Tag Archives: improve communication

Why Arguments Spiral Out of Control in Relationships

When you are in the heat of an argument, your brain seems to be fixed on “hot,” doesn’t it? It’s not just you.

Your brain clusters memory by emotions, explained a recent article by SmartRelationships.org. What this means is that when we are sad, all we can recall at that moment are sad memories. When we are angry, we can only recall moments when we were angry. When we are happy, we recall only happy memories. “This explains why arguments can so easily descend into a long list of past offenses.”

You’ve been there, right? During the disagreement, you can’t remember all the good reasons you married your spouse. You can’t access your positive feelings. This is why saddle bagging (bringing up old hurts and conflicts) is so common. You suddenly have access to all these negative memories that were hidden to you before the argument.

What can you do to counter this tendency? Waiting a little while to allow yourself to gain perspective can help you return to a happier place where you can access positive memories again.

This concept of memory clustering is a relatively new concept for me, and one I think we would do well to remember ourselves and to educate others about when they are in conflict, especially older kids and teens. “Let them know that when it seems like the end of the world, it’s only the brain being unable to access memories from a different emotional state,” according to SmartRelationships.org.

What this has to do with is developing resilience and emotional intelligence in your marriage. Sometimes you have to “unstick” your mind by focusing on something else, or by being willing to step away until you are calm. You can help increase resilience in your marriage by offering care and support and by developing a better ability to manage strong feelings and impulses.  You can only control your own reactions and behavior.

Remember that if you both didn’t care so much you wouldn’t be as upset as you are about your differences. After calming down, take time to listen and focus on effective communication (not just getting your point across). Focus on your goal of working through the issue toward better understanding for the future, rather than focusing on “winning” the argument.

What goes through your mind during the heat of an argument? Is this issue of memory clustering harder for you or your spouse to get past?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Photo courtesy of Liz Noffsinger/Freedigitalphotos.net.

How Wives Can Learn to Speak the Language of Men & Get Their Attention!

Of course all men do not speak alike. My brother, for instance, uses sports analogies in business: “This is a slam dunk!” Meanwhile, my husband has minimal interest in or connection to sports. However, there is a common communication thread with most of the men I know, and Scott Haltzman, MD, puts his finger on this commonality in his book The Secrets of Happily Married Women. In the book, he suggests wives need to learn to speak the language of men, which he calls Man-ese. (It’s just one of the interesting secrets I learned about when reading this book.)

Dr. Haltzman says men tend to be very direct and objective. They make their point, then they’re done. Think about a high-level business meeting and how everyone tries to communicate only the key nuggets of information. Women, meanwhile, are more subjective talkers who enjoy discussing feelings and details of daily events, storytelling, context, etc. (Yep, that’s me.) For women, this type of conversation doesn’t lack purpose. However, men who are listening may not be able to remain focused for the entire length of the conversation, even if they try.

Blame it on biology. Dr. Haltzman says the male brain is just not set up for what we are seeking, and that women should not expect their man to talk like a woman. Instead, happy couples should respect their communication differences.  I hear some of you saying, “But my sweetheart used to listen to me for hours and ask me all about my day. Now he doesn’t seem to show the same level of concern.” Again, blame it on biology. During the dating phase, Dr. Haltzman says dopamine and norepinephrine are at their highest levels, making us more talkative and more focused on others’ interests. As the relationship proceeds, the hormone levels fall, along with the constant in-depth communication. (However, you can boost those hormones by participating in new and exciting activities.)

What’s the solution? Wives can usually sense the body language that dear hubby is tired or losing interest. Use the “Talk Less” strategy to get your point across rather than criticizing him for not talking enough or not listening well enough. Here’s how it works:

1. Put your point up front. The average female’s attention span is 15 minutes, while the average male attention is five minutes. Get your point out fast before you lose him, especially if you see his focus wandering. 

“I honestly believe that this small change in your communication style, all by itself, has the power to drastically improve your relationship with your husband, making you both oh so much happier,” says Dr. Haltzman.

2. Use fewer words. Did you ever realize that people who talk less are more closely listened to? The more you talk, the less people listen.

3. Speak in his language. Don’t meander and hint about your point. (They don’t get it.) Be simple and direct. Instead of giving all the reasons you won’t have time to make dinner, ask him to pick up take-out. When you need ice cream, a back rub or a hug, ask for it!

4. Give him time to respond. He may be thinking of the best way to respond.

5. Watch your timing. Remember that while women are natural multi-taskers (there I go generalizing again), men usually do not possess this skill. (Although my dear hubby is amazingly skilled in so many areas, he can only do one task at a time.) If you talk to your guy when he is otherwise engaged, he will probably not be able to hear you or remember your conversation at a later point. Remove distractions (including hunger) when possible.

In short, Dr. Haltzman advises being concise and direct. Then you’ll only have to make your point once.

So, do you agree with this description of Man-ese? Do you sometimes find yourself talking and not being heard? Does your sweetie sometimes miss your point entirely or forget what you asked him to do? Share your feedback if you give this “Talk Less” strategy a try.

Photo ©NiDerLander/PhotoXpress

10 Great Tips to Get Through to Your Spouse (Part II)

Continuing with our last post with tips from Dr. Mark Goulston’s book, “Just Listen,” here are six more:

Create a Transformational Moment—Much of our daily communication involves negotiation, such as who will handle what aspects of a work project, who will pick up the kids or handle dinner. To take your communication to a deeper level and hear what people are truly about, ask them a transformational question. Examples might be: What kind of influence did your father have on you? What do you love about your profession? What is something fun or important you and I should do in the next five years?

Be More Interested Than Interesting—Instead of being concerned about sounding intelligent or funny, focus all your attention on the person in front of you. Ask probing questions. Don’t tell your stories. Be interested in them. For example, ask your spouse about a recent work project or how a conflict with a friend was resolved. Then just listen. You can usually have a greater impact on someone by asking a thoughtful question and giving them the opportunity to share than by telling a great story.

Make People Feel Valued—After people feel heard, they want to feel valued, especially by their loved ones. Many spouses feel they are tolerated more than loved as the years go by. Tell your spouse how they have changed your life for the better. Tell your children how much you value them in your life.

Fill in the Blank—When you are unsure of someone’s motives or feelings, ask, “You feel that way because _______” or “You would like me to do _______.” (Say nothing with hand gesture palm up giving them the opportunity to answer.)

Power Thank You—Acknowledge a specific action that was helpful to you; note the great effort required. Tell the person (publicly if possible) what a difference this action made for you. A written letter or email is valuable to people, but a spoken power thank-you is nice.

Power Apology—A bad apology is probably worse than not apologizing at all. The proper steps include expressing remorse for the specific behavior, showing restitution, rehabilitation (not doing the bad thing any longer) and a request for forgiveness.

 Do you use any of these techniques, or do you know a great listener whose listening skills you admire?

(In case you were wondering, I received no compensation of any kind for recommending this book.)