I don’t even know who you are anymore!
How could you do this to me!
The holidays are coming again. And that means family
For some, these are great times.
For others, it means a lot of fighting and miscommunication with their partner.
Some relationships will make it through the holidays, on into 2019 and beyond.
As a Gottman-trained therapist, I see a significant uptick in couples seeking counseling just before the holidays and then a flood after the holidays (around Valentine’s Day). For most relationships, they are experiencing “death by a thousand cuts” and there have been issues chipping away for years.
Here are 9 tips that can help you strengthen or even save your relationship. Over the next several weeks I’ll be unpacking each one and explaining them in greater depth.
– Just like a 401k the earlier and the more often you invest, the better off you are. Spend time together regularly! At least 15 minutes a day keeps the divorce lawyers away. Make sure you connect emotionally in order to keep your romantic and physical “accounts” secure. Use what the Gottman’s call a Stress Reducing Conversation.
Speak the Same Language
– Know about the 5 Love Languages and which one both you and your partner speak. We all express love in 1 of 5 ways – Gifts, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Physical Affection and Words of Praise. So often what I see are couples that are speaking different love languages. It’s not that you need to ditch your primary love language and learn a whole new one. But knowing which ones mean the most to your partner and using that one a bit more will go a long way.
Watch for the Apocalypse
– Watch for the 4 Horsemen! The Gottman’s through their research in the Love Lab in Seattle, WA have figured out the 4 negative communication skills that we all use. They call them the 4 Horsemen. They are: 1. Criticism 2. Defensiveness 3. Contempt 4. Stonewalling. Know which ones you use the most and work to get rid of them. Instead try to use these more – 1. Soft Startups 2. I Statements 3. Open-ended questions 4. Listening to understand. You can find out more in the Gottman’s book – The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work
– Emotional Flooding or Fight/Flight Phenomenon happens at 95 BPM. Once we hit this point, we really struggle to communicate effectively and it will usually go better if everybody takes a timeout to self-regulate and calm down for 30 minutes. The best timeouts are the ones that are communicated openly.
– How well do you know your partner? If you were on the Newlywed Gameshow would you win that all-expense-paid trip to Turks and Caicos? There are tons of questions you can talk about with your partner to increase verbal and emotional intimacy.
Master the Repair
– Just as important as your delivery, being able to come together after an argument and repair is crucial.
– Learn the vital skill of asking for and accepting apologies. Dr. Gary Chapman has done it again! He has created a quiz that can tell you what your preferred style of apology is. Know it and your partners to improve your repair attempts.
Care for the Dominos
– Often what I see in relationships is that over time we stop caring for our relationship. We drift apart and over time we lose that verbal and emotional connection. This leads to us focusing on meeting our own needs as opposed to each others needs, typically because we feel our partner has stopped trying to meet ours. This in turn takes out the romance & passion in a relationship. Without the emotional connection and romance, the physical intimacy dies. When all of these go, Negative Sentiment Override sets in.
– I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…Unmet expectations are a dangerous thing! Save yourself a world of hurt by having simple check-ins to discuss your expectations and your partners on a given subject. Ex. What do you want Thanksgiving to look like this year?
Of course it would be great to do all of these things and make a relationship engine overhaul all at once. But at the risk of becoming a Jack of No Trades AND a Master of None, pick one or two and focus on them for a few weeks at a time before adding others in. It would be ideal to sit down together, go over the list of 9 tips and pick out one or two to target. If you do that, be sure to check out the 4 Horsemen and take care to not get defensive as you communicate about your relationship.
Check back each week as I’ll be doing a deep-dive on each of these 9 tips as well as other topics for ways to strengthen and save your relationship.
Up Next: Relationship 911 – Invest In Your Partner, Invest In Your Future