By: Jamez Anderson, MSEd 

Have you ever found yourselves in heated arguments sparked by seemingly small misunderstandings or miscommunications? Picture this: You or your partner return home after a long day at work, a visit with in-laws, or even a rigorous workout session. Suddenly, you’re having a disagreement. Maybe it was the way they casually said “Yeah, okay,” or the dishwasher being full again with a certain someone “forgetting” to unload it. 

Most Marriage and Family therapists emphasize that what we argue ‘about’ often matters less than whether we feel genuinely ‘heard’ and ‘seen’ during these conflicts. Yet, if we struggle to communicate our needs to our partner, it becomes challenging for them to understand our unmet needs. Here’s one of the first pieces of advice I share with the couples I counsel: when you sense tension rising, HALT. 

A valuable tool from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is recognizing how our emotions and the physical state of our body, can significantly influence our communication skills at any moment. HALT is an acronym that guides us to pause and assess our needs in real-time: 

  • Hungry: Just like the saying goes, we’re not ourselves when we’re hungry. 
  • Angry: In moments of anger, we might say things we later regret. 
  • Lonely: Intense emotions like loneliness can add to any interaction. 
  • Tired: Few people can think clearly when fatigued. 

You might wonder, “How does this improve communication with my partner?” It’s a great question! Next time you return home exhausted from an intense workout, and your partner points out the dishwasher again, try this: 

Say “HALT” to yourself or gently to your partner, hands up like a referee in a youth basketball game. 

Recognize if you’re feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired in that moment. 

Communicate your needs: “You’re right, I forgot about the dishwasher again. I’m sorry because I understand how frustrating it is to find the kitchen messy. Right now, I’m hungry and need to grab a snack. After I eat, I’ll have the energy to unload the dishwasher and discuss a cleaning plan with you because you and our home matter to me.” 

Practice this approach consistently. 

I hope you and your partner find this skill as beneficial as countless other individuals and couples have.