The Power of Positive Requests

In my last newsletter we discussed the first of four communication styles that researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., identified as destructive to intimacy: defensiveness. Today we’ll be discussing a second problematic style: criticism.

Criticism, which is more often used by women then men, is the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes. Often times criticisms may be stated as a complaint, but criticisms are really veiled swipes at the perceived defects in the other party’s personality. While some people may call criticism “constructive,” I’ve never met a person (including myself) who doesn’t feel hurt by a criticism. And when people are repeatedly hurt by criticism, intimacy is eroded and relationships suffer.

For example, the statement “You never take out the trash even though I’ve asked you a million times” is a criticism because the underlying message is actually, “You’re a lazy bum and you never help out around the house.” While there might be some elements of truth in this statement, it is doubtful that it’s entirely true.

As an alternative, try this three-step approach the next time you feel triggered to criticize someone:

1. I feel… (use an actual feeling word here, such as angry, irritated, frustrated, etc.)
2. About what… (clarify what is bothering you)
3. I need… (state specifically what you would like/want and avoid stating what you don’t want)

With these steps in mind, we can restate the above criticism as follows: “I feel frustrated when you tell me that you’re going to take out the trash and you don’t follow through. I would appreciate it if you would take out the trash right now.” This request demonstrates that the person who would have otherwise criticized is able to contain his/her frustrations and deliver a respectful statement and request to the listener.

If you’re not clear about what you feel or need, talk it over with a trusted friend or a professional before delivering your new statement. Evaluate the outcome of your efforts and refine your strategy as needed. I’m hopeful that this approach will help you cultivate more meaningful and respectful relationships of all kinds.

Stay tuned for next month’s article when we discuss another intimacy-destroying tactic. Until then, be well and love one another!

The Hidden Gifts of Taking Responsibility

Last month I challenged you to take a look at the level of fulfillment you receive from your relationship and I promised that we would then turn to discussing four communication patterns that can be destructive to intimacy. So, let’s get started!

In his over forty years of marriage research, John Gottman, Ph.D., identified four distinct styles of communication that contribute to the destruction of intimacy. The first style we’re going to explore is defensiveness. Defensiveness, which can take the form of innocent victimhood or righteous indignation, is characterized by any effort to protect oneself from a perceived harm or danger. And while defensiveness may be a response to a criticism (more about criticism in the future), the defensive communicator is really saying, “I’m not to blame here” or “That’s not my fault.” It’s a sneaky tactic that allows the communicator to redirect fault.

Although it’s rarely easy in relationships, it is our job to take responsibility for our part in things. And that is exactly the antidote to defensiveness: taking responsibility. Rather than responding to a perceived threat in a defensive manner, the partner who wants to respond defensively has a golden learning opportunity. This is his/her big chance to stop, reflect on the situation, and clarify “What is my part in this exchange” or “What am I responsible for here.” You may only be responsible for a part of the problem, but that’s your part to own and focus on improving.

You may be a great communicator, but there are times when we all get defensive. So, if you find yourself wanting to respond defensively to your partner (or friend, family member, boss, etc.), stop yourself from becoming reactive and take a few minutes to examine the situation. Identify what your responsibility is in the scenario. Share your part and any improvements you are willing to make. This way you’ll work towards transforming what could have become a gigantic and painful argument into a productive conversation which can lead to greater compromise and understanding.

See you next month when we tackle another intimacy destroying tactic! Did you see the hint to it above? Until then, be well and love one another!

Is it Time for a Relationship Review?

If Valentine’s Day left you feeling disheartened, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the foundation of your relationship.

Start by checking in with yourself to see if you’re getting your needs met in your relationship. Take some time to honestly reflect on and write down the answers to the following questions:

• How do I feel when I’m with my partner?
• Does this relationship bring me happiness and joy?
• Am I attracted to my partner?
• Do I look forward to spending time with my partner?
• Am I harboring unspoken resentments about the past? If so, what are they?
• Do I withhold myself or my inner world from my partner? If so, why?
• Do I find myself thinking critically or judgmentally about my partner frequently? If so, why?

I believe the combination of a solid friendship and passion make for a successful intimate relationship. Don’t sell yourself short by skimping on one of these critical ingredients. If you’re not sure, talk it over with a friend or a professional who can give you an unbiased opinion and help you make healthy choices for yourself. Maybe there are some things you can change to improve your relationship. And maybe there aren’t. Either way, life’s too short to be stuck with someone who doesn’t bring you joy. You deserve a fulfilling connection with your partner.

Stay tuned for next month’s article which will begin a four-part series that will highlight four distinct communication strategies that are destructive to relationships. Until then, be well and love one another!

Don’t Give up on Your Goals

February has just begun and already I’m hearing people say that they aren’t keeping up with their New Year’s Resolutions.  When I ask people why they’ve given up on their goal already they usually tell me that they have become discouraged because they can’t keep up with the high bar that they have set for them self. When I hear this disappointing account, my advice is always the same: Don’t give up on your goal!  Take a step back, reevaluate and reformulate the goal to make it more achievable.  Start with smaller goals to build momentum and confidence, and work up to a harder or bigger goal.  

For example, rather than the goal of “lose 20 pounds” (which is a pretty tough goal for many people), start with a smaller and more achievable goal, like “avoid desserts three times this week”.   Observe your ability to succeed, monitor your response to achievement or struggle, and set a new goal when you’re ready.  Remember your goal may be too difficult and you may need to take a step back to ensure achievement.  A next step might be “avoid desserts twice this week” or “avoid desserts five times this week.”  Either way, you’re still working toward your bigger goal. 

Give it a try.  Think of something you’ve been wanting to accomplish but have put off or gave up on.  Determine a small step you are willing to take to get started.  Tell someone trustworthy who you will be accountable to and give your goal a try.  See if you can build momentum with small goals that will not only lead you to your bigger goal, but will increase your confidence and self-esteem as you focus on your successes rather than your failures.  

Good luck with your goal and let me know how your progress goes!