Clean up your communication with your partner.
Couples can develop some bad communication habits with each other. These modes of speaking contribute to estrangement, isolation, and the feeling of living with an adversary.
Since your partner is the one person out of three billion you chose to spend the rest of your life with, it makes sense to learn some basic communication skills to preserve your connection. They don't require much effort, and my experience is that changing these negative habits into positive practices can significantly improve the atmosphere in your home. I call it marital hygiene.
Here's how to have a happy relationship by learning proper communication techniques especially when sh*t gets hard.
1. Say what you want, not what you don't want.
Many of us have a hard time saying what we want directly as if we're not entitled to ask for what we want. But we do want things, and sometimes we cope with our discomfort by asking for them in the form of a criticism.
Here are some examples (with a suggested improvement in parentheses):
- "I want you to stop micromanaging me." ("I want you to trust me to make decisions.")
- "I wish you would quit showing up late all the time." ("I like it when you come at the time we agreed upon.")
- "I don't like it when you don't tell me where you're going." ("I relax when I know where you'll be.")
2. Replace "but" with "and."
This deceptively simple practice will go a long way toward avoiding the tit-for-tat arguments that often pass for communication within couples. Listen to the difference between "I understand what you're saying, but I feel..." versus "I understand what you're saying, and I feel..."
It's subtle, but that shift contributes to a greater feeling of win-win cooperation, rather than win-lose, one-of-us-has-to-be-right-and-the-other-wrong competition.
3. Don't pollute a compliment with a negative qualifier.
Sometimes we ruin a perfectly nice compliment with a totally unnecessary negative qualifier. Listen to these comments and see if you can detect the offending word. Better yet, imagine yourself on the receiving end of these "compliments," and you'll immediately detect the problem.
Our brains are wired to pick up on danger, so we'll almost always hear — and remember — the negative, while the positive message gets lost as our brain screams, "Warning! Danger!":
- "I'm glad you finally got me something I like for my birthday."
- "It's nice you actually cleaned up the kitchen when you were done cooking."
- "It really felt good when you touched me for once."
Josh Gressel, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay area and a student of Jewish mysticism. He is the author of Embracing Envy: Finding the Spiritual Treasure in Our Most Shameful Emotion.
This article was originally published at Psychology Today. Reprinted with permission from the author.