(This is a guest post by R.Deighton & S. Bird)
All of these things need to be done in the spirit of equality, reciprocity, and acceptance.
Here are 6 concrete behaviours that help:
Use the word “I” to express your feelings, beliefs and values.
This ensures you are non-judgemental and keep to your own perspective. E.g. “I found your tone quite harsh” as opposed to “You were screaming at me”.
This involves acknowledging, describing, and owning your emotions towards your partner.
E.g. “I know it might be irrational, but I felt really scared you would leave me when you said you were angry”.
Sometimes in relationships, there will be things that make us uncomfortable or even distressed. In such situations, making a respectful request is important.
E.g. “It would help me if you would let me find my own solution” as opposed to “Stop making smart suggestions!”
All of the above-mentioned statements will only work if the person being spoken to listens well. This needs to be done with openness, putting one’s own needs aside and making a genuine effort to understand the other’s perspective.
This can be done by:
- Giving the other time to talk, being silent, showing you’re listening
– Tentatively paraphrasing or asking questions that help understand the other’s perspective: E.g. “So you’re saying that you’re annoyed at what I said as you took it as a criticism? Why did you think it was a criticism?”
Use statements that share appreciation of each other, and show care by expressing that appreciation.
Although, they can be hard to express in times of conflict, breaking through this barrier by “saying it anyway” can bring rich rewards of improved relationship satisfaction levels.
Appreciation, love and positive feelings also need to be shown non-verbally, such as in kisses, hugs and smiling eye contact, allowing oneself to cry in front of the other partner.
The opposite of an I-statement, this type of statement involves “finger pointing” towards the partner involving the word “you”, often in an accusatory or critical way, and often as a generalisation (“you’re always…”).
E.g. “You need to stop acting this way”, “You’re always wrong”, “You said that because you were angry”.
This happens when one partner communicates with a domineering or demanding demeanour. It may have the intent of hurting the listener.
Verbal or non-verbal communication that intentionally separates yourself, emotionally or physically, from your partner.
E.g. leaving as they enter a room or if you wish to avoid discussing something important you might abruptly change the topic of conversation.
A good way of doing this is by keeping a record of your own behavior, which encourages self-reflection and positive behavior change.
This is a common and very effective strategy used in many psychological interventions.
If you wish to discover what helps and hinders your relationship, the following study asks you and your partner to log your relationship activities based on the above lists of helpful and unhelpful behaviours.