As a relationship therapist, one of the best and easiest tips I share with distressed couples is to immediately remove “always” and “never” from your vocabulary, especially when talking with or citing grievances about your partner.
“You are ALWAYS on your phone…”
“You NEVER clean up your clothes…”
“You ALWAYS leave your dishes in the sink…”
“You NEVER think of bringing me a glass of water too…”
Stop Using “Always” and “Never” in an Argument With Your Companion, and What to Say Instead
Sometimes a partner is voicing a genuine need, or an invitation for connection but it gets lost in translation and defensiveness. I will use the cellphone scenario as it is, by far, the most popular example in my office. If Kathy, John’s wife, were to suggest that he is always on his phone, he will stop listening to her immediately. Rather, he will likely move to defend his phone usage immediately. “I’m not always on my phone! If anyone is on their phone, it is you!! You are always on your phone…” and so the dance begins. Destination: nowhere (and likely sleeping with your backs to each other or in different beds).
Soft Start-Up – USE THIS!!
When couples come to me for counselling, they want to get unstuck and they want change. I share simple tools to help couples reconnect. If Kathy uses a Gottman “soft startup”, she may have a better chance of getting her message heard and getting her needs met. A simple and easy to remember formula is:
WHEN YOU (name specific scenario) …
I FEEL (name the emotion)…
I NEED… (what to feel better) …”
“John, when I see you on your phone, I feel frustrated because I am trying to connect with you. I need you put your phone away, so we talk about the plans for the weekend”
If phrased this way, Kathy can share her genuine need/bid for connection. Since John has not been attacked, and her need is heard as an invitation not a demand or attack. He can better hear her need to connect with him. Stop saying “never” and “always” and your chances of intimacy and romance triple (*not proven with real research just my own theory).
It’s how you start…
Gottman research stats tell the story: 96% of the time, if the conversation begins with a harsh startup, “You/attacking” language” it will inevitably end on a negative note/disconnection. Start positive and non-attacking, “I Feel”, then the outcome will be positive. “Always” and “Never” derail potentially connecting conversations and transform them into igniting the dance of attack/defend.
So aside from “I’m fine”, the other two words that are killing your relationship are always/never. In my work with couples, I use Gottman terminology, all the time. I share the habits of master couples, “Soft Startup” being one, and what disaster couples do. Remember, all couples have disagreements, even the masters, but they “do” conflict differently. Remember, conflict is inevitable; however, combat is optional. Always never forget that!
Until next time… Take care of yourself and each other!
I offer FREE 15-minute ‘chemistry’ calls so I can learn more about the areas you want to explore, share a little about me and my approach and how I can help. Let’s see if we are a good fit. I help couples in person at my office in the Lower Mission (Kelowna) and also globally online via encrypted secure video conferencing. I look forward to connecting with you!