Relationships are important building blocks in creating satisfying lives. Feeling emotionally connected to another human being abates loneliness and provides solace when the world becomes too harsh. Life is fraught with drama: excitement, loss, exhilaration and defeat. Because relationships themselves are a source of intense emotion, feelings of discontent can create a barrier to closeness and the relationship can become a source of stress rather than a place of comfort. Short-circuiting relationship drama can help a couple pull together to embrace and endure life’s challenges.
Respect your uniqueness as a couple. Relationships are diverse and a partnership between two individuals requires establishing intimacy, while allowing autonomy. Linguists, such as Deborah Tannen, note that different conversational styles can create misunderstandings. You share a story hoping for support that your partner "hears" as a request for advice. Collisions of style, meaning and interpretation can easily lead to frustration. Tannen points out that accepting these differences as real and equally valid can eliminate blame and improve communication.
Put your relationship first. Don't allow daily challenges to become a distraction. At the first sign of disruptive drama, you and/or your partner can raise the figurative white flag. If the commitment is to the health of the relationship, then “winning” the argument becomes far less important.
Establish ground rules. During a period of calm, easy conversation, agree that you will engage in respectful communication and both accept responsibility. If you can affirm that you are on the same team -- on the side of the relationship -- then it doesn’t matter who steps back from an argument. It’s just important that someone does it.
Agree to a "time-out" if drama escalates. Few people resolve problems when they are feeling highly emotional. It’s perfectly reasonable to take some time to calm down and re-evaluate the problem at hand.
Avoid finger pointing. When couples attack one another, it’s a clear violation of productive teamwork. Be careful not to invite friends and relatives to take sides and further inflame the situation. The best use of energy is controlling what is controllable -- and trying to control other people in relationships is likely to fail.
- If you embrace the excitement, emotion and spontaneity that inspire your relationship, it will provide the motivation to nip those disruptive dramas in the bud.
- You Just Don't Understand: Men and Women in Conversation; Deborah Tannen, Ph.D.
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