If you have a tendency to “fire” at your partner when you talk and to “reload” by thinking of the next thing to say when you listen, then this point is for you. If you are not saying anything, it doesn’t mean that you are listening. Next time you listen to your partner during an argument, try to put your own thoughts on hold and concentrate on what she or he is saying. You might be surprised to find out that you don’t really need to fire back.
Try to avoid old history that is usually loaded with phrases like “But a month ago you did this to me on vacation and then again at your parents’ place.” Collecting the evidence against your partner and using it during fights will only escalate the conflict. It is especially important not to bring up the past when one or both of you are angry. If you are holding a grudge from the past, ask your partner to talk about it (on a alter date) when both of you are calm and your conversation will not be complicated by any other issues.
One of the best ways to put someone on the defensive is to threaten them with consequences. Even if they give in to your threat, they will probably hold it inside and will return you the favor one way or another. Intimidating your partner is not a way to bring peace to your family. Examples of threats in relationships are: “If you refuse to be romantic with me, other men will”, “If I can’t provide you with the lifestyle you want may be you should think whether I am the right man for you.” If you have caught yourself making a threat, it is not too late to stop and say something like: “I shouldn’t have threatened you, how about we sit down and talk about it calmly.”
Saying something like: “I can’t believe your childish behaviour back at the party” will make your partner feel worthless and as a result resentful of you. Labeling your partner with words like “lazy”, “stupid”, “crazy”, “bitch”, or “jerk” will not make it better either. If you want to give negative feedback to your partner, address their behaviour and not their character. Saying something like: “It made me feel uneasy when you corrected my grammar in front of Sam, can we talk about it” will get you much farther than “You are crazy if you think that I am going to allow you to humiliate me in public.”
- “You never bring me flowers” is a “You” message
- “I miss the times when you were bringing me flowers” is an “I” message
- “You always criticize me” is a “You” message
- “I think it is unfair that you criticize me so often” is an “I” message
You need to remember that even though “I” messages can be very powerful, if used without other aspects of effective communication might not give you the desired response.
Uncross your arms, lean slightly towards your partner, look him or her in the eye, and nod while you are listening to acknowledge that you are paying attention and not preparing a counterattack (yes, even if you don’t agree with what they are saying, nod occasionally while listening).
As you probably know, your partner does not have the gift of reading your mind, no matter how much they love you. Look at your partner and say clearly what you need at the moment. “I am tired from the commute, I need to take a shower and then I’ll help you in the kitchen.” If you need something and you don’t let your partner know, your needs will not be satisfied and sooner or later you will feel resentful.