Some people are natural communicators. They know how to get across their point of view without damaging a relationship. Others (probably most of us) need some guidance on where to focus and of what to steer clear. If you are looking to learn communication skills that make a positive difference in your marriage, the Ten Commandments of Communication offer timeless principles that can help.

The reason I call them "commandments," is to stress the idea that most people would never think of transgressing the basic principles of our faith like killing or stealing. Yet how many couples find it difficult to avoid criticizing each other and stay focused on building and nurturing their relationship? Just as the original Ten Commandments are based upon (1) creating and maintaining a positive connection with G‑d, and (2) avoiding damaging that relationship, the Ten Commandments of Communication, teach us to (1) focus on positive and nurturing words, and (2) avoid the damaging effects of critical language.

Here is how these commandments work. On one tablet are five "Thou Shalt Nots," including Thou Shalt Not: Insulate, Judge, Blame, Insinuate, or Criticize. On the other tables are five "Thou Shalts," which are Thou Shalt: Compliment, Be Compassionate, Empathize, Validate, Nurture and Listen.

Couples who insult, judge or blame one another damage their relationship and cause unneeded stress to their marriage. Those who insinuate, or who embarrass each other will deplete their emotional savings accounts and cause lasting damage to their relationship. No one likes being criticized, blamed, or belittled for their behavior, especially in marriage, where close daily contact necessitates a high level of sensitivity and understanding.

Equally important is fulfilling as many positive commandments as possible. Make sure that your words are accepting, friendly, compassionate, and understanding. If you are using affirmative and encouraging statements such as "I care about you" and "I hear what you are saying" and "How can I help you?" then you are fulfilling the positive emotional "mitzvot" for one another, and growing closer together each day.

Beginning your conversations with the right attitude is one way to fulfill the "commandments." In the same way that we meditate about the greatness of G‑d and our love for Him before we pray, couples should also arouse a love for one another and think about the importance of their relationship before they speak. The inner message is, "I love you and care about you, and I want to enhance the closeness in our marriage." When you begin with the right intention, you'll have a greater chance of using words that build happiness in your marriage.

The following principles can also be helpful:

1. Soften your approach to the argument. Be less confrontational in your responses. Instead, make your tone with your spouse soft and tender so your spouse will feel secure. Avoid criticism at all costs! Spouses cannot connect when they tear each other down.

2. Validate what your spouse is feeling, instead of criticizing.

3. Listen sincerely to your spouse. Hear what he or she is really saying.

4. Show an understanding of the heart. Put yourself in your spouse's shoes while listening intently to what he or she says. Then communicate that you see the problem from his/her perspective. Put the argument on common ground by agreeing, "This is our problem."

5. Be willing to compromise. The relationship is far more important than the issue.

6. Give your spouse attention and affection. Try to communicate statements like, "I'm here and I'm not leaving." Point out the positive changes your spouse has made in your life.

7. Don't be afraid to laugh!