Most folks believe that communication is the key to a happy marriage. And yet, usually when couples say they have a problem with communication they actually mean something like this: “we don’t know how to talk to each other without it turning into a fight” or “we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore.” Their problem is more specifically conflict resolution and a lack of intimacy/friendship.
So, my job is to figure out what folks really mean when they say, “we need to learn how to communicate better.” In many instances, I’m helping people learn how to start tough conversations about feelings and needs in the hopes of decreasing the chance of defensiveness and subsequently, an argument. Ultimately, my goal is not to prevent couples from fighting; it is to help them treat each other with respect.
A few tips for softening your start up:
- Think before you speak. Calm down, decide what you really want to communicate, and avoid the words “always” and “never.”
- Put yourself in his or her shoes. Do you believe your partner deliberately and intentionally wanted to hurt or upset you? Try to lead with some other softening statements like, “I know you’ve been busy…” “I don’t think you meant to…” or “I can understand why…”
- Be specific about the behavior you would like changed. Name-calling and character bashing are just mean (and do not help get your point across)! Neither does yelling. If you want to be heard, don’t be mean, stop yelling, and speak rationally.
- Stop fighting to be right. If one of you “wins,” you’ve both lost. Understanding is the new “right” and if you achieve it, you both are winners.
- It’s ok to let some things go. But do not, I repeat: do not stuff your feelings and allow yourself to get bitter or resentful.
Good luck getting started!
I introduced my favorite marriage book, “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” in my last post. I love this book because it’s based on scientific research. There are a million and one books on marriage and some are very good, but very few are based on actual empirical data.
I'm really enjoying reading this book again!
There are many reasons why marriage therapy often fails. I won’t bore you with a long list since I’m ultimately trying to make a point: I believe that good marriage therapy can work.
What often goes wrong is that therapists can get caught up in each individual fight and ends up refereeing this week’s drama. So, they teach communication and conflict resolution. You learn active listening techniques (nothing wrong with teaching it, it can be a helpful tool). BUT, successful conflict resolution isn’t enough to keep a marriage together. Communication is not the secret to a blissful union (gasp!). Believe it or not, happily married couples can have screaming matches (Gottman, p.11).
So, what is the secret to a happy marriage?
Five sure fire ways to start a fight with someone you love today:
- “You always __________________!”(forget to…., mess that up, try to upset me, etc)
- “You never ____________________!” (listen, do what I want, tell me I’m beautiful…)
- “You are such a ________________!” (insert mean name/label here)
- “You make me _______________!” (crazy, insane, angry…)
- “You asked for it!” (same principle as #4, anything that blames your partner for your behavior)
Five tips that will decrease the probability of a fight:
- “I feel ____________ (insert emotion, ex. “hurt”) when you _____________.”(insert specific behavior. Ex. “when you forgot to call me when you said you would”) This works because you are talking about your feelings over a specific behavior. You’re not blaming or making untrue all or nothing statements. When you say, “You always forget to call me!” instead of making your point and feelings heard, your partner is immediately put on the defensive.
- “Thank you!”
- “I love you!”
- “May I give you a back massage?”