The number one reason couples come to see me for counseling is, 'we just don't know how to communicate, anymore.' Our research in Gottman has shown that it's not how often a couple argues that will predict whether or not the couple stays together. It's how they argue that predicts whether or not they will stay together. I tell couples that they need to learn to have an ongoing dialogue about conflict. Here are four tips that will help you in your relationship the next time you have a conflict:
- Stop being critical. Also known as attack. Learn the gentle start up. Your body language and tone also say a lot. Remember to use a nice tone and body language when talking to your partner. For example, ask your partner to listen to you that you need to talk about something that is important to you.
- Stop being defensive. Take responsibility for your behavior. For example, the next time you notice you are being defensive with your partner, ask them if you can start over. This will let your partner know you are taking responsibility for your behavior and you are going to change it.
- Stop contempt. Learn to build a culture of appreciation in your relationship. Learn to accept influence from one another in your relationship and share your past triumphs. For example, the next time your partner asks you to try a new restaurant say yes, or the next time they buy a new pillow for the couch keep it. Tell your partner about your triumphs don't wait for them to ask. Did you pay your way through college or were you the one in your family growing up that kept up the house. Whatever it was tell your partner, and when you partner tells you, tell them how much you admire them for it and what a better person it has made them.
- Stop stonewalling. This is when you just can't take it anymore and you just shut down. What you are doing is shutting your partner out and making them feel alienated in the relationship. You need to ask your partner to take a break. A minimum of twenty minutes is recommended. You both need to agree it is alright to take a break and agree to return and talk about the issue. During the break, go for a walk or practice some deep breathing and do not think about the argument during this time.