- Are you and your partner enacting a vicious cycle of arguing?
- Are you falling into old patterned habits?
- Are you refusing to change your approach because you insist that your partner is behaving unreasonably?
One of the most frequently focused on area in couples therapy is communication skills. In a perfect world, we would all know that “give and take” communication is more productive than unilaterally staking claims without taking your partner’s feedback into consideration.
Remember that you and your partner create a system, whereby each of you are thinking, feeling, and behaving in predictable or understandable ways in response to the actions of each other. Your actions and your partner’s subsequent actions make sense when considered together, as part of a system.
Once you have gained a better understanding of the negative interaction pattern, the next step is to find ways of altering the pattern to create a virtuous cycle rather than a vicious cycle. Altering the cycle can be done at any point and can start with either partner.
Change your reaction
You can alter your emotional response by soothing yourself.
- Deal with your fears about accepting your partner’s influence.
- Learn to soothe yourself.
- Learn to release your anger and distress-maintaining thoughts.
Change your perception
- Am I unfairly attributing negative intent to my partner’s actions?
- Am I acting as though my perceptions of my partner’s intent or motivation were true?
- Am I forgetting to take a moment to reflect on whether there are other ways to look at this situation?
- Am I negatively evaluating my partner based on my own feeling state, rather than on my partner’s actual intentions and desires?
- Am I not paying enough attention to the positive things my partner does?
You can alter how you perceive or interpret your partner’s actions.
- Try to understand your partner’s perspective.
- Look for alternative meanings to your partner’s behavior.
- Remind yourself that you are behaving based on your perception; perceptions are not always accurate.
- Remind yourself of the vicious cycle and determine to stop it.
Change your behaviour
- Am I attacking my partner’s personality rather than focusing on the situation that concerns me?
- Am I disrespecting my partner by talking down to her, putting him down, name-calling, or swearing?
- Am I refusing to acknowledge how I am intentionally or unintentionally impacting my partner?
- Am I refusing to engage in dialogue with my partner?
- Am interrupting my partner while he speaks or rehearsing my next point?
You can alter your reaction or response to your partner.
- Turn toward your partner instead of against him or her.
- Soften your approach.
- Reassure your partner of your love.
- Do the opposite of what your impulse is.
Change your intent
- Am I acting with negative intent toward my partner?
- Am I focused more on hurting or punishing my partner than on conveying kindness and a desire to work things out?
- If you are answering yes to any of these questions, you may want to review session 5. You can change your intent (if it is negative)
- Decide to rise above your impulses, decide you are going to be proactive not reactive.
- Remind yourself that your negative intent will harm your relationship, and thus you, as well as your partner; everyone loses.
- Ask yourself whether your immediate intent matches with your overall wants and needs for the relationship
De-escalating Your Conflict and Restoring Goodwill
- Are you forgetting to step outside of the conflict when things escalate?
- Are you and your partner escalating things by attacking each other, counter-attacking, or allowing the argument to go on and on?
- Are you not allowing yourself or your partner to take a break to give yourselves an opportunity to calm down and mentally think through how to repair the damage and get back on track?
Strengthening Your Friendship
- Am I neglecting my partner by focusing my attention on other activities?
- Am I finding ways to avoid my partner?
- Am I focusing only on the negative things I don’t like about my partner?
- Am I neglecting to express my appreciation and admiration for my partner?
- Am I not reassuring my partner of my love and affection?
- Am I taking my partner for granted?
- Am I sending the message that I cannot accept who my partner is?
- Am I losing sight of the importance of being friends over having my way?
- Am I forgetting to be as polite and courteous with my partner when he or she makes a mistake, as I am with my friends when they do?
In summary, keep the communication flowing, be willing to listen and look at your own contributions to the situation. Now that you know better, perhaps you can communicate better.
For more information about friendships and relationships the following resources may be helpful.
- The Benefits of Friendship. Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/the-benefits-of-friendship-on-a-relationship/
- Friendships: Enrich your life and improve your health. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/friendships/MH00125
- Friends Wanted: The health risks of loneliness and the benefits of strong social connections. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/01/cover-friends.aspx
- Friends and co-workers: Research offers insights into how to juggle your personal and professional relationships in research settings. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2012/01/relationships.aspx
- Intimacy: The Art of Relationships. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/196912/intimacy-the-art-relationships
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