We have been duped! “Happily ever after” has been made out to be something that happens magically when you’re in love. People don’t tell you how much work it takes to understand one another in everyday life. No one mentions how difficult it can be to set aside your own opinions to truly hear your partner’s opposing view. And no one prepares you with the necessary skills, such as how to express emotions without hurting your partner or how to calm your emotions so they don’t distort reality and blind you when communicating with your partner.
If you think that you’re always going to feel loving toward your partner just because you love them, you are in for a rude awakening! What happens when you adamantly disagree with a decision they make or an investment that you think jeopardizes your financial security? Now, that requires some very skillful conversations—or fights begin to ensue.
Over the last two decades, I’ve met with hundreds of couples. Rarely does a couple come in and talk about what they love about each other. Why? Because they let things build up for far too long!
In marriage and partnership, it’s easy to slip into bad habits that can soon begin to tank the relationship. Even after 36 years of a very happy marriage, when I allow my attention to focus on little irritations too much (instead of on the things I admire and love about my husband), it doesn’t take long before I’m feeling a slight distance or friction between us.
In that moment, I’ve learned to stop myself and bring to mind all the amazing qualities he has, the incredible support he gives me, and all the ways we enrich each other’s life. Is this mind shift easy when I feel like griping and lashing out? Nope. It takes practice. To make a marriage stronger, a couple needs better communication skills and a willingness to resolve differences. And it requires making a choice to love when it’s not easy.
For more information on controlling anger, how to identify feelings, or how to balance your emotions for more love, head over to our course-store.
How to Communicate Better by Resolving Conflict
Here are some truths about love and relationship!1) Love is a choice made moment by moment. Every minute, we can choose to respond critically or seek to understand. Every day, we can choose to nag our partner or encourage them. Every interaction is an opportunity to choose the higher road of love. And when we make this daily loving a commitment, it becomes a habit that feeds the relationship and strengthens safety and trust.
2) We create the quality of our relationship. Many clients list the many things they don’t get from their partner: attention, validation, time, support, etc. When I ask how they would rate themselves in those areas, they admit somewhat sheepishly how dreadful they are in the same areas. We must match what we expect from our partner. If you don’t feel heard, try listening. If you don’t feel respected, look for ways you’re being disrespectful. This is some of the best marriage advice I give to my clients who come to me for support.
3) It's part of being human to have differences that spark disagreements.
No matter how sweet a relationship is or how deep our love, there will be bumps and bruises. We each live in a private, complex, and very personalized universe. It takes consistent effort to build strong bridges of understanding and see things from another person’s perspective. Building better communication skills is like building muscles. We must consistently work at the skill to see improvement. When we practice a new way long enough, it is integrated and becomes a natural part of our interactions.
4) Don't believe everything your mind tells you! When you feel misunderstood and start doubting how much your partner cares about you, ask yourself, “How true is this? Are there other ways they show me that they care?” Find evidence of caring and keep them securely in the forefront of your mind.
For instance, when I was first married, I felt like my husband didn’t care because he didn’t compliment me or respond as expressively as I thought he should. Turns out I was missing the many ways he did show me he cared: putting gas in my car, listening to me attentively, stroking my hair, supporting my goals, being happy to see me when I came home, to name just a few. But I was watchdogging the compliment aisle and totally missed the ways he showed that he cared. We’ll find whatever we look for.
5) I am responsible for my needs getting met. It’s an illusion that anyone is a mind-reader. When you hear yourself saying, “Why can’t my partner just ...,” stop and ask yourself what it is you want. It’s easy to complain, but much more effective to actually determine what we want and ask for it!
Here's my best marriage advice
- Keep your attention on the positive! To be successful in a relationship, we must build muscles to keep our attention in the right place. There might always be little things that bug us about our partner, like their messiness or spending or sarcasm. We are human and imperfect.
This is not a Pollyanna concept. The brain will find whatever you look for. Why not find the gold in the relationship instead of the rubbish? Spotlighting the positive in our spouse can become a habit. When we consciously redirect from the negative to the positive, many more opportunities arise that bring fun, closeness, and understanding. And when you need to resolve a conflict, there will be plenty of goodwill in your emotional bank account with them!
- Address issues lovingly and respectfully, in a timely way. Sometimes it really is necessary to have a heart-to-heart talk. Many couples bury their conflicts or push aside unpleasant feelings toward their partner, until the negativity builds up and begins to eat away at the relationship.
The longer you wait to handle issues, the more the negative feelings build and distort your view of your partner’s behavior. Conflicting emotions interfere with effective communication so get in touch with what is bothering you and then speak to your partner. Clear the air whenever necessary, and reaffirm love and understanding!
Conflict resolution quickly clears the static out of relationships and creates a foundation for healthy relationships.
So next time your relationship seems harder than it’s worth, dig deep, then identify and recall what’s really important to you.
Every moment is a choice to love. Love doesn't just happen.
Seek to understand rather than to change the person you love.
Honor their differences and find the gifts their unique qualities have come to teach you. Then your relationship will blossom, and every conflict will become just one more opportunity for understanding and closeness.
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