For the last four days, we’ve been exploring how to navigate solvable and unsolvable relational problems. If you can master this process, you’ll ward off the slide into the emotional and physical distance that couples fall into when they aren’t careful to respect the differences between them and to protect their process of communication about those differences.
Let’s face it: there’s no one else on this earth whose regard of you means more to you than your partner’s. That’s why you can have the same conversations with other people without getting into the emotional wrangling that you do with your partner. Take care to maintain and communicate that you highly regard your partner at all times, especially when your emotions are elevated and you don’t really feel it. This moment will pass, and you’ll return to your feelings of good will, if you manage this process carefully.
Let me summarize–with charts–what we’ve covered so you have it all in one place.
Identify Whether the Problem is Solvable
First of all, identify whether your concern is solvable or not. This is a critical step, because if you try to solve an unsolvable problem, you will set up the conversation–and ultimately your relationship–for failure.
Slow Down: Attitude Adjustment
If you decide your problem is solvable, you may still need some time to slow down for an attitude adjustment before you address the issue. It’s not worth making it worse with poor communication competencies. When you’re ready to express your concern responsibly, keep in mind these big ideas:
|Soft Start-up||Criticize||Complain Responsibly|
|Repair and De-escalation||Harbor or Show Contempt||Cultivate Appreciation|
|Accepting Partner’s Influence||Defend Yourself||Accept Responsibility|
|Accept One Another|
|Soothe Self (and Other?)|
Attentive Listening Skills
When your attitude is sufficiently adjusted, use active, attentive listening skills to navigate the conversation together, as follows:
|1. Express concern responsibly (own your feelings without expecting receiver to fix them)||2. Listen carefully for the feelings expressed|
|3. Focusing on the speaker’s feelings, mirror back to speaker what you hear, in as many of speaker’s words as possible – no interpretations allowed.|
|4. Ask, “Did I get it?”|
|5. Affirm that receiver has heard you correctly, or repeat your concerns.|
|6. Repeat steps 3 – 5 until speaker feels understood.|
|7. Ask, “Is there more?”|
|8. Repeat steps 1 – 5, until all is understood. Affirm that you feel understood.|
|9. Summarize what you heard. Ask, “Did I get it?”|
|10. Affirm that the receiver has heard you correctly, or make any corrections needed using steps 1-9.|
|11. Ask, “How can I help with that?”|
|12. Identify non-negotiables and areas of flexibility.|
|13. Take a break||13. Take a break|
|14. Repeat Steps 1-12, reversing roles||14. Repeat steps 1-12, reversing roles.|
Remember, when you switch roles, the second speaker’s job isn’t to respond to the concerns of the first speaker. (That may be a different conversation.) S/he is only to express his/her own feelings about the topic. That way, the feelings of both partners are treated as equally important. Good communication and effective relational dynamics does not mean trying to do whatever you can to get the other to calm down, relax or be less anxious. That would be like focusing on a stuffy nose when the problem is pneumonia; be careful not to confuse symptoms with causes or you’ll find flimsy solutions that won’t hold over time, and may even exacerbate the problem.
If you identify your current concern as a perpetual (unresolvable) one, adjust your mindset to only get to know your partner better. When you’re able to simply be present with your partner, dive in as follows:
|Identify Unsolvable Problems||Try to Solve Unsolvable Problems|
|Resolve NOT to Solve Them!|
|Identify the Dream, Values Hidden in the Conflict|
|Talk – with Active Listening Skills|
|Identify Areas of Flexibility|
|Accept On-going Conflict|
|Say “Thank You”|
I know…easier said than done. But being careful now is a lot better than the long, slow bleed or emotional hemorrhage that leads to divorce–the inevitable end to a badly managed process, when one or both partners don’t engage in an equal and mutual effort to cultivate the conditions in which relationships thrive.
Fight respectfully, or kiss your relationship goodbye.