Don't despair if you don't communicate like one of Gottman's happy couples. You can learn the tricks of the trade — so to speak — says Colclough Hinson.
To see how good communications can help solve marital problems, let's consider a typical cause of friction, i.e., the wife feels her workload has become too great and she wants her spouse to help out with the kids.
Here's What You Should Do:
- Send "I" Messages. A good example is: "I'm concerned about the current state of affairs of home. Can we set aside some time to discuss our roles, responsibilities and chores around the house?" "You" statements are demanding, critical and controlling, but "I" statements are self-revealing and invite real listening and understanding, notes Colclough Hinson. When you ask to set aside a mutually agreed time to talk, you are showing sensitivity to the other's needs — now may not be the best time for him to talk. Furthermore, you both make a commitment to focus attention on the problem in the near future.
- Be Empathetic. Listen to your partner and give empathetic responses to the content of the message you're receiving. "I understand that you feel you are being taken for granted because you do most of the work with the kids. I'd like to help reduce your burden." The point is to be thoughtful about how you respond. It could be a statement of acknowledgement — "What you are saying is" an affectionate touch of the hand, or a sincere look. In short, you want to convey to your partner that you care and can see the problem through her or his eyes.
- Think It Through. Come up with a solution you both can accept. This action will reinforce shared decision-making. Be sure to discuss the obstacles that may thwart achieving the solution and develop strategies to work around them. For instance, suppose you agree to put the kids to bed three nights a week but find that you have to work late on one of your "on" nights. What will you do?
- Provide Feedback. "I really appreciate it when you put the kids to bed. I don't feel like I have sole responsibility for the care of the children." Positive feedback will encourage your partner to stick with the solution.
The next time you want to work out a problem with your spouse, consider following the steps above. They'll keep a difficult-to-have conversation from sliding into negativity — the ruin of more than one relationship.