Life & Beauty Weekly: Life & Love

By Cynthia Hanson for Life & Beauty Weekly


You’re bound to disagree with your significant other from time to time, whether it’s about chores, finances or just what movie to see. Fortunately, you can be angry with your honey without worrying that you’re on the road to a relationship breakup.

“The key is to concentrate on delivering the message appropriately,” says Gary Direnfeld, social worker and host of the Slice Network’s Newlywed, Nearly Dead?. “You want the listener to concentrate on the message, not the delivery.”

How you speak to your partner—especially during arguments—says a lot about the strength of your marriage. “The challenge for couples in conflict is to stick to the issue and not the personality,” says Direnfeld.

Try this six-step plan to help you tune up your couple talk — and stay closer than ever:

1. Become an active listener.
“By active listening, you are being respectful to the message your partner is trying to convey,” says Direnfeld. “Respectful behaviour begets respectful behaviour, and both people feel better about the conversation.” Before you begin, agree to take turns: One of you gets to speak while the other listens without interrupting. After each of you has spoken, show that you understand the other’s feelings: “It makes sense to me that you think we’re not saving enough money, and you’re upset.”

2. Complain without blame.
Want your guy to stop leaving the TV remote between the sofa cushions? Ask nicely, using “I” statements: “I get frustrated having to search for the remote, so I’d like you to put it back in the end table drawer when you’re done.” Avoid critical “you” statements, like this one: “You always leave things all over the place!” According to Direnfeld, “I” statements help “our partner focus on the issue and not our attack on them personally.”

3. Own up to your part.
Take responsibility for your contribution to the problem, hard as it may be: “I should have talked to you about the price of the sofa before buying it. Let’s figure out ways we can cut back until the sofa is paid off.” Denying it (“I didn’t spend too much”) or counter-attacking (“Well, you spent a fortune on the flat-screen TV”) will just lead to hurt feelings and flaring tempers. “As you take responsibility, it gives permission for your partner to similarly take responsibility, which gives the opportunity to clear things up,” says Direnfeld.

4. Forget the past.
When you’re in the middle of a disagreement, stay on topic. Dredging up old conflicts (“This is just like the time you …”) could overwhelm and upset your partner — not to mention put him on the defensive. Plus, adds Direnfeld, bringing up the past or skipping topics confuses matters so that nothing is ever settled.

5. Take a time-out.
“Consider a time-out as a pause that refreshes,” says Direnfeld. “It gives people a moment to gain perspective on their behaviour and the issues so they can return more appropriately focused.” The next time one of you gets emotional mid-conflict, put the discussion on hold—whether it’s for 15 minutes or five days—until you’re calm and thinking clearly.

6. Show gratitude.
Every day, look for opportunities to acknowledge the things your significant other does right, instead of nitpicking about his flaws. “We’re all seeking to be appreciated,” says Direnfeld. Saying things like “Those lamb chops were delicious—thanks for making dinner tonight” will go a long way toward strengthening the friendship in your marriage. And that, in turn, will make it easier to manage conflicts.

Cynthia Hanson is a journalist who writes for many national publications, including Ladies’ Home Journal, Parents and American BabyShe is a frequent contributor to Life & Beauty Weekly.

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