5 Winning Strategies in Relationships

In one of my last articles, I outlined five interactions which are useless and damaging to your relationships, especially in our close loving partnerships. Here are five winning strategies, as Terry Real describes in his recording, “Fierce Intimacy”.

  1. Go After What You Want – Express Your Needs 

Express what you want and need and be assertive about getting it. Terry Real calls it “daring to rock the boat”, which is scary at times, especially when we seem to be cruising along smoothly. If we are overidentified with our Pleaser Part or our Peaceful Part, because we received the message during childhood that we will only be loved if we go along with everything, it can be terrifying to rock the boat. There are two things to consider. Firstly, it is your birthright to be in an equal cherishing relationship in which both partner’s needs are met. The second thing to realize is that if you do not find your voice and speak up for your needs and wants, resentment begins to grow, and resentment is a poison that slowly erodes the love between you and your partner. To stay with our metaphor, resentment drills little holes into your relationship boat.

Sometimes we have this idea that we should not have to ask for what we want and need and that our partner should just know what our needs are if he/she really loved us. Our partner is not a mind reader. We set them and ourselves up for failure with this attitude!

Furthermore, help your partner to succeed by telling him or her up front what you need or want instead of waiting for them to fail. Be encouraging and affirm your partner’s efforts by giving positive feedback. Terry Real calls this “celebrating the glass being 15% full”. If the glass was 5% full beforehand, this is a reason to celebrate and thus encourage your partner to keep going. With our children, we naturally do that. If your son or daughter made an improvement in school from a D to a C, you give them reinforcement to keep going and to eventually get to a B.

 

  1. Speak to Make Things Better 

Speak to your partner with love. Before you speak, drop down into your heart and speak from there. If you are too triggered to do that, take a time out until you are able to interact from a more centred place. Remind yourself that you want to speak to make repairs not to make things worse. Learn how to be assertive and loving at the same time. Make sure your partner knows that you love them but that you also need to respect yourself and your needs and feelings.

Make very clear requests using I-statements. There is nothing you need to say that cannot be phrased as a subjective I statement. This helps us to stay away from judgments or accusing the other person. One method for good communication is the five steps of the non-violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg as described in my article “Having Our Needs met in Relationships“.

Speak respectfully and be prepared that not all your requests will be met. You could say “I would like to talk to you about… Is this a good time?” We need to be able to also tolerate small disappointments. Your partner might reply, “I am tired right now. Can we talk about this tomorrow?” Terry Real even takes it so far as to say we need to “celebrate the no”. Celebrating the no means to be proud of your partner when they say “no” to take care of themselves and meet their own needs, and be proud of yourself for being adaptable and grow-up when you don’t get everything you want in the moment when you want it.

 

  1. Listen to understand 

Before we can respond, we need to really listen. Getting defensive, whether that is out loud or in our heads, is not true listening. We need to put our own feelings aside while we are listening. Listening is also not about arguing about the facts and wanting to be right. Wanting to be right is one of the 5 losing strategies. Listening means entering into your partner’s subjective experience. What do they feel and how do they see things? Be a friendly interviewer who really wants to understand the perspective of the other person.

Remember that as a couple, you are in each other’s care. Or keep Terry Real’s analogy in mind that you are at a customer service or support desk. When a customer complains that their new electric kettle does not work, they don’t want to hear from you that your toaster does not work. Your only concern is to listen to them and tend to their issue in that moment in time, until it is your turn at the customer service window. When your partner comes to you in a state of upset, you are in their service.

Remember that nobody thinks they are irrational. Their feelings and interpretations of reality make sense to them. It is your job to be curious about what makes sense to them. It is your job to help your distraught partner to get back into harmony and closeness with you because that is good for your relationship and therefore is also good for you. Terry Real calls this stance “Enlightened Self-Interest”.

 

  1. Respond with Generosity 

Our first impulse might be to deny that we have done something or to explain why we have done something. That way of responding was termed “leading with an argument” by Terry Real, because it usually is the beginning of an argument. Instead, acknowledge your partner’s experience or feelings and take responsibility for your part in the issue. You might need to lead with a sincere apology, or at least an honest acknowledgement of what you have done or not done.

Image by JenDigitalArt from Pixabay

That disarms your partner, deescalates the conflict, and allows you to make repairs. Terry Real calls this skill “relational jujitsu”. You don’t oppose the force. You yield to the energy coming at you and turn it into a more harmonic energy. Admittedly, that is not an easy feast to accomplish, because we have been taught to respond to power with equal or greater aggression. When we meet aggression and respond with generosity and gentleness, the aggression runs into emptiness.

On the side of the partner who receives an apology or an attempt to improve, “responding with generosity” means to gracefully accept the repair. This is not the moment to be picky. You might not get all you wanted, but if you get 70% of what you have been asking for, that is a sign that your partner wants to cooperate and make peace. Accept the peace offering! Respond with a “thank you” for listening to you and meeting your requests.

The next step is to ask what you can give your partner. Find out what they need from you to make the changes you have asked for. You are on the same team, so you want to help them come through for you. This is relational empowerment rather than personal empowerment. Our society tends to encourage personal empowerment at the expense of our relationships. I am of course not saying that our personal growth and empowerment is not important, but we need a balance in order to live well functioning relationships.

 

  1. Cherish what you have 

Cherishing is a powerful change agent. Terry Real believes “this one winning strategy is equal in potential to all of the other strategies combined”. The best way to get more of what you want in a relationship is by appreciating what you are already getting. Whatever we give energy to, or pay attention to, grows and becomes more. We have the choice to focus on the steps forward, on the progress.

Why is that sometimes so hard?

Real intimacy, closeness and vulnerability can be scary for many of us. Fights can serve as a distance regulator. Complaining about what we are not getting helps to keep the distance between us and our partner, instead of truly opening up our heart and acknowledging everything we are getting. Fights keep us tied into each other but at a certain distance. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Fights are an opportunity to experience that the other one cares enough to be triggered by us and to feel close but not so close and enmeshed that it creates fear or panic. So what if, instead of starting a fight each time our inner child feels too vulnerable, we would express that we feel scared or that we need a bit of distance?

Terry Real calls the lack of gratitude towards our partner “having ADD, Appreciation Deficiency Disorder”. The ratio of negative feedback to positive appreciation is often out of balance in relationships. We need to engage in active appreciation several times each day.

Once our partner starts to give us more of what we have asked for, the challenge is to receive it gracefully and to cherish what we are getting. So if you hear yourself disqualifying what they are giving, e.g. “you are not doing it right”, or “you are only doing it because I asked for it”, or “you are doing it now but you didn’t do it then or you won’t do it in the future”, be curious about what is actually going on.

Sometimes we also have an attachment or belief system that keeps us from having happy and healthy relationships. We do something that Terry Real calls “keeping a parent spiritual company” by living in the same world they live in, e.g. being mistrustful like your father, or being passive aggressive like your mother, or overidentified with independence like your father, or overemotional like your mother, or too easygoing and disconnected from our own needs like your father and so on. When we try to move beyond that it might feel disloyal to the respective parent.

At other times, we might be invested in not wanting to be like one (or both) of our parents at all costs. For example, not wanting to take advantage of your spouse like you experienced your mother doing, or not wanting to abuse power like your father did and so on. When we identify with the opposite of an energy we are equally not whole and not able to create a balanced relationship. Moving into happiness in all those cases is synonymous with separating from our family. That’s were belief change techniques like PSYCH-K® and Shadow Energetics come in to change our subconscious programs.

If you dare to move beyond your parents and you dare to be happier, more vulnerable and more intimate than they were able to be, you are forging into new territory for your whole ancestral line. You are changing the future for your children and grandchildren, who will receive a different legacy because they now have new role models.

 

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Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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Constructive Disagreements in Relationships – PART ONE And Baby Makes Three

We all know that life changing events like death, divorce, retirement, a job loss or major health issues cause stress. These major life changing events go hand in hand with loss and grief. What we often forget is that positive life changing events like getting married and having a baby can also bring on a crisis. According to a study by E.E. LeMasters in the 1950’s, 83% of couples go through a moderate to severe crisis when they become parents for the first time. Other studies in the 1980s have confirmed his findings.

Both parents go through major changes in their identities, which can be challenging and overwhelming. New fears might come up and our values and goals in life can change. Many parents want to be better at parenting in some way or another than their own parents. Mothers often become very involved with their babies. The energy which used to be solely directed towards their partner is now redirected towards the child. The dad can feel left out and depending on his own childhood experiences and wounds, feel unimportant, rejected and abandoned. Often both parents end up feeling unappreciated. Having a new baby brings lots of changes and challenges. When we are so busy, we forget to say “thank you” and “I am so proud of you”, and we forget to ask “How was your day?”

gottman-saying-thank-you

When we are sleep deprived for a long time, we feel stressed and can also get mildly depressed. Sleep deprivation also makes our daily hassles seem more intense. New parents tend to feel more emotional and more irritable. The frequency and intensity of relationship conflicts and fights increase.

The greatest gift parents can give their baby is a happy and strong relationship between the two of them. What the child needs most of all, is for their parents to feel supported by each other and safe in their relationship. It makes the child feel safe in return. The blood pressure of babies rises when they witness their parents fighting and signs of depression in parents also have effects on the babies. “In the first three years of life, fundamental neural processes are being laid down that have to do with the infant’s ability to self-soothe, focus attention, trust in love and nurturance of his parents, and emotionally attach to his mother and father.” (Gottman, And Baby Makes Three)

Keep your fights constructive and respectful. Be gentle with each other and take responsibility for your part without being defensive. Listen and acknowledge your partner’s view. Children need to learn how to communicate their needs and feelings successfully and that their emotions matter to others. When you work on how you communicate, you can model successful interactions for your child. Your child will then develop the neural network for school achievement, healthy relationships and a future happy life.

If you have been struggling with constructive disagreements so far, don’t blame yourself. Let the past go and focus on the now. It is never too late to shift and change and thus show your child how we can all interact differently.

 

  1. Softer Start Ups

The start up is how we bring up an issue with our partner. 96% of the time, the start-up of a conversation determines how a conflict conversation develops. When we introduce an issue with a harsh start up—for example with blame or criticism—the likelihood that the other partner gets defensive right away is much higher. We need to be aware of the four horsemen of the apocalypse: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stone-walling. They destroy our relationships. A complaint, on the other hand, starts with neutrally describing the situation, how we feel about it, what need we have, and ideally, it includes a request.

gottman-harsh-start-up-2

 

Here are some examples based on those by Julie Schwartz Gottman and John Gottman.

Harsh Start-Up: You don’t care about me (blame). You only care about yourself (criticism). You are just wrapped up in your own little world, with your face stuck in that newspaper (contempt and criticism).

Softened Start-Up: When you read the newspaper at dinner and you are not talking to me, I feel pretty upset. I miss talking to you and connecting with you. Can you ask me how my day was or tell me how yours was?

Harsh Start-Up: You think I’m ugly, don’t you? You want someone skinny, like the girl you were eyeing yesterday (blame and criticism). I know I am heavy, but so what? I just had a baby.

Softened Start-Up: I am worried that I am not sexy enough for you now that my body has changed. We are going to this party and I have put on this fancy dress and it is way too tight. I feel insecure and I would really like some compliments from you right now.

 

  1. Accept Your Partners Influence

In any argument, there is no objective truth. There are always two subjective realities, ours and our partner’s. When we insist that our perception is the only one that’s right and our partner’s perception is wrong, we end up in a power struggle in which we both lose. Instead of focusing on persuading your partner that you are right, acknowledge that there are two sides to every fight and strive to understand his or her point of view. Open-ended questions invite your partner to share more, for example “What makes this so important to you?” Step into your partner’s shoes for a moment and view the issue from your partner’s eyes to see why it makes some sense to have those feelings. Restate your partner’s point of view and validate it. When we accept our partner’s influence, we are honouring our partner as someone who is intelligent and well intentioned.

Gottman - understanding partner's position.jpg

 

  1. Calm Your Conflicts

When one or both partners get flooded and go into a state of DPA (diffuse physiological arousal), also known as “fight or flight”, it is time for a break. When we are in DPA, our hearing is compromised. Surges of adrenaline give us “tunnel vision”. We are not able to be compassionate or to be creative and problem solve. We see danger lurking and our partner feels like an enemy.

We need to request to halt the talk. When we tell our partner how long the break is going to last and when we intend to come back and resume talking, they will be more receptive. A break should last at least 25-30 minutes to give us adequate time for our heartbeat to slow down and for the adrenaline and cortisol levels in the body to decrease. At the very most, a break should last one day or otherwise it can feel to our partner as if we are avoiding the talk or are trying to passive-aggressively punish them.

gottman-30-min-break

 

During the break, anything that helps us physically soothe ourselves is a good idea: going for a walk, meditating, playing the piano, petting the dog, reading a book or anything else that is personally comforting to us. Ideally, you can combine deep breathing with a progressive muscle relaxation and with guided imagery. To learn how to do this, contact me.

 

  1. Compromise

When we are relaxed and able to express our feelings and needs, we can communicate successfully about problems. Part of successful problem solving is working out compromises. First, define the most minimal core area of need which each of you cannot give up on. What is your core need? Then define areas of greater flexibility, for example in regards to when and how you each get what you need. Third, come up with a temporary compromise.

 

Gottman - repair attempts.jpg

 

  1. Make Repairs

For a relationship to thrive the partners need to make and accept each other’s repair attempts. There is no right or wrong way to make a repair but it has to be made by one partner and heard by the other partner. Repairs can be words of apology, smiles, a joke or even a goofy face. Some examples of possible repair statements are:

  • I am sorry. I overreacted.
  • I might be wrong here.
  • I really blew this one.
  • Can we “rewind”? Let’s start over.
  • Let me try again.
  • I apologize. I got really triggered.
  • That must have really hurt your feelings.
  • I need to calm down. Can we please take a break and continue talking in 30 minutes?
  • That hurt my feelings.
  • Tell me you love me.
  • Can I have a kiss?
  • I am feeling unappreciated / sad / misunderstood.
  • I feel defensive. Can you perhaps rephrase that?
  • Please don’t withdraw.
  • I know this isn’t your fault.
  • Let’s compromise here.
  • I love you. Let’s work on this.

 

If you don’t want to miss part two of this article about perpetual problems in relationships, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Angelika

Relationship Coaching and Belief Changes

905-286-9466, greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca