Building relationships can be a lot of work. By doing activities that allow you to shift perspectives, enhance communication, diffuse criticism and work together more effectively, you can enhance your connection.
Individuals have a tendency to see their partner as critical if complaints are aimed at them as opposed to statements of discomfort. If one of you has a tendency to use critical statements, make a plan ahead of time to turn it into a game when it occurs. If one of you uses a harsh or blaming statement, agree to say, “perspective shift,” and see if you or your partner can turn the statement into an “I” statement that focuses on personal feelings instead of blame. If she says, “Why can’t you just do the dishes? How lazy are you?” call for a perspective shift so that she can revise the statement to, “I feel angry that you didn’t do the dishes because it makes me feel like you don’t care about my needs or appreciate how hard I work.” Turning negative phrases into a game of “I” statements reduces tension and allows couples to communicate more effectively by identifying their own feelings.
Those who learn to communicate more effectively have less trouble adjusting to the needs of their partners in the short and long term, according to research published in The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine in 2007. To improve communication, play a game with your partner where you take turns expressing something that bothers you in one sentence. As opposed to stopping at the “I" statements discussed above, let your partner take over and repeat back the information. “I hear you saying that you feel like I don't appreciate you when I forget to do the dishes.” After the message is clearly understood, let him clarify his position. “I just don’t always remember, but it isn’t a personal attack.” Then each of you take a turn identifying one thing that can be done to resolve the conflict, in this case, setting a phone reminder or finding a household job that is easier to recall.
Reframe Criticism With Humor
Criticism is a huge issue in relationships, triggering depression and marital dissatisfaction, according to research published in Behavioral Therapy. To combat critical statements and build your relationship at the same time, agree to take a time out when the statements start getting heavy and try to make the situation lighter. Using a silly code word can work wonders to diffuse tension. If your husband says, “What’s your problem? You’re acting just like your mother!” yelling “Shirtwinkle!” can put enough pause in the moment for both of you to take a breath and reassess the statement. You can also make it into a game where both of you take turns identifying one funny thing about the critical statement. “I’m acting like my mother? By that I assume you mean I make amazing cherry pie and love Marlboro Reds?” He might come back with, “No, I meant because she also thinks I’m a ridiculous horse’s behind.” Laughing at yourselves and at each other in the context of reframing criticism is a game that enhances camaraderie, diffuses tension and makes for stronger relationships.
Couples who have fun together tend to work better together. Wives in particular are happier with their relationships when housework is divided more equally, suggests research published in the American Journal of Public Health. Try turning a few evening chores into a game to avoid strain on the relationship. Turn on some music while you do the dishes together, complete with splashing if that’s your thing, to diffuse tension and get things done. Racing to see who can sweep their side of the house first also works, particularly if the prize is getting to choose the television program for the evening. Making a few household chores into a game can turn into a relationship-building game by leveling the housework playing field, reducing stress and enhancing fun during what can be monotonous activities.
- The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine: Effects of a Couple Communication Program on Marital Adjustment
- Behavioral Therapy: Perceived Criticism and Marital Adjustment Predict Depressive Symptoms in a Community Sample
- American Journal of Public Health: Husbands’ Involvement in Housework and Women’s Psychosocial Health: Findings From a Population-Based Study in Lebanon
- Jeremy Maude/Photodisc/Getty Images