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Inspiration Report

Someone was telling me yesterday that her twenty-something daughter sometimes spends hours locked in screaming matches with her mismatched beau. One day they were arguing from 10 am until dinner time. Ouch. Sounds like it is time for an intervention.

With all the financial stress and life challenges couples face today, it made me think that many of us could probably use a refresher on how to fight fair and communicate better with a mate.

Marty Babits, LCSW, BCD, author of The Power of the Middle Ground: A Couple’s Guide to Renewing Your Relationship and a psychotherapist in private practice, offers these guidelines to help you make difficult conversations productive and steer you and your partner away from destructive talk.

1. Avoid generalizing and stereotyping.  Do not generalize about your partner’s moods. When you think you know how your partner feels, but don’t stop to ask or listen, they’ll often feel neglected and misunderstood. Rule of thumb: there is often a difference between how your partner feels and how you think they feel. Your partner’s sense of emotional safety, as a result of generalizing, can become depleted.

2. Do not blurt responses. Do you identify with the following statement: “I didn’t even know what I was going to say until I heard myself saying it.” If so, this is an especially important guideline for you. Monitor your thoughts while speaking with your partner. There is always more than one way to say something, choose according to the effect you want your remark to have. Do not blurt the first thing that comes to mind at your partner.

3.  No name calling. If you are disgusted with something that is going on and call your mate something mean, the communication flow stops. And turning it back on becomes more and more difficult, in proportion to the amount of name-calling that goes on. When thinking before speaking, edit out the put-downs. Basic as the guidelines may seem, under stress, sticking to them is a challenge for us all. 

4.  Speak honestly and judiciously. The abiding ways that you feel — positive and negative — need to be represented in your dialogue with your partner. Keeping dominant thoughts and feelings buried will not further the relationship. But pay close attention to how you share information. Notice for signs that your partner is getting flooded. Do not keep talking if they are feeling overwhelmed! Conveying your messages with finesse and forethought will payoff big time in trust and emotional safety dividends.

5. Develop patience. Sustain it. Patience within a specific talk and in the pacing of your dialogue overall can make a critical difference to relationship healing. Patience and humility blended together compose emotional stamina, which is fundamental to the creation of a secure long-term love relationship. Healing your relationship without patience? It’s impossible. So work on this on.

6.  Think about what your partner says in terms of who your partner is. You need to develop a “relationship” perspective that features a good grasp of how the situation is understood by your partner as well as by yourself. Remember — understanding how your partner feels from within his or her purview does not mean you are acknowledging that their perspective is correct. You are not surrendering your point of view. You are simply acknowledging that yours is not the only legitimate point of view. 

7.  Time-out signal — have it in place; use it as needed. Using time-outs can allow you a sense of control in the pacing of your dialogue. In the case of complex and/or difficult emotional issues this can make the difference between whether you can or can’t discuss an issue productively. Without a pre-arranged signal to allow a safe method for temporarily suspending the dialogue, restarting it will be more difficult. Using time-outs does not mean that difficult issues go unaddressed. It does mean that partners have to work as a team to keep the flow of conversation going — not simply within a single talk but between talks as well. Carve a niche in your relationship that honors this dimension of awareness and sensitivity.

© 2010 Marty Babits, LCSW, BCD

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