By Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt
One of the biggest reasons people get divorced or end a relationship is that they believe the awful myth that if you are unhappy or fighting a lot, maybe you are with the wrong person. That’s simply not true. The vast majority of relationships can become whole again if people just learn to talk to each other the right way.
These eight ways to improve the way we talk to each other can be practiced anytime, anywhere, no matter who you are. They’re time tested and have helped countless couples build stronger, happier bonds together. With a little effort, an open mind, and a willing heart, almost any relationship can begin to heal.
It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
Relationships are based on speech, so to heal a broken relationship, you have to start talking. However, since you’ve probably already done a lot of talking and listening, it’s clear that conversation alone isn’t enough. You have to find a new way to talk to one another, one that truly communicates and addresses needs. Both parties have to feel completely safe expressing their feelings in an environment that is free of criticism or judgment. Learning how to have safe conversations is the only way to fully connect despite your differences.
Learn how to listen instead of judge.
When our partner talks, sometimes it’s easy to stop listening and shut down. A judgmental disposition closes more doors than it opens because we stop hearing our partner. They can immediately tell and feel shut out and unseen. The next time your partner is talking, try this simple tactic the minute you feel yourself judging them. Focus as hard as you can on what they are saying, and when they are finished expressing their viewpoint, respond with, “I’m hearing you say XYZ.” This helps you focus on their words instead of judging, ensures that you are hearing their message accurately, and makes the speaker feel understood.
Identify and remove negativity.
For the next 30 days, you and your partner should take a Zero Negativity Challenge. Start learning to notice negativity right away, then reroute those thoughts into something positive. Check in with each other every day to see if you both start notice consistent triggers, and encourage one another to quickly bounce back from negative thinking. When you notice negativity, try “redoing the transaction,” or reliving the experience and mentally changing gears to become positive again.
Every night, share three things you appreciate about your partner.
Too many couples zoom in on what’s wrong, but never make the effort to step back and see what’s going well in the bigger picture. Devote some energy to finding things to appreciate about your partner. Then, find a quiet moment and ask your partner if now is a good time to share some things you appreciate about them. Look your partner in the eyes and tell them three ways you recognize their worth.
Learn the right way to ask for what you want.
So many couples ask for what they want using the wrong instruments—complaints, ultimatums, and demands. It’s much healthier to recognize frustrations as wishes in disguise. Instead of expressing only those frustrations, find a way to change the conversation by turning frustrations into gentle, considerate requests. Changing the frustration into a wish makes it easier to hear and respond to, and it’s more respectful than grumbling or barking orders.
Work through conflict with “I” statements.
Fights often begin with pointed fingers. Instead of leaning on blame, work on something we call “Sender Responsibility.” In short, rely on “I” statements rather than “you” statements. Instead of cataloguing hurts and faults, share how your partner’s behavior makes you feel. “I” language takes personal responsibility and ownership while expressing what you are going through. “You” language is accusatory and creates separation, but “I” language creates a safe space where both people are free to share honestly.
Acknowledge the other person’s view, even if you don’t agree.
Any conflict can still be productive if you acknowledge and validate your partner’s views. Fully acknowledging and proving you understand your partner’s views is the way to gain enough ground to share your own views. This creates a bridge between your two opposing realities, which can now interface without the road blocks of judgment. The ultimate goal is to have both realities find more common ground and less judgment, but acknowledgement of the opposing view is a vital first step.
Practice every day.
You can’t expect anything in a relationship to change overnight. If you get frustrated, remember to reign in negativity, focus on the positive, and recover your patience. Learning a new way to talk doesn’t happen overnight. You have to be committed to building a stronger relationship that will be happier and more fulfilling over time.
For more information about Harville & Helen, visit: safeconversations.org.
About Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt
Dr. Harville Hendrix and Dr. Helen LaKelly Hunt are the creators of Safe Conversations® | Relationships First®. Relationships First™ is hosting a one-of-a-kind relationship event on Saturday, February 11 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (CST). Talking is the most dangerous thing people do, and Safe Conversations 360 is a free full-day live and in-home workshop that will teach healthy and safe relationship skills through a variety of dynamic techniques.
While the live event will be held in Dallas, TX, Safe Conversations 360 can be seen and experienced anywhere in the world. The event will be streamed live to millions of people, allowing individuals to participate from their SmartTV, computer or tablet through special channels on Roku, YouTube and Facebook Live. Those interested can sign up for detailed instructions on how to access the live streaming and the corresponding mobile app that will serve as an interactive workbook during the event.
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