Today’s blog post is written by guest expert, Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT
Whether you’re in a new dating relationship, engaged or married for years, one of the fundamental elements of a solid relationship foundation is communication.
The following tips can only help to improve communication and thus the quality of your relationship.
“You tell each other when something is bothering you.”
The more successful relationships are typically the ones where each person feels comfortable discussing what’s bothering them. Ideally, there’s enough emotional safety present in the relationship where both parties feel secure doing that. If there’s something keeping one or both of you from expressing your feelings then it would benefit you to examine this.
“You don’t criticize each other.”
Couples who criticize each other can erode the security between them. If one or both of you picks on, belittles or embarrasses each other, you should ask yourselves, “Why?” Criticism will undermine the foundation of your relationship. One or both of you will feel badly and possibly begin building resentment against the other. The couples I see on the brink of divorce often have built up mountains of resentment. By the time they come to me, the resentment has reached a toxic level. If you nip criticism in the bud, you’ll have less chance of setting the stage for more difficulty down the road.
“You’re not defensive with each other.”
Defensiveness is another communication inhibitor. Communication in the form of “active listening” can help mitigate this. In other cases, people can have a propensity towards personalization which has more to do with their own issue than that of the relationship.
“If you have a misunderstanding you try to work it out instead of shutting down.”
“Shutting down” typically comes as the result of physiological over-stimulation or the “fight or flight” response. This is very damaging behavior for the person on the receiving end as the experience can feel abandoning – as if their partner has emotionally ‘checked out’ and left them alone. There are tools that can help one or both of you contain your reactivity on your own. Remember, you are responsible for your reactions.
“In an argument, you work to understand what’s really going on emotionally for each other.”
Anger often hides pain and disappointment. It’s far easier for many to express anger than sadness. It’s important to keep this in mind the next time you and your partner go round and round. Get grounded by taking control of your racing physiology (a few deep breaths can bring down the stress response) and ask each other what’s underneath. If it is safe to do so, follow up with a 20 second full body hug to produce oxytocin, the hormone of bonding and security.
Lisa Brookes Kift is a marriage and family therapist, and creator of The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com, providing tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health. She is a frequent consultant for the media and has been interviewed, quoted or has appeared in numerous publications and online news sources including CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com and Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine. Lisa has an individual and couples therapy practice in Larkspur, Marin County, CA.
Rich Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist specializing in marital/relationship issues and creator of www.StrengthenYourRelationship.com. If you’d like to become a guest expert on his website, please feel free to contact Dr. Nicastro.