(This is a guest post by R.Deighton & S. Bird)
Relationships can often be confusing especially in times of stress and conflict.
Luckily, there are things that can be learnt which enable each partner to make a positive contribution to the relationship and increase relationship and overall life satisfaction.
There are four main “activities” that people in satisfying relationships are constantly working towards.
JOINING – Connecting with your partner through expressing, sharing etc.
SUPPORT AND CARING – Being there for your partner when they need you.
ALLOWING VULNERABILITY – Showing sides of yourself that you might not choose to show anyone.
BOUNDARY SETTING – Sometimes saying “no”, or “too much”, or “not enough”.
All of these things need to be done in the spirit of equality, reciprocity, and acceptance.
What can you do?
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”.
2. Feeling statements (verbal emotional expression)
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”.
3. Behaviour requests
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!”
4. Active Listening
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?”
5. Acknowledgement, Thankfulness and Compliments
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.
6. Showing affection & feelings
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.
What doesn’t help?
You-statements / Accusations
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”.
Hostile / aggressive communication
This happens when one partner communicates with a domineering or demanding demeanour. It may have the intent of hurting the listener.
Distancing Gestures / Avoidance
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.
What does this all mean?
Getting to know your own individual patterns of behaviours in relationships can be an important way of improving relationship satisfaction.
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.
Are you satisfied with your relationship?”
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.