When is the last time you and your partner made time to talk? Or, more important, made time to really listen to one another.

The newness of getting to know our partner – that interest we had in the beginning of a relationship – begins to take a back seat to the everyday busyness of life. And while the days, months and years pass by, it is easy to assume that the one we love is essentially the same person with the same needs, interests, values and goals.

“People think that ‘change is the only constant’ doesn’t apply to our relationships. We forget that we are always growing and learning new things about ourselves and so is our partner,” says Wake Forest University communication professor Jennifer Priem. "As we and our partners grow, we need to learn how to best make adjustments in our relationship so that our relationships grow with us. That happens when we listen."

Priem studies relationships and conducts research that explores the connection between supportive conversations and physiological signs of stress reduction. She recently launched a blog on Psychology Today, Stressing Communication, and is sharing a series of posts called, “Conversations That Will Save Your Relationship.”

Priem offers these tips to help set the stage for meaningful conversation.

  • Ask your partner if it’s a good time talk. “After work or when your partner is tired is usually not the best time to talk,” says Priem. “If your partner says ‘no’ it doesn’t mean forever. Rather than force a conversation because you’re ready, wait for a time that will be good for you both to engage.”
  • When it is time to talk, listen first. Be a supportive listener. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by your cell phone, other things happening around the conversation, or tangential thoughts that pop into your mind. Listen to understand, rather than to respond.
  • Try not to interrupt your partner. Wait to respond until your partner has completed his or her thought. It may be that by waiting to respond, you will learn something new that will change how you respond.

Conversations don’t require “work,” says Priem, but they do require that we recognize how we maintain our relationships, assess if it is in line with what is best for us and our partner, and adjust our strategies to create the best possible relationship over time.

Priem is available for phone, email and broadcast interviews.