When asked about making relationships last just about everyone will tell you the same thing: communication is key! It is advice that is as useful as it is vague. It offers no practical steps you can take, and fails to acknowledge that communication takes many forms, and they aren’t all good for your relationship. Here are some tried and tested methods for keeping the communication in your relationship productive and open.

Honesty is (usually) the best policy

Being honest about how you feel and what you need is the most important and effective thing you can do to preserve your marriage. It can be difficult to tell someone you love that you’re unhappy or unfulfilled, but if you don’t tell them, they’ll never know. Be clear and open about what you feel is missing, or what needs to change. Your spouse loves you and wants you to be happy. If you tell them what you need, they will almost certainly want to help you find it.

Not everything you think needs to be said

Sometimes sharing close quarters with someone you love means finding them frustrating and irritating. Sometimes even the sound of them breathing can make you crazy. This doesn’t mean that you don’t love them anymore, and it definitely doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with the way they breathe. Letting thoughts like those out is destructive and hurtful, and accomplishes absolutely nothing. Before criticizing your partner, try to think about how you would feel if they made the same complaint about you, then try to drop it.

Don’t bottle it up…

The first piece of relationship advice my mother ever gave me was “don’t let it fester.” She said she and my father didn’t have their first fight until they had been together for 5 years, and boy was it a doozy. Even if your spouse does something totally inappropriate or cruel, once you’ve held onto your anger for long enough, you’ve given up the high ground. If an issue isn’t important enough to be addressed in a timely manner, it isn’t important enough to be used at a later date either.

But bottle it up a little

There is a difference between passive-aggressively holding onto past mistakes, and thinking calmly about a problem before discussing it. When you are hurt, or angry, or frustrated, your ability to talk reasonably and come up with a solution is going to suffer. Sometimes it is a good idea to wait a little while and let the most extreme emotional responses fade before broaching a subject. This will allow you to come at it with some perspective, and to say calmly to your partner, “it bothers me when you do this, for this reason.” No yelling, no accusations, just a simple conversation about ways to make living together easier for both of you.

Find new ways to discuss difficult issues

For some people confrontation is more than just difficult. My sister suffers from actual panic attacks during difficult encounters, which makes those hard conversations even more of a challenge. She and her husband work online from two separate offices in the same house, and occasionally they will discuss touchy subjects via online chat. It allows her to distance herself from the stress of the conversation without sacrificing her own needs. There are other advantages to the written word; it gives you an opportunity to reconsider what you wish to say before it is too late, and it forces you to abandon sarcasm, the great American crutch. Since your tone can’t indicate whether or not you are serious, you should be writing only what you mean.

Alan Brady is a writer who uses personal experience as inspiration to write about family, the environment, and business practices. He currently writes for attorneys.com, which helps connect people with local divorce and child custody lawyers for when all else fails.