By Elise Fuller, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Marci Stiles
How many times have you started a conversation with your partner with good intentions, only to have it turn into an ugly, door-slamming mess? How do you communicate what you want and need from your spouse without it erupting into defensiveness and anger? You just need to know how. Avoid these communication pitfalls to encourage positive dialogue.
- Bad timing. Conversations need to start off on the right foot. Making sure your conversation is at a convenient time for both you and your partner increases your chance of having their full attention. Requests work best if they stay simple. For example, “I’d like to talk about this kids’ schedule. When is a good time for you?” or “Things got really ugly between us yesterday. I want to talk it out. Will tonight work for you, maybe after dinner?”
- Harsh startup. Another way conversations go south quickly is by starting them harshly. Avoid starting your conversation with a critique or blame such as, “You haven’t been doing anything to help with the kids recently.” These harsh startups set your partner on the defensive. In these first few moments, your partner may feel attacked and ready their weapons, taking a stance against you instead of for you or with you. Make an effort to begin your conversation with something you appreciate about your partner like, “You really made my week easier last month when you took the kids to their after-school activities.”
- Criticism. Words like “never” and “always” are dead-giveaways for this communication spoiler. Critical remarks are those that suggest your partner is somehow flawed. Or, that your partner is completely to blame. For example, “You never help with the kids; I don’t know why you insist on being so lazy,” and “What is wrong with you?” Replace criticism with complaints. Complaints are short and stick only to one present incident. It sounds like, “The garbage is still in the garage, and you said you would take it out last night.”
- Contempt. This communication spoiler is often seen and not heard. It is a way of communicating to your partner that you are better than them. Many times this is shown through eye-rolling, sneering, giggling, huffing...etc. Contemptuous remarks are an attempt to show your partner superiority, for example, “I would never treat you the way you treat me.” Instead, focus solely on your own feelings, making it easier for your partner to hear you.
- Defensiveness. Defensiveness is probably the most common communication spoiler. “Yes you did!” “No I didn’t!” or “Yeah, maybe I did, but you do it all the time.” If your partner lets you know you’ve hurt them, the best thing to do is apologize before you begin to share your experience.
- Failing to take a timeout. Don’t assume that just because you started a conversation you both have to finish it. Many people keep trying to fight an uphill battle much after they should have simply called a “time out.” There is no shame in saying, “Hey, we’re right back to where we were, let’s cool off and try again later.” Find an activity that soothes or relaxes you during your break.
- Missing the repair attempts. Repair attempts are an effort to decrease the intensity of a conflict and reconnect. They are unique to each couple. Maybe it's tickling, a kiss or a cheesy smile during a heated discussion. It’s your partner waiving the white flag, saying, “Remember me? I love you! Let’s stop this nonsense and get back to us!” Take time to think of how your partner makes repair attempts (sometimes they are subtle) and look for them in your next conflict to help reduce intensity and remind yourself this person is with you — not against you.
The most successful, long-lasting relationships have a “we against the world” attitude, not “me against you” attitude. Excellent communication takes practice! Use each conversation with your partner as a chance to do some research. Do you both commit these communication spoilers? If so, which ones? When are they more likely to come out? If you replace them with the more effective techniques, what changes do you notice in how your partner responds to you? What changes do you notice in your feelings towards your partner and the topic you discussed?
Feeling like you have to wait for your partner to fix themselves before you can be truly happy is exhausting and impossible! But feeling like you can start making changes to better your relationship today can be extremely powerful and fill your relationship with hope!
These tips are based on the marital research of Dr. John Gottman. Marriage counselors at Positive Outlook Counseling use these strategies and much more to help their clients heal old wounds in their relationships and build stronger, healthier connections that last a lifetime. For more information, visit www.positiveoutlookcounseling.com.
Positive Outlook Counseling
Marci B. Stiles, MA, LPC-S, NBCC
16610 North Dallas Parkway, Ste 2100
Dallas TX, 75248
Positive Outlook Counseling services range from individual counseling to family therapy to marriage counseling services. Marci Stiles specializes in individual, family, marriage and troubled teen therapy.
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