This Valentine’s Day give yourself and your partner the gift of noticing what is working and what isn’t in your relationship. Here are ten common things that most of us do without even knowing we are doing them but changing any of them will drastically improve your dynamic. Just try it and see what happens.
Mistake #1. You demand to be heard before you listen:
The last thing you want to do when you’re upset is to hear someone else’s perspective, and yet, the likelihood of your getting heard increases dramatically when you do take the time to pause and hear the other perspective first.
Mistake #2. You try to change your partner’s behavior instead of your own:
Ghandi definitely had it right. You must be the change you want to see in your relationship. By putting all of your energy into changing how your partner behaves or feels, you are turning yourself into a helpless victim of the dynamic. Focus instead on changing what is in your control, namely you and how you respond and react to your partner. If you want your partner to be more flexible then try to be flexible. If you want your partner to be more forgiving then try to be more forgiving.
Mistake #3. You give more criticism than compliments:
We tend to be critical, judgmental people by nature and can often fall into a pattern of withdrawals from our partner’s emotional bank account instead of deposits. This renders our partner feeling hopeless, depleted, and distant. Practice recalibrating the ratio of criticism to compliments, with the goal being at least four compliments for every one criticism.
Mistake #4. You turn the local into the global:
How often have you heard yourself saying, “You always…” When we are upset we have a tendency to feel that things are more pervasive than they actually are and have a hard time expressing or modulating our emotion because it feels so all-encompassing in that moment. This makes our partner feel unsafe and attacked and keeps us stuck in a negative dynamic. Let’s try and cleanse our vocabulary of “always” and “never”, by focusing on the specific incident rather than the global, and holding onto the greater good of our partner and our relationship. In short: localize don’t totalize.
Mistake #5. You think there is a “right” and a “wrong:”
Don’t play judge and jury in your relationship – the simple but challenging act of acknowledging that there is no objective right or wrong way to feel and that different people can feel differently is really hard to practice but also hugely helpful in shifting dynamics that don’t work and helping you successfully resolve intense conflicts.
Mistake #6. You push your timeline:
Your partner is not ready to talk about something but you are and so you push and push, and push until you’re having the conversation you wanted to have. Right? Or is it? The reality is, often, by pushing your partner to talk about something before they are ready, you end up eliciting the opposite response, and pushing your partner further away. So next time your partner wants time to “cool off” give it to them. Accept that he or she is not on the same timeline you’re on and don’t bully your partner into a conversation. It usually won’t yield the desired result anyways and on the contrary, by giving them the space they need to process, you will more likely get the response you want when you do have the conversation.
Mistake# 7. You forget your partner is not a mind reader:
As much as we wish they were, your partner cannot read your mind. So remember this and express your needs explicitly. Make the implicit explicit by asking for the thing you want. You may be pleasantly surprised by the response.
Mistake #8. You play the “Blame Game:”
When we are infuriated we love to get on our high horse and point fingers. While it may feel great in the moment, it simply is not helpful to your relationship and will generally only escalate the situation and result in additional defensiveness from your partner. Instead acknowledge that mistakes are a normal part of life and learning.
Mistake #9. You forget the good:
When angry, we tend to see the world through blackened lenses and have a hard time holding onto the good stuff. Recognize that you can feel both love and anger simultaneously in your relationship and it is often the people you love most who are capable of making you the most angry. Try to hold on to the good even when you are feeling the bad.
Mistake #10. You tell your partner to just “Calm down” when they are upset:
When did telling someone to “Calm down,” ever actually help them to calm down? And yet we all say it. One father told me last week “if you want to see me have a temper tantrum then just tell me to calm down.” Generally telling someone to calm down when they are upset makes them even more upset. Instead, try acknowledging and validating them for their upset feelings.