Addiction

Exhibit 27: Communications Skills Training #1

Improving Communication

Below is a list of communication behaviors you may find helpful for improving communication with your partner.

  • Be polite to your partner. When talking with your partner, use the same courteous words and tone you would use with a stranger or a coworker.
  • Express positive feelings. Try to let your partner know what you like about things they have done or how they have been acting. Spend at least as much time on the things that are going well as on those that are not.
  • Do something nice for your partner. Without being asked or without a special reason like a birthday, do something that your partner would like or find special. Do this without asking for or expecting something in return.
  • Determine the importance of an issue before you complain. Ask yourself whether something is worth complaining about. Don't get into the habit of always complaining about something. Express complaints only about things that matter.
  • Choose a "good" time to bring up a complaint. Try to pick a time to discuss a problem that will provide a good setting for a positive discussion. For example, make sure you will have some uninterrupted time to discuss it. Don't bring it up when you are really angry. Don't bring it up when your partner is angry.
  • Have a goal in mind when you bring up a complaint. Give some thought to the problem before you bring it up with your partner. Ask yourself what you would like to get out of it. What changes are you hoping for? Why do you want those changes? Are those changes reasonable or achievable?
  • Be specific about your complaint. Focus on only one thing at a time. Try to have a very specific example of what you are upset about so you can help your partner understand the issue exactly. You should be able to describe specifically what you would like the partner to do differently. Don't bring up other problems; stay focused.
  • Request changes in a positive manner. Tell your partner, in the most positive way possible, what is bothering you and what you would like changed. Use the steps outlined in Positive Requests training. Avoid criticisms, put-downs, name calling, and assumptions about your partner's motives.
  • Prepare to compromise. Prepare yourself to discuss the issue and come up with a solution that works for both of you. Don't use ultimatums or dismiss your partner's ideas.


Below is a brief outline of some important issues and behaviors that may help you through disagreements that arise in your relationship.

  • Expect to have disagreements. Even in the best of relationships, partners do not always agree. Disagreements are normal parts of a relationship.
  • Some disagreements are not real disagreements - they are miscommunications.
  • Miscommunication happens when the message you are trying to send your partner provokes a response that you did not expect or intend the partner to have.
  • Miscommunications typically result from not expressing yourself clearly, specifically, or completely. Do not make assumptions about what your partner knows or doesn't know. Provide reasons for why you are complaining or making a negative statement. Use the communication skills discussed in Positive Requests training and those listed above.
  • Intent should equal response. If your message gets a response that you did not intend, assume that something went wrong with the communication process.
  • The problem may be in the message. You - the message sender - could have said something that you did not intend to by-
    • Not saying what you really meant.
    • Leaving out information or assuming your partner already knew.
    • Giving a nonverbal message that was not consistent with the verbal message (e.g., using a sharp tone of voice because you were in a bad mood).
    • Hidden agendas. Unresolved issues may enter into problems any time you get upset; that is, you may have made statements that are not directly related to the problem you were raising.
  • The problem may also occur with the person who receives the message. Persons receiving the message may also react differently than they intend because of the same types of things that affect the delivery of the message.


  • Arguing and fighting. Arguing and fighting often occur because the communication skills described above are not being used. For example, if you do not stay on a specific topic, call someone a bad name, bring up every little thing that bothers you, or raise issues at inappropriate times, a fight or argument is likely to arise.
  • The first step in gaining control of fighting behavior is to recognize your pattern of fighting. Fights are defined as bringing up issues without discussing or resolving them. It doesn't matter if people are yelling at each other or not. If there is no resolution and a problem is left hanging, it is a fight. It is important that you learn to identify fights and make a list of what situations typically result in fights with your partner.
  • Avoidance. Some couples rarely argue. They simply avoid conflict by never talking about issues. In this situation, either one partner usually gives in all the time or both partners become good at ignoring issues. This avoidant style of communication usually results in one or both partners feeling resentful, unloved, not cared for, or unimportant. The communication skills that need to be used are to recognize what issues are important and to communicate these issues to your partner at an appropriate time.
  • Sometimes it is hard to recognize whether you and your partner are having problems with avoidance. Some clues or signals that avoidance may be a problem are-
    • You think there is no conflict at all in your relationship.
    • Conversations tend to be dull and routine and you don't feel connected.
    • You feel that certain topics cannot be talked about because they will start a fight or result in awful consequences.
    • You feel resentful toward your partner much of the time and don't want to do special favors.


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