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“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.” – Henry Winkler

Okay, we admit it … The two of us really miss-communicated over the weekend about something that left us feeling angry and distant from each other.

The situation was filled with misunderstand­ing, assumptions, unspoken meanings, and habitual responses that were more about the past than about that situation.

We’re telling you about what happened to us for two reasons…

First, to show you that it’s “normal” to not communicate at your best from time to time:

(we were both very tired that evening); and, there are easy ways to either avoid those disconnections that truly strain your rela­tionship or reconnect more quickly when they happen.

What happens when YOU get triggered by your partner? Do you get defensive and critical of him or her? Do you get silent and withdraw? Do you get sarcastic and angry?

We all have certain automatic responses that happen when we get triggered.

Relationship researcher and psychologist John Gottman says that an early warning sign of a marriage in trouble is one where there's constant, harsh criticism.

According to Gottman, in a healthy relation­ship, both people feel like they can voice complaints but the danger comes when those complaints are voiced in anger and become consistent attacks on the partner’s character.

He goes on to say that criticism laden with contempt (usually expressed in the tone of voice and angry expression) is particularly destructive to the relationship.

In order to create better communication and a happier relationship, the challenge is to become aware of your habitual response when you're triggered--and then choose a better one.

When you make the choice to step out of your usual way of being, you can also choose words that help both of you be­come open to new possibilities instead of staying stuck in the same old path.

Here are some suggestions about how to move out of your old communication pat­terns and make other, healthier choices for your relationship…

  1. Get in touch with what you are feeling. In our situation, because Susie was tired, she just blurted out something that felt like a command to Otto (which is some­thing he doesn't appreciate from anyone).

Susie wasn't able, in that instant, to tune into what she was feeling, but later, she was.

Later, when we were discussing what happened, we each tuned into our feel­ings so that we could express what was really going on inside.

Whether you tune into your feelings as soon as you get that twinge in your gut or tightening in your chest (and that's something to work toward) or you tune in later - make sure that you don't skip the next step.

  1. Find the words that will pave the way to a better understanding and connection between you and your partner.

You might say something like this:

“I’d like to talk about what happened and I'd like to share what I felt at the time. Would you listen to me and then I'll listen to how you felt?”

  1. Take responsibility for how you may have contributed to the situation.

What the two of us most wanted was to be ­understood, and you probably would also want this when mis-understandings happen.

When you take responsibility, you can see why the other person may have reacted the way he or she did, especially if you understand each other’s habitual responses.

For example; "I can see how you could have interpreted my response as a command which is really not how I intended it to be.”

  1. Be willing to learn some ways to let go of your habitual responses that no longer bring you what you want.
  1. Always be willing to go back to your in­tentions for your relationship and your com­mitments both with each other and in your relationship.

One of our commitments to each other is to always be willing NOT to run away and to work through any challenges we may have ­- even if it seems difficult to do in the heat of the moment.

Our wish for you is that you find ways to create more ease and happiness in your relationships; and part of that is creating new ways of communicating, even when it’s tough.

© By Sue and Otto Collins. All Rights Reserved.

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