Just about anyone in a relationship can recall a time when they got into a huge fight with their partner. You shouted, and your temper flared. You didn’t talk to your partner for hours or even days.
Afterward, it might have felt like there was a vast canyon between you and your spouse that took a lot of time, effort, and energy to heal. In some cases, however, the argument — and the wound — remained, and now it’s just a problem stuck between you that you never talk about because it’s so sensitive.
Arguing is normal in every marriage, but there are ways you can learn how to communicate effectively about relationship problems that are both smarter and healthier for your relationship.
The key is using Imago relationship therapy-based communication skills to create a safe space for effective communication with your partner.
In Imago therapy, there’s an idea about marriage that there’s a space between you and your partner where your relationship “lives.” When there’s a divide there because of a fight or an issue you can’t resolve, it means that your relationship isn’t healthy. How can it be, when it’s got a proverbial hole right in the middle of it?
Here’s how to communicate effectively about relationship problems using Imago therapy-based communication skills — without pushing each other away:
1. Recognize when the time isn’t right.
Timing is crucial in deciding when you should try to discuss an issue with your partner. If you approach them when they’re not feeling well, then chances are good that you’re not going to get their best, most attentive self.
One of the easiest ways to circumvent this problem is to ask if it’s a good time for them to talk or even to make an “appointment” for you and your spouse to shut out distractions and discuss the situation, even if it means holding it off until tomorrow.
By reaching out and creating this time together, you’ll make sure that you’re both being respected, you’re on the same page, and nothing is cutting into your important discussion. You also won’t let anything else distract you.
2. Use “I” language instead of “you” language.
No one wants to feel as though their conversational partner is attacking them. Even if the anger or hurt is completely justified, there are ways to discuss the problems calmly and without accusation. After all, you don’t really want your conversation to escalate into a fight — you just want to get your point across.
Using “you” language like, “You shouldn’t have done that” or “You upset me” will quickly make your partner feel as though they’re coming under fire. They’ll raise their defenses, and they may shut out your argument — no matter how valid it is.
When approaching your spouse, use “I” or “me” language, instead of “you” for more effective communication based on Imago therapy techniques.
“You made me feel stupid when you corrected me in front of my friends,” becomes, “When you corrected me in front of my friends, it made me feel stupid.”
“You were mean when you told that joke about me,” becomes, “I didn’t like it when you told that joke. It hurt my feelings.”
By approaching the conversation gently and without accusation, your partner will be more open to understanding where you’re coming from, and be less likely to get defensive.
3. Own what you’ve done wrong in the past.
In your relationship, it’s likely that one of you is going to be the one who withdraws from conflict while the other pursues it. Each of you has a default behavior when it comes to resolving conflict.
The minimizer will withdraw when the maximizer becomes “too emotional.” This is an unhealthy communication style that unbalances your relationship. It limits your ability to share your true self and makes you both feel stunted and unsupported.
If you can’t talk to your partner because they withdraw, or they feel like they can’t talk to you because you get too emotional, you’ll never be able to resolve differences and will instead resort to stuffing problems aside and growing resentful over their inability to hear you.
Instead, say, “I know I’ve said this to you before, and you’re probably tired of hearing it, but I want to try again in a very different way. Can we talk about it?”
You can also admit that you know your words may have come off as accusatory. Owning your past behavior will give your partner the chance to drop their defenses and really listen to what you want to say.
4. Understand that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.
What you say may have less impact on a person than how you say it, no matter how old they are.
There are many theories about the percentage of speech that’s derived from body language, but experts have estimated that as much as 60 percent of communication is in non-verbal cues, like your posture, facial expressions, and eyesight.
What that means is you can say the same thing in very different ways, and the way your spouse interprets your words can change based on how you behave — not just what you say.
When you share a discussion with your spouse, pay attention to your body language and tone. Speak kindly and without anger. Make sure you‘re not moving angrily or jabbing fingers at your partner.
“It would really mean a lot to me if you could start helping with the dinner dishes,” might sound one way if you make eye contact, keep an open posture, and speak kindly. On the other hand, that same statement can take on quite a different connotation when your voice is sharp, your body faces, and your foot angrily taps on the floor. Keep your non-verbal cues as even-keeled as possible so that your partner will feel receptive to your words.
Using these simple tips in your relationship can help you speak openly and honestly with your partner. Imago techniques will help you improve your relationship in ways you’ll never think possible!
Originally written by Christine Petrik on YourTango.
Featured Photo by Cody Black on Unsplash.