Relationship Minute: How to Have Difficult Conversations

If you need to have a difficult conversation with a loved one or process conflict in your relationship, preparation is the best way to make sure it goes as well as possible.

Here are questions to ask yourself before you get into difficult conversations: 

  • Am I ready to have this conversation? According to Dr. Julie Gottman, “processing” means talking about the specific conflict or incident without getting mired in the emotionality of it again. 
  • Am I calm enough to have this conversation? Are you able to differentiate between your own emotions and the events that occurred? 
  • Am I willing to seek to understand the experiences of this event outside of my own? 
  • Am I willing to speak from my experience without trying to persuade? 
  • Am I willing to ATTUNE to the feelings of others and what the event meant to them? 
  • Can I be fully present for this conversation (am I in a space with limited distractions)? 

Most of the time, the way a discussion starts determines the way it will end. Taking a pause to prepare yourself before the conversation begins will allow you to go into it with mindful intention. Come ready.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

2021 Virtual Military Spouse Symposium – 27-29 April

DoD, Military Community and Family Policy is very excited to announce the Relationship Summit as part of the Virtual Military Spouse Symposium scheduled for April 27-29. The summit will include a relationship testimonial from General Garrett and Mrs. Garrett of U.S. Army Forces Command, a research presentation and relationship skill-building session on boundaries. There will also be an interactive spouse panel discussion that will focus on relationship dynamics, living OCONUS, and developing a community of support.

The Symposium is free to military spouses. Use the following link for more information and to register: https://myseco.militaryonesource.mil/portal/spousesymposium

Relationship Minute: Assume Positive Intent

Do you assume the best in your partner? What assumptions do you make when they do something that happens to ruffle your feathers?

In healthy relationships, partners are not out to “get” each other. However, sometimes, if negative sentiment is starting to creep in, their actions can be interpreted that way.

For example, you said you were going to do the dishes, but time got away from you and your partner ended up doing them instead. Within the context of assuming negativity, they might think you deliberately “forgot” so they would have to do them. You might think that their doing the dishes was a way of communicating, “I’m always cleaning up after you,” and feel defensive.

Or, you could treat each other with care. In that instance, your partner might think, “They’re really busy. I’m sure they just forgot.” Seeing that they did the dishes out of kindness, you might thank them.

Dr. John Gottman says, “Couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice.” Accordingly, you and your partner can treat each other with extra generosity by assuming positive intent.

What would happen if you viewed your partner as an ally rather than an adversary?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: Explore Your Inner Worlds

Attunement in adult relationships is the desire and ability to understand and respect your partner’s inner world.

Attunement builds (and can rebuild) trust. Consider ATTUNE as an acronym:

Awareness
Turning toward
Tolerance
Understanding
Non-defensive listening
Empathy

How can you practice attunement to build a greater understanding and respect for your partner’s inner world? Every individual is a complex and unique galaxy unto themselves. You could know someone a lifetime and only be attuned to one small piece of their inner world.

What do you assume you know about your partner that you might be wrong about? What deserves more exploration? What does your partner assume about you that might need clarification?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: The Emotional Risk-Taker

Bids are attempts at connection between partners. When they don’t go as planned, it’s frustrating for both people. If your partner keeps missing your bids, there’s a chance your bids are not as clear as you think.

In “The Relationship Cure,” Dr. John Gottman explains that partners who make subtle bids or “dance around issues” are likely trying to avoid emotional risk. After all, “openly bidding for connection can make us feel vulnerable,” he says. “Our hearts and egos are on the line.”

This “fuzzy bidding,” as he calls it, can look like being purposely ambiguous (“I’m fine with either”), negative framing (“Well, if you’d wash a dish once in a while, I wouldn’t be so cranky”), or not saying what you want at all.

Your partner is not a mindreader and most likely does not respond well to criticism veiled as expressing a need. While you may think you’re avoiding confrontation or rejection by making fuzzy bids, such interactions can increase the odds of both of you feeling hurt and misunderstood.

Make a commitment to be an emotional risk-taker when it comes to bids. Think about how you ask your partner for their attention and consider ways that are more direct (such as “I’d rather us stay home tonight” or “I’m really tired. I need time with you and some help around the house”). It’s vulnerable to put yourself out there. However, the safety of a healthy partnership is the perfect place to start.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute.Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: The Autopilot Partner

If you’ve been together a long time, it’s easy to be on “autopilot.” You’re so used to the way you speak and interact with each other that you stop mindfully listening to what the other says.

Do these exchanges sound familiar?

Your Partner: “What a beautiful sunset.”
You: “Uh huh. Did you put the trash out?”

Or…

You: “I’m concerned about Sam. I don’t know what to do.”
Your Partner: “Yeah, I bet… What’s for dinner?”

You can turn away from a bid by absentmindedly responding to your partner or replying when you didn’t really hear what they said. This can lead to built-up tension and even full-blown conflict, especially if your partner feels unheard and rejected.

This turning away is often unintentional. You may not even be aware that you missed a bid because, such as the first example, your mind was on the trash and their mind was on the sunset.

Talk to your partner about a time that either one of you was on “autopilot.” If you had the chance again, how would you respond?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute.Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: How To Build Trust

Trust is one of the weight-bearing walls of the Sound Relationship House. Without it, your relationship is weakened. How you and your partner attune to one another determines how strong this pillar is.

Grand gestures are nice, but when it comes to trust, it’s the “small things often” that matter. If both partners build habits of turning towards each other in simple everyday moments, they build trust.

Here are a few ways to do this from Dr. John Gottman’s “The Relationship Cure.” 

  • Cooking for your partner 
  • Taking care of them when they’re ill 
  • Listening to them 
  • Doing something kind for your partner’s friends or family 
  • Run errands for your partner 

What are the little things that your partner does for you that help you trust them more? Let them know!

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute.Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: Nonverbal Bids for Intimacy

Sending and recognizing nonverbal bids for connection are collectively an important part of your relationship. Bids can range from subtle to obvious and always signal the need for attention and connection. It’s good for you both to know them when you see them and accept the invitation to turn towards each other.

So, what does it look like when your partner makes a nonverbal bid for intimacy? Do you know their go-to move? Is it a smile from across the table? Do they cuddle close at bedtime? Also, how do you initiate? Are you sure your partner knows what you’re asking for?

In “What Makes Love Last?” Dr. John Gottman notes that these types of bids work, but only “as long as you are both clear about what message you’re sending or receiving.”

Take time today to talk about your nonverbal bids for intimacy. Start with recalling past lovemaking encounters. How did they begin? Who initiated and how? Did either of you ever offer a bid that was missed?

Learning to send and receive bids effectively depends on you both getting on the same page in and out of the bedroom.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute.

Relationship Minute: Write It Down

Whether you’re in the heat of conflict or a tense, but civil State of the Union discussion, tough topics make listening with your defenses down quite difficult.

If you find certain topics always put you on the defensive, here’s a trick straight from Dr. John Gottman. In “What Makes Love Last?” he notes, “When I feel defensive, I try to write down everything my wife says. I remind myself that I care about her and she’s in a lot of discomfort, unhappiness, or pain. I am feeling defensive, but I will get my turn to talk.

This simple act helps you listen to your partner and perhaps understand their perspective better. It also gives you time to gather your thoughts. This significantly slows down the chance of escalating the situation with a sharp, biting comeback.

Want to give it a try? The next time you’re headed toward conflict with your partner, pause, breathe, and write down what they’re saying. You might see the conversation in a whole new way.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: What Are Your Shared Symbols?

The Sound Relationship House teaches that shared meaning is an essential part of a solid partnership. When you see life through a similar lens, you’re less likely to let miscommunicated (or uncommunicated) assumptions lead to conflict.

Shared meaning turns physical items into symbols that you both see the same way. For example, take your dining room table. Perhaps you see it as a workspace for projects or a place to put the mail. However, your partner sees it as a special area for family dining and wants to keep it clean between meals.

See how conflict can arise?

A good way to get on the same page with your symbols is to talk about them. Ask specific questions: What does this mean to you? Tell me a personal story about this. How do you want this to be treated?

When you communicate with each other about what something means or represents, you can align your values and beliefs and be supportive of one another.

What are your shared symbols? How can you better understand how your partner sees your life together? 

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.