The most common issue couples present to us is Communication (or lack thereof). It is one thing to communicate about logistics and practicalities such as who goes shopping, who makes food, who picks up the kids, and when. It’s quite another to try and communicate about touchy issues, such as our different preferences or personalities.
All too often, our first communication is about what our partner is doing that we don’t like or find irritating. Basically our default, go-to strategy when we want something to change in our partner’s behavior, is we tell them about it. We point it out to them, so hopefully they’ll get the message and change.
The problem with this strategy is it always ends up sounding like complaining and criticizing to our partner, who then get’s defensive, silent, or complains right back.
#1 Shift your complaints to requests
When I say to my partner, “You’re not listening to me!” or, “You don’t respect me”, I’m hoping it will result in her changing to now listen to me and respect me. But when someone tells you, “”You don’t listen to me!”, do you want to listen more or less? Yeah, less. And you might want to add, “I do listen” (defensive), or “You’re not exactly the best listener yourself!” (complaining back).
It is much more useful to go directly for what you want, bypassing the complaint altogether. So you shift your complaint to a direct request instead:
“Would you be willing to listen to me for five minutes?”
“Would you be willing to tell me something you respect about me?”
Go directly what is wanted, namely listening and a sense of respect.
#2 Express appreciations to your partner every day
It has been shown that the more appreciations and the less complaining we have, the better our chances of keeping our relationship strong and stay together.
Plus, appreciations are to humans what water and sun are to plants. We need it to not wither inside.
Appreciation is the perfect antidote to complaining because in order for me to appreciate something about my partner, I have to shift my attention onto something I like, something I love, something that IS working in my relationship.
Find something your partner did today, or some quality about them that you like, and say it out loud.
“Thanks for making breakfast today”
“Thanks for doing the shopping, that was really nice”
“Thanks for being so responsible with our kids”
“I love how you make people laugh”
Anything will. We’ve kept up a routine for over ten years now. Before we go to sleep, we share at least three appreciations of the other person. Try it out!
#3 Talk about your own experience
You’ve probably heard the recommendation to speak in I-statements. It’s much easier for your partner to hear you saying, “I feel scared when we argue” as opposed to “You’re always arguing with me!”. Sharing your own experience makes communication a lot safer. We call it the “un-arguable truth”. No one can argue that I feel scared. But you can – and probably will – argue if I say, “All your yelling is making me scared!”.
#4 Expand to include
This is a central notion in the LoveWorks Solution. I expand my understanding and mindset to be big enough to include yours. In disagreements, we often think only one of us is right, can be right, but in truth, it’s possible that we’re both right. Expand to include the differences in opinions and styles.
If I love cilantro and you hate it (that’s Sonika and me:-), there’s no point in me arguing that you should love it too. Instead, I expand to include your point of view.
If you want to improve your ability to get on the same page, here’s a great opportunity to practice:
We created a 90-min mini-workshop for couples to deal with stress and disagreements, How To Be More Understanding During Disagreements. In this workshop-from-your-couch, we are going to help you:
* Find understanding
* Relieve tension and stress
* Discover common ground between each other
* Get on the same page
* Learn techniques to de-escalate during conflict
* Get back to connection
We have helped thousands of couples navigate crisis and stressful times, and we’d be honored to help you, too.