Have you ever thought, “I love my husband, but I don’t really like him.” Or, “I used to be in love with my partner, but not anymore.” I see so many couples in my mediation practice who say they are desperate for a strategy to reinvigorate their sedating relationship. What I discovered in time was that most couples want to stay together, but they lack the communication skills to keep the mutual respect, appreciation, compassion and intimacy alive. Not only did they take each other for granted, they also suffered from repetitive bad fights that left lingering resentment and anger which has led to them needing couples counselling. My discovery about the cause of relationship dissatisfaction was exciting because it meant that if I helped empower people with better verbal skills, they could single-handedly improve their relationship in one day.Based on what I teach people and what works in mediation, I wrote Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In (Rodale, Oct. 2010) to help couples keep their connection strong with 5-minute conversations and simple comments that show you care.You don’t need lots of quality time together to improve your relationship. In fact, you and your partner don’t need to talk more, you simply need to learn to talk better. Below are 5 tips you can put forth today that will help give you the love, cooperation and companionship you’re looking for from your partner.
- Pick the Right Battles. Before you start criticizing your mate for doing something like forgetting to take an umbrella to work when rain is predicted, ask yourself the wise question, “Does this affect me?” In this case, it doesn’t. He arrived home all wet, not you. So don’t pick that battle. Rather than using a “fight line” like, “I told you to bring an umbrella. Why don’t you listen to me?” (which leads to a defensive response), use a compassionate love line like, “You’re all wet. Let me get you a towel.”
- Give a Character Compliment. In researching my book we did an on-line survey and found some results that could help us all have better marriages. Not only do people like being complimented once a day, they like receiving a special kind of compliment. When we asked people “would you rather your mate compliment you for being kind or good-looking?” the result was that 84 percent of people said “kind.” The lesson: find daily opportunities to compliment your mate’s character, rather than his tie or her sweater. And don’t be afraid to share this research study with your mate and ask him if he’ll join you in the daily compliment challenge.
- Avoid Premature Arguments. My clients are smart people, who often have dumb arguments. One type of these unnecessary battles is so common that it threatens every relationship (including my own). I call it the “premature argument.” Look out for those times when you and your mate get in a brawl about a decision that doesn’t need to be made for weeks, months or years, such as whether to move to a house or apartment in a couple years, where to go for Mother’s Day … next year, where to go for summer vacation, or even when to schedule a certain doctor appointment when you don’t have the facts yet on the doctor’s availability (my parents nearly had that premature argument yesterday!). When you realize you’re arguing about something prematurely, stop yourself and say, “Hey, we don’t need to have this argument yet. Let’s hold off until time passes and we have more information.”
- Show You Care. A little bit of remembering shows a lot of love. If you know your mate has an important meeting, appointment, etc., be sure to follow up with your partner. Call, email, text or ask in person, “How did it go?” This sends a clear message: I care about you. Try to do this on a weekly, if not daily, basis. And if you don’t have anything to follow up on, that’s a sign that you don’t know what is going on in your mate’s days. So start asking, listening and remembering.
- Disagree Without Being Disagreeable. An easy way to start a fight is to say, “You’re wrong” or “that’s a stupid idea!” Meanwhile, a perfect way make the same point in a friendly way is to use a wise question. In the moment that you know you disagree with your mate, ask, “Why do you think that?” Listen to the answer first, and then feel free to disagree. By holding your tongue and listening first (even if it’s only for a minute), you show respect. The result: Your mate is willing to listen to your point of view. That’s how to turn a conflict into a conversation.