Everyone wants to be known and understood. When you and your spouse give this gift to each other, you strengthen the bond between you. In fact, many research studies indicate that improving your communication increases the quality of your marriage more than anything else you can do.

In order to communicate successfully, however, you need to learn what to say and how to say it best - in ways that truly reach your partner. You need to learn his or her language of love.

Here's how you can learn to speak your spouse's love language:

• Make meaningful conversations a priority. Make time to talk on a regular basis. Eliminate distractions so you can give all your attention to your discussions with your spouse. Don't multitask while you're talking. Do take advantage of quiet times (such as in the car or in the house after your kids are asleep) to hold conversations.

• Pay attention to your nonverbal communication. Make eye contact with your spouse, lean slightly toward him or her with a relaxed posture, avoid gestures that might be distracting, and talk in a space that allows you both to sit close together in privacy.

• Clarify what you think you heard your spouse say. After your spouse makes a point, repeat back what you think you heard to clarify the message. Give your spouse a chance to correct you if you misunderstood what he or she said.

•Avoid unsolicited advice. Don't give your spouse advice when he or she doesn't ask for it. Realize that your partner may not be ready yet to follow through on any advice and would only feel guilty if you offer unwanted counsel.

• Be genuine. Know that you must be sincere and authentic if your spouse is to trust you.

• Open up with your spouse. Strive to be honest, vulnerable, and willing to talk about anything with your spouse. If you have emotional wounds that are keeping you from opening up, seek healing for them. Enlist the help of a mentor, counselor, or coach who can provide the encouragement, support, and accountability you need.

• Recognize your spouse's fear factor. Understand that people are all hardwired to want emotional safety during conversations. Know that every person has one main type of compelling need that motivates him or her emotionally, and he or she feels fear whenever that need is threatened.

Consider what makes you and your spouse feel emotionally safe. Is it gaining control of time, winning approval from others, maintaining loyalty, or achieving quality standards? Once you identify each of your main fear factors, you can use that information to converse in a way that feels emotionally safe to each of you. For example, if your spouse fears losing control of his time, you can reach him more effectively if you learn how to speak concisely and stay focused on the topic at hand.

• Discover how your spouse tackles problems. Consider whether your spouse solves problems aggressively or passively. An aggressive problem solver says, "Let's do it now." He or she is a self-starter, bold, determined, and tenacious. But under stress, he or she becomes impatient and blunt. In conflict, he or she becomes intimidating and confrontational.

A passive problem solver says, "Let's give it some time." He or she is considerate, self-controlled, patient, and cooperative. But under stress, he or she becomes anxious and slow. In conflict, he or she becomes indecisive and withdrawn. Use this information to learn more about your spouse's style of talking.

• Consider how you and your spouse influence each other. Think about whether your spouse is influenced more powerfully by facts or feelings. Figure out whether facts or feelings influence you the most. Someone influenced by facts says, "Let's look at all the evidence." He or she is realistic, logical, reflective, and calm. But under stress, he or she becomes pessimistic and introspective. In conflict, he or she becomes skeptical and uncommunicative.

Someone influenced by feelings says, "Trust me, it will work great." He or she is optimistic, friendly, outgoing, and inspiring. But under stress, he or she becomes impulsive and unrealistic. In conflict, he or she becomes a poor listener and unreliable. Use this knowledge to make your conversations more productive.