Tag Archives: better communication

Have Regular RINGS Chats with your Spouse

couple at breakfast by Ambro freedigitalphotos.net

Do you want to feel more connected with your spouse when you talk?  I recently attended a meeting for Better Together, a new marriages strengthening organization based in Hamilton County near Indianapolis. Marriage and Family Therapist Missy Irvin provided these simple but meaningful tips, developed by The Marriage Resource Center in Dayton, Ohio, on how to keep a sense of connectedness with your spouse.  (And no, RINGS chats are not about jewelry.)

Irvin acknowledged that it can often be challenging to have real talks, not just discussing who will do what in your household. So, here’s a little acronym to help you remember how to infuse your talks with a better connection:

R stands for real emotions—Know how you feel first, and take time for yourself if you need it. You don’t always have to say “fine” when your partner asks how you’re doing. He or she can’t read your mind. If you’re overwhelmed, lonely or tired, say so.

I stands for Intentions/Information—Ask your spouse why they feel the way they do. Don’t shut them down by saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” This only causes people to stuff their feelings rather than share them.

N stands for needs—Express yourself in terms of “this is what I need from you.” Rather than making a honey-do list of chores, it may help to explain why you need help in a particular area.

G stands for grateful—Each of you state what you are grateful for. This helps you get outside of the negativity and stop focusing on the things you may perceive are going wrong.

S stands for someday—Don’t forget to dream together about the future.

Thanks to Better Together for the insights. I’ll be speaking at the group’s February 13 meeting. If you’re in the area, let me know and I’ll send you details, or check out their web site to register.

Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Love Between Men, Women Can Be Like Apples and Oranges

Men may feel love more strongly but be less able to express that love.

I’ve read studies about how men tend to fall in love faster and have more emotional difficulties managing a breakup. To add to this line of thinking, a recent Rutgers University study of 5,000 American adults found that men are becoming more interested in commitment and attachment, while more women are seeking relationships with a degree of independence.  So, the stereotypes of women having stronger emotional ties may not be true, at least in present day.

But even when a man feels the emotions of love very strongly, he often expresses himself much differently than a woman.  Generally, he expresses much less of himself. One reason is that our brains are simply wired differently. Women generally have more developed language and communication centers. That’s because the corpus collosum (the communication strip between the two cerebral hemispheres) is more developed in women, allowing women to integrate data and experience subtleties. 

Knowing all of this, why do we women push our men to communicate as we do? We want more intimate talk, more complete understanding, and more communication of all kinds. Are we asking too much? Maybe, at least for some men.

In addition, men may be more private with their deepest feelings, says author and Huffington Post writer Peggy Drexler. She suggests when you have a man who is reliable, kind, and attentive, it makes sense for a woman to stop pushing against the “boulder of biology” to try to make him communicate like you.  Can we appreciate that love is present, and be grateful for our mate’s positive qualities? Can we recognize and even embrace that our man is built much differently than we are?

I think it’s tough sometimes for us to realize when our expectations may be out of line.  I do think that husbands should do their best to communicate effectively and not shut their wives out. On the other hand, wives should probably learn how to speak more succinctly if we hope to keep our partner’s attention.

The bottom line is even if your hubby isn’t writing you poetry each week or professing his undying love before he hits the pillow every night, it doesn’t mean that your marriage doesn’t mean the world to him. Husbands:  Please take a brief minute and tell your wives that her love means the world to you, and that you know you should tell her more. Wives:  Don’t make it into a marathon conversation. Just kiss him, smile and tell him thanks.

Men:  Consider taking this to the next level to other important female relationships. Tell your daughters you love them and you’re proud of them. Tell your mothers you appreciate all they ever did for you. Unlike men, women tend to look for these important expressions as a barometer of the quality of your relationship.

What do you wish your mate would tell you today? Have you asked for what you need?

Photo by photostock courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.

Revise Your Criticism for Better Marriage

If your pattern is to criticize your spouse for any reason, it’s time to break that pattern. A couple of days ago I came across a very helpful Washington Times article advising just how to do this. It’s called “Marriage Mindset:  Presume the best.

I have previously shared how to fight fairly and the four relationship patterns that can doom a marriage: criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt (including behaviors like eye-rolling). But just knowing it’s a bad pattern isn’t enough. When you have legitimate complaints with your spouse, it’s part of a desire for a healthy marriage to want to address them. How can we do that more productively without damaging the relationship?

 Times author Rebecca Hagelin points out that “good communication never takes aim at the other person.” Instead:

  1. Effective communication sticks to the facts, i.e. “When you didn’t call last tonight to tell me you’d be late…”
  2. Effective communication expresses feelings, i.e. “It made me feel sad and angry.”
  3. Effective communication avoids judgment, i.e. “You’re so inconsiderate.”

Imagine a husband’s reaction when a wife explains she misses the time they used to share on Saturday mornings together rather than complaining, “You never show concern for my needs.” Or, when a husband explains he is feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities, he may get a better reaction than if he criticizes his wife for “not doing enough.”

One problem with the pattern of criticism is that it creates such negative interactions and feelings that each partner begins to lose hope that the relationship can work well. “Pessimism begets more pessimism until divorce seems inevitable,” says Hagelin, adding that those with divorced parents or parents who served as poor marriage role models are especially likely to fall into this trap.

As a reminder, Gottman’s other tips for fighting in a more positive manner include:

  • Bringing up the problem in a soft, not harsh manner
  • Presenting issues with more positive and less negative demeanor
  • Accepting influence from your spouse
  • Repairing the interaction when it becomes negative
  • Being willing to compromise
  • Using humor in problem solving (joking around can relieve tension)

More than just changing the way you criticize your partner, the key is to give your spouse and your marriage more marital optimism. “New research shows that the happiest of marriages reflect an overall positive attitude about the goodness of the other person and the marriage itself—even as the couple works to resolve conflicts,” says Hagelin.

So, for example, when your spouse does something less than agreeable, it means giving them the benefit of the doubt that they still have good motives and believing that your relationship is basically sound even if you’re upset about that action. Yes, it also means being forgiving and loving even in these situations.

It’s interesting to me that when I choose to let something go and believe that my spouse didn’t mean to upset me, I often later can’t remember the reason I was so mad. I just remember that I decided to change my attitude about it, and when needed I address it with him when I’m feeling less angry.

Gottman has stressed that focusing on the positive in our relationship is much more important than hashing out our conflicts, because 69 percent of conflicts in marriage are unresolved, as in personality differences or competing needs. Do what you used to love doing together, focus on your partner’s strengths, build your friendship, be kind and loving (even when you don’t feel like it), foster and make time for intimacy—these are all ways to keep positive feelings for each other and for the relationship growing.

How do you feel when you are on the receiving end of criticism? How would you prefer to receive this kind of information? Do you have any room for improving how you criticize your spouse? Do you focus more on what your spouse does well, or what s/he doesn’t do well?

Photo by PhotoXpress.com

The Boomerang Effect

The all-too-common cycle of negative communication is similar to a boomerang, says marriage coach Richard Nicastro, PhD. When one partner throws out criticism, the result is usually criticism returned. That’s because criticism makes people feel defensive and uncomfortable, so the natural response is to find something to criticize back.

Nicastro says he noticed during coaching sessions that when one partner took a different tack, and responded with something compassionate or kind, the negativity weakened. Occasionally, a kindness was even returned.

Interestingly, few couples notice these patterns while they are occurring, even though they may sound obvious. They don’t understand the power of the boomerang effect—that what you send out will eventually come back to you.

The solution: Make a conscious effort to send out positive energy and to use kinder words, even when you’re faced with criticism. Be warned that it may take some time to change long-term cycles of hostility or negative communication. Nicastro says most people give in too quickly and resort to old patterns or to withdrawal.

His other warning says don’t merely act kind to get a kindness returned, as your partner will probably sense this, and the results will be weakened.

Once you’ve made it a habit, keep up your efforts of sending positive messages even when things are going well.

I’ve sometimes felt myself becoming very defensive from criticism, particularly on hot-button issues like mothering. Do you find it difficult to respond to criticism in a calm, kind manner?

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