Does it ever feel like you’re in a boxing ring or a UFC match with a loved one? Have you ever had one of those arguments where your partner felt more like an adversary than a friend? Most couples, even the iconic ones, can answer “yes” to these questions, yet only the “Masters of Relationship” have figured out healthy tools to circumvent this type of battle.
“I hate it when you...”
“I can’t stand it when you…”
“I wish you weren’t so…”
Fill in the blanks with whatever topic comes to mind, these types of statements evoke defensiveness in most people, and once the defenses go up it’s time to “take the gloves off”.
Research at the Gottman Institute suggests that the first 3 minutes of a conflict will determine whether that conversation will go well. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that bringing up a point of contention is a delicate art. Knowing how to do so can help couples and families dialogue, rather than fight about issues, whether perpetual or solvable.
First and foremost be polite, even if you’re angry. Starting gently and courteously makes it much easier for the listener to hear and understand your points of view. It goes without saying, but generally speaking most of us are more receptive to people being polite rather than rude or disrespectful. The Golden Rule definitely applies!
Express needs in positive terms without criticism. A simple sentence map like “I feel ______ about _______ and I need _______.” can go a very long way in keeping your partner’s defenses from coming up and increase the likelihood of a healthy and productive dialogue, versus an argument. Here are a few tips that can help this sentence map be more fruitful:
Using I statements instead of you can go a long way in keeping someone’s defenses down
Stay away from harsh emotions
Emotions of vulnerability (hurt, scared, lonely, insecure, disappointment, etc.) are often easier for the listener to hear than emotions of resentment (mad, angry, hate, critical, etc.)
Describe what you see happening objectively and nonjudgmentally
Use facts to describe the situation, rather than describing your partner
and I need…
Be direct and speak clearly so your partner doesn’t have to guess what you want
Use positive versus negative words
State what you need versus identifying more of what don’t need.
Last, but not least, show appreciation. If appropriate, acknowledge when your partner has handled this situation in a more pleasing manner. Is there an example when this wasn’t so bad?
The next time you’re burning about something and feel the need to address it, take a moment to reflect back on these basic concepts and try implementing them yourself. Chances are, you’ll be on your way to becoming the next “Master of Relationship”!