If you want to restore love and intimacy with your partner, tell him or her what you need to feel more satisfied with your relationship in a positive way. Give them the benefit of the doubt with a focus on listening to their perspective and showing empathy rather than trying to prove a point.
Unfortunately, Sydney and Michael, both in their mid-forties and raising young two children, are typical of many couples caught in a negative spiral of relating after ten years of marriage.
Sydney laments, “I’ve been trying to get Michael to listen to me but it’s not working. He always needs to be right. We just seem to have the same fights over and over again.”
Michael responds, “Sydney loves to criticize me and she’s never satisfied. We don’t spend time together because she’s always working or shopping. She tends to point out my faults and forgets that I am trying to be the best person I can be. I can never do enough to please her.”
Michael and Sydney’s struggle is a common one experienced by couples in my counseling practice. They have not learned the art of giving each other constructive feedback and they both tend to focus on proving they’re right rather than on being happy.
Eight Steps to help you stop trying to prove a point:
- Do not blame, criticize, or show contempt for your partner. Talking about specific issues will reap better results than attacking him or her. For instance, a complaint is: “I’m upset because you didn’t tell me about spending money on new clothes. We agreed to be open with each other and money is tight right now.” Versus a criticism: “You never tell me the truth. How can I trust you?” Avoid defensiveness and showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm, etc.).
- Starting a conversation with a soft and curious tone such as, “Could I ask you something?” will lessen your partner’s defensiveness. John Gottman reminds us that criticism is extremely damaging to a marriage and that talking about specific issues with a soft approach will reap better results.
- Avoid character assassinations. Don’t attack your partner’s character, values, or core beliefs. Remember that anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration so stop and reflect on your own emotions. Listen to our partner’s side of the story instead of focusing on your counterargument. Validate their perspective first – then share your viewpoint. When you feel like attacking your partner, ask yourself: what am I trying to accomplish?
- Don’t make threats or issue ultimatums. Avoid saying things you will regret later. Being vulnerable with your partner can make you feel exposed but it is an important ingredient in a trusting, intimate relationship. You may have created a psychological armor since childhood due to being hurt or judged but this might not serve you well as an adult. Be assertive yet open in your attempts to negotiate for what you want from your partner.
- Avoid trying to prove a point and examine your part in a disagreement. Listen to your partner’s requests and ask for clarification on issues than are unclear. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings. Engage in a conversation with your partner that is productive rather than shutting down or criticizing him or her.
- Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements that tend to come across as blameful – such as “I felt hurt when you purchased the car without discussing it with me” rather than “You are so selfish; you never think of what I need.”
- Take a short break if you feel overwhelmed or flooded. This will give you both time to calm down and collect your thoughts so you can have a more meaningful dialogue with your partner. Author David Akiva, encourages couples to develop a Hurt-Free Zone Policy which is a period when criticism is not allowed between partners. Without it, couples usually feel less defensive and as a result, feelings of hurt and rejection dissolve within 3 to 4 weeks.
- Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Rather than focusing on your partner’s flaws, try spending your energy fostering a deeper connection. Avoid building a case against your partner. Instead, express positive feelings and gestures of love often and become skilled at demonstrating acceptance and gratitude in your words and actions.
Get Good at Repair Skills
Studies show that productive arguments can actually help couples stay together. Happy couples know how to have fruitful disagreements and “recovery conversations.” A “recovery conversation” is a way of talking about a fight after both people have calmed down, are less defensive, and can appreciate his or her partner’s point of view. Partners focus on how they feel in the present and avoid blaming each other using “I” statements rather than “You” statements to express their thoughts and feelings.
A recovery conversation will help you to recover after an argument and prevent issues from festering. It will also lessen any tendency you might have to focus on your partner’s flaws because it emphasizes collaboration and respect rather than simply giving corrective feedback to your partner or trying to prove that you are right.
There is evidence that differences between partners can be complimentary. That they are advantageous and don’t create a hindrance to the relationship. Instead, they contribute to its growth. When each partner approaches one another as an equal, working through conflict can nourish rather than drain a relationship. Both individuals in a relationship deserve to get some (not all) of their needs met.