2 techniques to reduce conflict in your relationship now

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Conflict

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Does the conflict in your relationship seem to be escalating quickly? Does it seem like what happens during an argument is much more damaging than what started it in the first place? If so, you could be in the throes of emotional floods. In John Gottman’s research, he noticed that partners who ended up divorcing often suffered from flooding. He developed a time-out technique to help couples change the way they argue.

When we are inundated, we can’t think rationally, so we don’t communicate effectively and we don’t listen very well. The signs could be an elevated heart rate, a feeling of heat, a clenching of the fist, a wave of anger, or screaming. I always tell my couples that you can ask for a time out if you feel like you or your partner is inundated. No need to explain why, but come up with a code word so you both know what you mean when you say it. For example, if one of you says “Pause! You will both know that a time-out has been triggered.

Once the timeout has been declared, you will need to follow these steps:

  • Set a time limit: 20 to 30 minutes is usually a good starting point for a time out.
  • Go do something relaxing and entertaining (deep breathing, meditation, walking, listening to music, or playing).
  • Don’t simmer and think about the argument and what you want to say next; you take a break from the conflict.
  • Go back at the agreed time even if it’s just to tell your partner that you need more time. Coming back shows that you are not avoiding the problem.
  • If you’re calm and ready to talk, don’t pick up where you left off.
  • Start by telling yourself how you feel and what you need from your partner: a smooth start.

Another technique that can help dramatically reduce conflict in your relationship is my favorite antidote to Gottman’s famous Four Horsemen. In sessions, I can remind couples to “sweeten this start for me” or ask, “Can you rephrase that using a I statement for your partner? “

what is a I declaration? You have something you want to bring up with your partner (or anyone, really) and you want to say it in a way that they don’t feel criticized or defensive. You will need to phrase it without using blame or attacks. A critical example would be “Seriously? You never do the dishes when I ask you to,” while a soft start would be: “I feel overwhelmed by the pile of dishes. Would you be able to make them before I finish cooking? “

Can you hear the difference? Say it out loud and imagine your reaction. The second feels a lot safer to answer. There is no blame, criticism or judgment. Here is the formula for a perfect I declaration:

  • Start with “I feel _________ “(This takes responsibility for your own feelings.)
  • Describe why without using “you” (to prevent them from feeling blamed and becoming defensive in turn).
  • Request a positive need: “Can you do this?” in the place of “Don’t do that anymore.”


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