Communication is a critical part of any relationship, yet not everyone is a natural communicator. Some guys are shy. Some were taught that real men keep their feelings hidden. Some have disorders that make communication challenging, such as autism spectrum disorders. Whatever the reason behind your boyfriend’s lack of communication skills, you might be able to help him change.

Look for Signs of Abuse

Before you try to improve communication, you need to make sure that your relationship is healthy, states LoveIsRespect.org. Relationships are complicated, and it can be tough to know when your relationship has taken a turn toward abuse. Warning signs include possessiveness, sexual pressure, attempts to isolate you from others, jealousy, mood swings and physical attacks. Although not every warning sign equals full-blown abuse, be very careful if you see a pattern of unhealthy behaviors.

Choose the Time and Location

Successful communication requires both partners to be fully present and free from distractions. LoveIsRespect.org points out that interrupting your boyfriend during another activity is not fair, and could lead to an argument. Show him that communication can be fun and engaging by choosing a time and space that allows you both to relax. Men’s and couple’s counselor Jason Fierstein notes that it is also important to minimize the possibility of being interrupted. Turn off your cell phones, shut down the computer and mute the TV.

Practice Respectful, Active Listening

Reflective listening is a therapist’s skill that anyone can learn, according to Fierstein. Maintain eye contact and stay engaged with your boyfriend when he speaks. Let him finish his thought and then repeat back the gist of what you heard him say. Listen to the intention behind his words rather than focusing solely on the actual words. When it is your turn to talk, tell him clearly what you need or want. Resist the urge to fix his problems unless asked, and never try to “fix” him as a person. Demonstrate healthy communication by staying goal-oriented, polite and calm.

Rules of Fair Fighting

Many couples communicate well until one partner becomes upset, at which point they disintegrate into a screaming match or silent anger. The first rule of fair fighting is to stop and take a break, states LoveIsRespect.org. Consider using the 48-hour rule, in which you do not express your anger, unless you are still upset 48 hours later. Think through what happened, the role you played in the disagreement, and what you want for the future. When you are both calm and ready to move forward, begin an open conversation. Avoid attacks, blame or criticism, instead staying focused on your goals. If your partner sincerely apologizes for something, accept the apology and let the matter drop. Fair fighting is tough to learn, especially for people with communication issues. Keep demonstrating the behavior you would like him to use and praise him liberally when he follows the rules.