Tip #1: Take responsibility
- “What can I do?”
- ?Stop and think about your own role in the argument. What are you saying, (and almost always more importantly) how are you saying it? You play a critical role in the conflict. Take accountability for the things that you say, and how you say them, and realize that if your first priority is to be understood and listened to, you are going about this the wrong way. Your first priority needs to be listening and helping your partner to feel understood and reassured that you have heard what their message was – more on this in Tip #2. Then, and only then, after you have reflected your partner’s feelings back to them, and given them the validation that they were seeking in the first place, can you move on to the second priority, expressing your own thoughts and feelings.
Tip #2: Listen and reflect back your partner’s message before giving “air-time” to your own
- “How do I do this?”
- No matter what your partner is saying to you, no matter how attacked you feel in the moment, you can choose to take control of the conversation by letting your partner finish, and summarizing what their message was. Ex: “That was really difficult for me to hear, but I did hear you. I heard you say that when I check my phone while we are supposed to be spending quality time together, you feel like I don’t care about you, or that I’m not interested in you. Is that right?” When our partners hear us give them validation for their message, when they receive reassurance that you are being 100% present with them in the moment, and they now feel that you have heard them, chances are they will begin to “down regulate” or become calmer. After you have reflected their feelings and their message, you can now express your own feelings in a respectful, calm, and genuine way.
Tip #3: Pay attention to the language being used
- “What am I supposed to say then?”
- Let’s first identify the language that you should avoid using. Anything that would objectively be considered criticizing, such as,
Tip #4: Pay attention to your tone of voice
- “If I change my tone of voice, aren’t I compromising the message I’m trying to send?”
- When we get into a fight with our partner, our tone of voice plays a big role in activating their emotional responses. The best way to fail at getting your message across is to accompany your language with a critical and disrespectful tone of voice. Your partner isn’t going to listen to what you have to say when they are feeling judged and attacked by your tone of voice. Instead, be an effective communicator by self-soothing your own emotions before speaking your first word. Provide your partner the safety of delivering your message with a respectful and calm tone of voice. While it may feel “forced” at first, it is certainly not inauthentic as you are still staying on message – because you’re utilizing tip #3 and minding your choice of words!
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.
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