Getting spun up and spinning your wheels with your partner?
Stabilize your approach when confronting hard conversations and your chances of relationship success will improve dramatically. Couples come into my counseling center (although these days it's through my screen mostly) and often the issues can be resolved by tweaking their approach.
If you find yourself in the same cycle of repetitive, escalating conflict that seems to go nowhere, these tips may be a helpful start. How you set up a conversation and manage emotions during it can help predict the outcome. When any of us start to feel upset, scared, frustrated, annoyed, jealous, hurt, even angry, our brains switch gears so that it is physically impossible to problem-solve and use any new communication tools you have learned. Below are six quick tips to keep in the front of your mind when trouble rises. These are brief rules of thumb and are by no means hard fast rules. I could elaborate for hours on each but I want to give you the cliff notes, put them in your pocket for later.
Six Steps for Healthy Communication:
Get clear. Zero in on what you want to talk about. Stay on point, bringing in externalities muddies the water and only helps escalate the situation. Before you know it the starting point is lost and so are your chances of an amicable outcome.
Pump the breaks. Are you ready to talk or listen? Taking some time to check in with your level of emotion and take steps to bring it down before launching off can help dramatically and prevent your partner from getting defensive.
Time it correctly. Ask your partner if this is a good time for them. (They should also check in with themselves to make sure they are feeling calm and available.) Springing a tough conversation on someone just before bed, or right after you have put the kids down, or just after one of you gets home from work can lead to negative outcomes. At an appropriate time start the conversation. If it isn’t a good time, ask when it would be, and set up a time within the next 24 hours to try again.
Start and stop. If you start calm and find yourself escalating or even notice your partner starting to get upset, STOP, and say I need to take a break. Tough subjects are almost never resolved in one conversation anyway. So give yourself and your partner permission to shelf it for an hour or even a couple days. Make a plan for when you can both come back (within 24 hours), or you can have a plan in advance if this is hard to discuss in the moment.
Treat Your Self! While taking a break, do things that help you to feel calmer. Take a walk, journal, do a relaxation exercise, eat that ice cream, etc. Remember when you honor yourself you will have more bandwidth for your partner.
Own your role. Like our mothers used to tell us, "it takes two to fight." Get clear again about what you want to bring up, and make sure you are also thinking about your role in the issue, rather than blaming the other person. Often acknowledging that we are all flawed beings can disarm your partner.
If you find that you and your partner need help with setting the stage for healthy communication, don’t hesitate to contact us at 720-457-3342. At Counseling Center of Cherry Creek, we are open Sunday-Friday and offering online video sessions from the safety and convenience of your own home.