Relationship Minute: The thing about “I” statements

In the words of Certified Gottman Therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw in this Instagram post, “I statements are only helpful when they are truly about the self.”

We teach that the antidote to criticism is the Softened Start-Up, which starts with an “I statement.” But an “I statement” can also be twisted into criticism if you’re not careful:

“I feel like you’re a bad driver.”
“I’m mad because you’re so lazy.”
“I am always picking up after you.”

Evaluate your “I” statements. Are they really expressing your feeling or experience with a sense of ownership? Or are they casting an opinion or criticism on your partner? Instead of the critical statements above, try “I” statements that are actually about yourself.

“I get anxious in the car.”
“I like to feel busy.”
“I think I’m overwhelmed by the amount of housework I’m doing right now.” 

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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: The repair remote control

Repair is one of the best tools a couple can have at their disposal. Because mistakes, carelessness, and conflict are inevitable, the right repairs at the right time can make all the difference.

Imagine repair attempts as buttons on a TV remote control. If the conversation goes awry, you can “press”:

Rewind (Sorry) 

  • “Can I try again?” 
  • “I messed up.” 
  • “How can I make things better?” 
  • “I’m sorry.” 

Fast Forward (Get to Yes) 

  • “I agree with part of what you’re saying.” 
  • “Let’s find a compromise.” 
  • “What are your concerns?” 

Pause (I Need to Calm Down) 

  • “Can we take a break from this conversation for now?” 
  • “Please be gentler with me” 
  • “I am starting to feel flooded.” 

Stop (Stop Action!) 

  • “Give me a moment.” 
  • “Let’s agree to disagree.” 
  • “We are getting off track.” 

Record (I Appreciate) 

  • “That’s a good point.” 
  • “I know this isn’t your fault.” 
  • “I love you.” ​​​​

Microphone/Voice Command (I Feel) 

  • “That hurt my feelings.” 
  • “I feel defensive. Can you rephrase that?” 
  • “I’m getting worried.” 

The better you get at using and recognizing repairs, the more effective they will be in your relationship. 

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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: Relationship Road

The saying, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” could apply to relationships, but a better metaphor to consider might be that commitment is a road, not a destination.

You and your partner are on the road together. Was it bumpy at the start? Have there been unexpected detours? Or maybe you’ve even hit a pothole or two.

But the best way to move forward is not to dwell in those potholes. Even if they cause a flat tire, you call roadside assistance and keep going.

It’s okay to hit a rough patch. It’s okay to call for help, ask for directions, or look at a map if you get lost.

You’re on the road together, navigating it side by side. Trust and love are built in the small moments, and often as a result of some of the toughest stretches of road. 

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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: 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 most relatively 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. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Getting mad

In this episode of Jay Shetty’s podcast, he talks to John and Julie Gottman about what they learned from decades of studying the “masters of relationships.”

John Gottman notes that he was surprised to find that couples having what is categorized as a “neutral” or calm interaction are actually doing well.

Julie Gottman adds, “I want to be sure that our listeners don’t think that expressing anger is a bad thing. That is not true. So being passionate, being intense, expressing anger, and so on is fine depending on how you voice it. So if you’re expressing anger with an ‘I’ statement that describes how you feel, as opposed to pointing a finger at your partner and describing them as flawed or to blame, that’s very different.”

Even if it’s not your proudest moment, owning your anger by saying, “I’m mad!” is ok, rather than saying, “you’re making me mad!”

You may be feeling anger, and that’s fine, but your partner isn’t making you feel it. It’s okay to feel angry, as long as you acknowledge and own that it’s your feeling.

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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: Laughter

During times of stress, overwhelm, and upheaval, it can be difficult to find joy or humor in much at all. But it’s not a betrayal to yourself or the severity of the moment to still find things funny.

What makes you laugh? When was the last time you really laughed out loud?

Was it a podcast you enjoy, a movie that tickled you, or maybe even a really funny video or meme? Is there a way you can share that joy and laughter with your partner?

This week, or just today, seek out things that make you laugh. Find ways to laugh together.

The couple that plays together, stays 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. 

Relationship Minute: Transformation

Nature is a powerful teacher. To embrace transformation, look no further than deciduous trees, who change color, shed their leaves, and grow anew with the seasons.

These trees change in their own time, at the exact pace they’re meant to, and without fixating on the last phase. That we know of, trees don’t spend all winter missing their fallen leaves. There is a quiet confidence that new leaves will grow, and it is all part of the process.

What if relationships are the same way? Moving and transforming through phases—each season lasting as long as it is meant to before yielding to the next.

This year has called for an abundance of grace, patience, and surrender. How can you and your partner embrace change as it continues to propel you forward? What changes have resulted in losses that you still need to grieve?

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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: Overwhelm

In this episode of Lovett or Leave It from April, Dr. Ali Mattu offers six self-care tips to cope with coronavirus anxiety. These tips still apply, and can apply to the blanket feeling of overwhelm many are still facing: 

  1. Be compassionate toward yourself — it’s okay to not be okay. 
  2. Develop a routine — engage with certain anchor points or actions throughout the day to help ground you.
  3. Consume media that helps you detach from reality — take a break from what is overwhelming you. It’s okay to distract yourself. 
  4. Solve problems in your everyday life — doing this can help remove small barriers that can add up and increase a feeling of overwhelm. 
  5. Be grateful for the things that you have — it can help lift your spirits and the spirits of those who receive your gratitude. 
  6. Share how you are struggling — everyone is struggling in some way or another right now. Suffering is universal and it can be helpful to connect with people who can empathize. 

You are not alone, and the first person you can share your struggles with is your partner. Admitting to them, and to yourself, that things are hard or that you feel overwhelmed can be scary. But once you share your experience, you are opening up the door for them to do the same.

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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: The importance of rest

How do you “recharge your batteries”? Is it by getting lost in a good book, or maybe losing track of time in conversation with a friend? Maybe you recharge by meditating, taking a nap, tending to the plants, singing in the shower, or going online and adding things to your shopping cart, then clicking out of the site (no judgment here!).

By not taking time to rest, you limit your own capacity for empathy, positivity, creativity, and rationality, among other things. You can’t show up as your best self for your partner without first checking in and showing up for yourself.

And that means granting yourself permission to rest. Take the time and space you need to recharge, even if it means being less “productive” in that moment. Don’t expect your partner, or yourself, to be able to “do it all.” Rest is an essential human need, and we can support one another in making sure we’re stopping for rest, even if just for a few moments.

What if you created a new rest ritual together—a dedicated time once a day or once a week to D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Rest!) 

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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.