- Focus on ONE issue or concern at a time. Often people start with one issue and then start adding in other issues including things from the past that are sometimes not even related to the main issue. Be careful and mindful of this…it’s a very slippery slope. When you start bringing up issues from the past, especially if they had been resolved, you’re not working toward solving the problem. You’re working toward trying to be right. You have to ask yourself whether it is more important for you to be right or to solve the problem. Most of the time, these are two different experiences.
- When bringing up an issue or concern to your partner, use “I statements”. This allows you to own your feelings and decreases the chance of your partner becoming defensive. For example, say “I felt ______ when you said or did________.”; instead of “YOU made me so (angry, sad, etc)!” No one “makes” you angry. You make a choice if your partner does X, you’re going to be angry. And being angry never solves anything. Ditch the anger and get to the heart of the disagreement instead.
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- If the issue or concern has to do with your partner, focus on their behavior that is problematic. Please do not attack them as a person. After all, if your partner was so bad, why are you together?
- Make requests for change, not demands.
- Try to discuss issues and concerns as they come up or in a timely manner instead of bottling them up and using them for an attack later.
- Remember that everyone has their own beliefs, thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and “truths” regarding an issue or concern. So, when listening to your partner, get curious about their “truth” instead of trying to convince them that your “truth” is more “true” or important. More often than not, you’ll find you’re both saying the same things, just in different ways.
- When listening to your partner, remind yourself that you did not (and cannot ever) cause your partner’s feelings. Thus, there is no need to get defensive. They are just revealing and expressing their perceptions, feelings and “truths” to you. Don’t invalidate their feelings by telling them they have no reason to feel that way. The fact that they feel a certain way is enough for it to be valid.
- Ask questions, if needed, to help you understand your partner’s perception of the issue or concern.
- Then once you understand, sum it up and let them know you got it! Remember, understanding their perception and “truth” does NOT mean agreement on your part. You just want to make sure you have it straight.
Practice using these tips on daily basis with neutral conversations (i.e. your day at work, your dreams in life, where you want to go for dinner, etc.). Please do not wait to try them out during your next argument. Remember, practice makes perfect, and helps you form good communication habits. If you communicate in a positive fashion all the time, disagreements will be much easier to handle.
Drs. Chuck and Jo-Ann Bird