Marci Stiles

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

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.

Click Here To Book An Appointment Online

Marci Stiles

By Lora Kingsley, LPC-Intern, Play Therapist

Temper tantrums are a normal, healthy behavior in children ages 1-3 who are beginning to struggle with frustration but don’t have the language to express this powerful emotion.

Follow these tips to help your child manage their emotions:

Keep calm — Temper tantrums aren't just upsetting for the child. Most parents get pushed over the edge by their child’s meltdown, especially if it happens in public or when you’re trying to rush out the door. This is the time to take a deep breath and stay as calm as possible. Your child can’t calm down if you aren't calm — and a parent’s frustration will only exacerbate the situation.

Reflect your child’s feelings — Try to identify the emotion your child is feeling. Is he angry? Frustrated? Sad? Then, reflect it back. “I know you are very angry right now…” Reflecting emotion helps your child learn to manage their own difficult feelings. Research has shown that labeling your child’s emotions teaches them mindfulness, which activates the prefrontal lobe area of the brain, responsible for regulating emotions. 

Assess the situation — Try to figure out why you’re child is having a tantrum. Is he or she tired? Hungry? Perhaps you tried to squeeze in a trip to the grocery store before nap or snack time. If your child is prone to temper tantrums, it is all the more important to have a schedule and stick to it. After all, don’t you get cranky when you’re hungry or tired? If this is the case, swallow your pride, forget your shopping trip and take your kid home for a nap or a snack. 

Give alternative choices — It is very common for young children to throw temper tantrums when they've been denied something that they want. It can be very upsetting for a parent whose child is pitching a major fit because they can’t have the sugary cereal with the cartoon character on the box. Try to think of it from your child’s perspective. They are beginning to develop a sense of autonomy, but all they hear all day is “No! Don’t touch! You can’t have that!” Give your child a sense of control over their environment by giving them a choice of items that are acceptable to you. For example, “We are not buying Sugar Crunchies today, but you can choose Healthy-O’s or Wheatie Flakes.” It is likely that your child will be so enchanted by the idea of being given options that they will forget all about their first choice.

Don’t reinforce bad behavior — Sometimes children throw temper tantrums because they want your attention. Even negative attention can reinforce this behavior. If your kid figures out that she can get your goat by kicking and screaming, she’s got you right where she wants you. Resist the urge and don’t give in. If you’re in a public place, tell your child you will give them a minute to calm themselves down. Take a few steps away and look in another direction (while watching out of the corner of your eye). It is likely that he will figure out that his behavior isn't working and give up. Another option is to take your child outside and give him space to calm down. At home, have your child sit in a “calm down” area or in their room until they have calmed themselves down. Remember to give your child praise and attention when they have calmed down. This is the behavior you want to reinforce.

Get help — If your child is having frequent temper tantrums that are disruptive to the family, or your child is over the age of 3 and still having whopper tantrums, it may be time to ask for help. A play therapist can help your child learn to regulate her emotions and teach you skills to reinforce therapy at home. If your child has experienced a death of a loved one or a significant change, such as divorce, he may be “acting out” troubling emotions by throwing tantrums. Play therapy can help your child deal with grief and loss in a healthy way.

Join us for a Play Therapy Open House on Friday, June 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Positive Outlook Counseling to meet our play therapist, tour the playroom and learn about how play therapy can help your child with emotional, social or behavioral difficulties. Call Lora Kingsley at 972-733-3988 with questions or to schedule a free Q&A session. 

Positive Outlook Counseling
Marci B. Stiles, MA, LPC-S, NBCC

16610 North Dallas Parkway, Ste. 2100
Dallas, Texas 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.

Click Here To Book An Appointment Online