Communication and relationships: We know by now it’s important, we hear it all the time to the point where it’s enough already, we get it! So, if we communicate more with our partner things will get better, right? Wrong.
Dr. John Gottman, author of the “7 Principles of Making Marriage Work” has identified the four communication styles that are the biggest predictors of divorce/break-up and antidotes that can make your next conversation with your partner much more productive and satisfying.
When speaking to your partner about something that upsets you, it’s important to not become critical. Critical statements ones that are qualifying your partner at their core and using words that are judgmental or hurtful and can lead to defensiveness and hurt feelings. These are statements like “You are so selfish, you never consider anyone else’s feelings” and these kinds of statements are not productive and should be avoided.
So what do you do? Rather than leap to criticism, explain your feelings first. You can even ask yourself, when this happened how did I feel? Statements such as, “When you left this morning without saying goodbye I felt sad and ignored. I would like for us to connect before heading out for the day, how does that sound to you?” can get you closer to having a productive conversation without defenses coming up.
Steering away from critical comments puts your conversation on the right track and can keep you both from getting into an unproductive fight or from one or both of you running away and shutting down.
Defensiveness can be understandable, how many of us as soon as something not so great happens, want to find someone or something to blame? raises hand
Brene Brown, LCSW calls blame “a discharging of discomfort and pain and is the opposite of vulnerability…. it is corrosive to relationships and a barrier to connection and empathy.”
And when we get defensive towards our partner, it can, in fact, push them away and can sometimes cause an escalation in conflict.
So what do we do? Rather than blaming your partner, take responsibility for your feelings or your part in what happened. Statements like “I had a really long day ahead and was up against a deadline so I rushed out the door. I realize I was distracted this morning. Next time, I will be sure to say goodbye before heading out.” By doing this you have the opportunity to increase closeness and understanding between you and your partner.
When criticism happens over a long period of time, coupled with built up resentment, it sometimes can turn into having a negative overall viewpoint of your partner or your relationship. This is fertile ground for contempt. According to Dr. Gottman “contempt is the number one predictor of divorce and should be (absolutely) avoided.”
Contempt means mocking or belittling your partner, using effusive sarcasm and making cruel statements about your partner’s character.
So, what do you do? Build a culture of fondness and admiration along with expressing your needs and feelings before they build up to resentment. Expressing appreciation throughout the day can help increase positivity between the two of you. Also, I recommend having a weekly “State of the Union” Conversation (See my post about 6 Hours A Week To A Better Relationship on how to do this) in order to make communicating about anything part of your regular routine.
There are ways we can cope with overwhelming emotion, sometimes the emotion gets so hard to manage we may fight, flight or freeze. Stonewalling is when we completely shut out our partner, communication stops and/or we shut down.
As a result, we are not capable of having a productive conversation in this state and it is best to take a break and revisit the conversation at a later time.
So, what do you do? Self-soothe. This may mean, taking a walk, taking a few deep breaths. When we are in fight, flight or freeze our cognitive abilities go down since you are focused on perceived survival. By calming down, we increase our chance of having a productive and thoughtful conversation with your partner. Likewise, for the partner, it is best to let your partner calm down and don’t chase after them. Doing this may escalate your conversation and cause more damage than good.
Practicing these antidotes can help improve your communication and make it more productive and satisfying for you and your partner. I encourage patience and compassion for yourself and your partner in this process. When we are learning something new, change happens over a period of time and cannot be rushed.
With support, love and compassion,