09 March 2019 Posted By : Administrator

3 Things Couples In The Happiest Relationships Do — To Keep Things From Falling Apart

Stop having the same fight over and over and over.

Have you ever noticed that the more you try to fight fair and work things out calmly with your significant other, the worse an argument gets? Why do your positive attempts to talk things through devolve so quickly into shouting matches, silent treatment or someone storming out?

If we’re honest, most of us know what we’re supposed to do if we want to communicate more effectively with our partners: listen without judgement, use “I” statements, criticize the behaviors and not the person, etc., etc., blah, blah, blah. We all know the drill.

The problem is that most of us —even couples in happy, healthy relationships — simply don't do any of these things while we are actually in the middle of fighting.

When our partner's point of view doesn't immediately align with our own, tempers flare, feelings get hurt, defensiveness sets back in and tension escalates.

The cycle gets so painfully dysfunctional that you may sometimes wonder if it's even possible to stop your emotional, gut reactions from sabotaging your best efforts to improve communication skills and talk openly and honestly with the person you love most.

To gain some insight into this maddening dilemma, we reached out to renowned marriage and couples therapists Harville Hendrix, PhD, and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Phd for their best tips and advice.

Oprah Winfrey herself referred to Harville as the person "who's been the greatest teacher for me about validation, about the common thread and the human experience, about what we were all looking for."

The two have been married for more than 30 years, sharing six children and six grandchildren, and just released a fully updated 30th anniversary edition of their classic, New York Times best-selling book, Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples: Third Edition.

More than three decades ago, while struggling within their own marriage, they co-created a methodology known as Imago Relationship Therapy, which remains among the most respected relationship therapy techniques practiced by couples counselors all over the world to this day.

Basically, they're the GOAT (read: greatest of all time) when it comes to helping couples learn how to communicate more effectively in order to deepen their intimacy and understand of one another.

As explained on their website:

"The Latin word 'imago' — meaning 'image' — refers to the 'unconscious image of familiar love.'

"What we find is that there is frequently a connection between frustrations in adult relationships and early childhood experiences. As an example, individuals frequently criticized as a child will likely be highly sensitive to their partner’s criticism. Childhood feelings of abandonment, suppression or neglect will often arise in a marriage or committed relationship.

"When such 'core issues' repeatedly come up with a partner, they can overshadow all that is good in a relationship and leave one to wonder whether he or she has chosen the right mate."

As part of the Imago dialogue process, Harville and Helen encourage couples to stop making common mistakes such as competing within conversations or attempting to move straight into problem-solving mode. Instead, they say, you first need to establish a connection with the emotions each of you are feeling beneath the surface of the issue currently at hand.

To do this, they teach couples to move through the following 3-step process:

  • Mirroring: Listening to what your partner has to say without interrupting, disputing, or deflecting, and then repeating it back to confirm you’re understanding fully.

  • Validating: Acknowledging your partner’s point of view and the logic in what they’re saying from their perspective (you don’t have to agree with it, just acknowledge it).

  • Empathizing: Connecting to and experiencing the emotions of what your partner is saying.

All of which sounds great on paper, right? The approach is incredibly logical, healthy and mature.

But, as we all know, in the heat of an argument, egos, especially hurt ones, rarely do what’s logical, healthy or perhaps least of all … mature.

When your attempt to talk it out immediately goes off track, here are Helen and Harville's 3 best tips for using effective communication skills to halt emotional reactions and get back to active listening.

1. Take a (brief) time out

Harville says, “The only thing I’ve seen work when communication breaks down is to take a time out.”

At this point, the lower brain — e.g. the brain stem and limbic system, where your emotional reactions and threat responses occur — is activated. Couples need to create space for the amygdala to calm down so that the prefrontal cortex — or upper brain, where logic, reasoning, and empathy reside — can come back online.

Your time out should only last about 10 minutes, as it’s important to not abandon each other. Just take a brief breather, whether that’s sitting quietly, or going in separate rooms, to let one another’s brain re-balance. Then it’s time to come right back together and try again.

Helen offers a great tip here, encouraging couples to establish a code word they can say in times of conflict to signal that communication is going south and they need to change course.

The mutually agreed upon code word can be something like “ouch!” or something silly like “bananas.” When either partner says it, that’s the signal that you both need to pause immediately and let each other’s brains calm down before things get out of hand.

2. Do a quick repair

After taking a time out, resist the urge to dive right back into the conversation. Instead, do a quick repair to restore a sense of safety and connection first. Harville and Helen stress that healthy conversation can only happen in safety.

In attempting a quick repair, it’s important to know what gesture each person prefers to receive from the other, as they’ll likely be different.

“Helen is very happy with an apology,” says Harville, “but if she apologizes to me, I’m not fine. I want a behavior shift: a firm, sincere hug … maybe a compliment.”

Once those small but sincere gestures are made, reset the energy of the conversation. Harville recommends using the sentence stem “let’s redo that” which acknowledges your shared intention to communicate in a better, healthier way moving forward.

After doing this, you’re ready to step (carefully) back into the conversation.

3. Use "sentence stems"

Helen emphasizes the importance of each partner remaining in their upper brain as they re-engage in dialogue.

“In the aftermath of conflict, we say things like ‘I’m sorry, I just lost it’ or ‘I flipped my lid',” says Helen. “In a way, you really did. You lost access to your prefrontal cortex. If you want to have a healthy relationship, live in your upper brain.”

Harville and Helen say the best way to do this is to use sentence stems, an educational theory-based technique in which you essentially provide the beginning of the other person's response, allowing your partner to "initiate their responses more quickly, utilize full sentences to express their answers, and be more likely to stay on topic to structure your conversation."

Their Imago Dialogue technique provides examples of specific phrasing for sentence stems designed to keep each of your prefrontal cortexes engaged.

For example, while explaining your point of view, avoid “you statements” which put your partner on the defense back in their lower brain.

Instead use this stem: “When [blank] happens, I feel … And when I feel that, I think …”

Likewise, when mirroring back what you heard your partner say, use stems like, “Did I understand that right?” and “Am I understanding how you felt accurately?”

Another particularly safety-building stem is, “Is there more about that?”

Above all, remember that you are allies on this journey, not competitors.

When talking things through quickly turns into tearing each other down or ignoring each other altogether, the goal is to quickly shift from your lower brain back into your upper brain so that loving, transformative conversation can happen with respect, understanding and safety.

The goal, Harville and Helen say, is to “create a conscious partnership and have each other’s back.”

“You’re not just saving your relationship,” Helen says. “Learning to communicate this way helps save you, too … from the unpleasantness of losing it and getting upset. It also helps your relationships at work, your relationship with your kids. All of your relationships get better.”

Don't do it!

From the moment I moved out of my parent’s house to go to college, I realized that living with other people was not as fun as it sounds.

Through all four years of my college experience, I always lived with strangers. These roommates of mine were the sweetest people and we never had any altercations, but their living habits drove me crazy from time to time. I had to quickly learn that not everyone cares about the same things as you, including washing dishes in a timely manner or taking out the trash so the house doesn’t smell. It was beyond me that people could live in filth and be perfectly content. But because I didn’t know them, and I barely saw them except for in passing, I must admit that I was scared to offend them by asking them to be cleaner and more organized.

So, I pretty much just had to deal with their nasty habits until I decided to move. As graduation neared, I finally decided that I needed to find a new place to stay and lucky for me, some friends of mine were also looking to move. Naturally, I ended up signing a lease with one of my closest friends. I had visited her house before when she lived with someone else and since it was always tidy I had no worries about us having any issues. Little did I know just how wrong I would be.

As time went by I realized she was just like my previous roommates, but instead of just accepting this I found that I was more annoyed than ever. I just couldn’t understand how someone I spent time with on a regular basis and who seemed so organized and tidy on the outside could be so unclean on the inside. But cleanliness was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to things that bothered me, hence the reason why I believe it’s not always a good idea to live with people you know.

Here's why.


1. Their bad habits will get the best of you. 

Because they are comfortable with you, a roommate you know may not always care to change some of their bad habits. You can mention you would appreciate it if they could wash their dishes or clean up after they make a mess, but they will either not respond at all or say "OK" and then continue with the same behavior. I think it is easy for a roommate to assume that the other person will simply get over the issue and just accept that this is just who they are and how they live, similar to how they chose to become friends or close acquaintances.  


2. It can cause rifts in your friendship.

When no changes are being made, rifts are caused in your friendship. You realize that you like this person on a personal level but that living with them can start to overshadow that. It sucks when you have to ask them to clean up after themselves or to constantly remind them to pay their portion of the bills on time. You hate that you start to feel more like a parent than a friend, and they hate that you are always nagging them. 

3. They are more likely to use your things without permission.

When you know a person and are comfortable with them, they think they don't have to ask to use your things. This includes food, silverware, hair supplies or anything else they might need that you have readily available. This can cause you to be filled with pure rage as you find yourself searching for your own items and not being able to locate them. Even worse is when you ask if anyone has moved it you get told no. Usually, this same item randomly reappears at a later date. It is a never-ending cycle. 


4. They know more about your business.

Even though we don't always admit it, there are certain parts of our lives that we don't like to share, especially with people we know. So when you live with friends it makes it harder to keep your private life private. You feel uncomfortable having a personal phone call or in-person conversations when they are near and likely know the person you are talking to or about. It also makes it harder for you to have people over who you might be having sexual relations with but aren't ready to introduce to anybody. They will see these individuals coming in and out and will likely have plenty of comments to make that you would rather avoid until you are comfortable sharing details. 

Overall, living with someone you know can really change the way you view them. You get to see sides of them that you wouldn't otherwise see and that could put a strain on your personal relationship. It is probably for the best that you get to see them in the positive light that you typically would when you'll just get to visit each other and return to your respective places at the end of the night. So before you officially decide to move in with someone you know, make sure that it isn't something you will regret later. 

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