I want to help couples right now so I offer some quick tips, things to think about, and exercises! I hope they are helpful!
Tip 1-What to say or not to say in an argument!
A conversation with your partner can easily turn into an argument but it doesn’t have to! Here are things to keep in mind and actually do when talking with your partner.
Talking about something important or how you feel can start out feeling good and then easily turn into conflict. OR are you talking and everything is going good and then all of sudden….damn we are arguing again. Why does this happen? Likely because the “thing” your talking about elicited a strong feeling within you because it’s important and we really want our partner to know just how important it is! We want to feel like they hear us and get it. The more we feel like our partner doesn’t get it…the louder we yell literally and figuratively. As the conversation goes on one person is yelling and the other person is shutting down and/or getting defensive.
Why do we get defensive? Well because usually words like NEVER or ALWAYS get thrown around. As soon as those words are said…the other person is just thinking about all the times they DID do the thing you said they NEVER do. Now each person is left feeling unheard and unappreciated
There are ways we can try to stop this cycle from happening.
1. No criticizing-this starts to attack our character and gets perceived as an attack. So the person who thinks they are getting attacked will….defend and protect themselves.
2. Don’t say…you always or you never. As soon as those words leave our mouth, our partner is thinking of all the times they did do that thing you said they never do. They are no longer listening to you and they are just thinking of ways to prove you wrong. Remember-it’s not about being right or wrong it’s about trying to understand where each other is coming from. Understanding your partner is more important than being right and if it isn’t then the relationship will likely eventually end.
3. Use I statements-Talk from your perspective. “I get upset when I ask you to do something a few times and it doesn’t get done because it makes me feel not listened to and what I say isn’t important. An I statement is not-I feel upset because you never listen….see the difference?
4. Listen to understand not to respond-I know it’s so hard not to think about what you are going to say, but when we do this we are missing what our partner is saying. Listen to understand and get them! We all will get our chance to say how we feel.
Tip 2-Want to feel more connected in your relationship?
Feelings of disconnection can creep up in our relationship and Valentine’s Day can be quite the reminder of that. It can be so easy to put our relationship with our partner on the back burner…because we have a million other things to do. You may feel tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged in the relationship so we just put working on it to the side. Although it may get put on the back burner, I am willing to bet that being connected in your relationship is so important to you and would increase your happiness and decrease the stress and anxiety you may feel.
Being connected with your partner means you take time in your day to talk to them and find out what is going on, have fun, talk about your feelings and thoughts, talk about things that are important to you and don’t forget to stop and give each other a hug. Sounds silly, but we all need physical touch and a hug can be a great way to stop for a minute and connect with our partner. If you are having trouble connecting and you feel like you are dancing to different music…it is ok! I would love to help! Remember when there is something that we want to work on and do better at…it is a chance for growth and opportunity.
Here are ways you and your partner can feel more connected…
- Show appreciation for one another: Throughout the week, tell your partner what you appreciate about them. Sometimes it can be very easy to recognize what our partner isn’t doing, but challenge yourself to take note to what they are doing and tell them how much you appreciate them. Think about your boss, your kids, your parents–when they say thank you or tell you why they appreciate you and what you’re doing…doesn’t it make it so much easier to do it again!
- Spend time together: Spend time together in a different way than your normal routine. I am thinking of my parents out there reading this. When your kids go to bed, stay up and sit at the table with your partner and have a date night. Talk about things other than your kiddos. I know they are amazing, but so is your relationship so focus on one another!
- Be curious about one another: Similar to #2, but talk about something different…not just the events that happened in the day. When we assume we know everything about our partner or you think you know what they are going to say…you will definitely feel disconnected. Being curious can really strengthen a relationship. We are changing every day, so trust me there always things we can learn from another. I once listened to a podcast from Esther Perel and she said “do you want to be right or do you want to be married”. I loved this because when we assume we know, we are saying we are right and finding out something different isn’t important. To keep the connection strong and to stay married we have to be a little less right =)
- Show love and affection: Leave a love not for your partner to find, clean your partner’s car for them, do the dishes, give more hugs, and make sure to give your partner a kiss before you fall asleep. Showing love and affection looks different for everyone, so pay attention to how your partner makes sense of love. Don’t give love the way you want to receive it, give love the way they want to receive it. When we give love the way we want, we become resentful when they are not giving love the same way. For example, if you understand love through words of affirmation so you are always giving compliments to your partner and they do not give it back, you may feel like they do not get it. But maybe your partner is always showing you love through touch and that is going unnoticed because what you’re seeking is words of affirmation. What needs to happen is your partner needs to show love through words of affirmation and you need to show love through touch. Now you’re beginning to understand one another’s love language and you can feel more connected. To understand more about Love Languages check out the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.
There are so many other ways to feel connected, so do whatever feels right for you and your relationship. Just be sure to do something this week to help make your relationship feel more connected!
-Nicole Lewis MA, LMFT
Tip 3- Rethinking Affairs
Esther Perel is an amazing resource for couples who have experienced infidelity. She challenges us to rethink the concept of infidelity.
One of the most important things I took from this video was when Esther discusses how a couple discusses the affair. Typically, the person whose trust has been broken wants to ask a lot of question about the details of the affair. As you can imagine, this only RE-TRAUMATIZES us more. I challenge you to ask questions that get to the meaning of the affair…
What was it like for you when you were that person? What was like for you to be with her and then come home to me? What did you gain from that relationship?
These are difficult questions to ask and may be even more difficult to hear the answers, but what these questions do is help us begin to make sense of the affair and what was happening for each person. With a better understanding, we can then TRY to begin the healing process and ultimately feel more connected. What is so important though, is the person who broke the trust in the relationship needs to be present and understand the pain and hurt that your partner is experiencing. When they know you get the pain they have been through, that is when steps forward can begin to happen.