Do you become triggered and tense up by the “tone” your partner uses when they want to talk about a subject? Does the hair on the back of your neck stand up when your partner responds to a question in a way that you believe has an alternative meaning? Often, I find that couples become entrenched by the “tone” their partner uses when they respond to one another.
The 3rd step to improve communication in your relationship involves turning towards each other. To set ourselves up for success and attune when our partner makes a bid for our attention we must turn towards one another. When we turn towards our partner we are present, available, and responsive. Our body is in sync with our words and the message is signaling to our partner – “please engage, you are safe, and I am here for you.”
The steps to engage with your partner can get tricky. The conversation can go side-ways based on how we initiate the conversation, I.e., tone, with our partner. Our muscle memory, from past conversations, still exists from previous interactions. Often, the dialogue can begin with “you did” or “you didn’t”, which we know is not an effective start to a conversation. A harsh start-up can lead the discussion down an emotional detour immediately. Whereas, if we start with, “I” statements we’ve already began to set ourselves up for success!
To support individuals in turning towards their partner and engaging in healthy dialogue we work together to understand, learn, and implement, what John Gottman refers to as, “six skills.”
These skills are intended to help individuals and couples set themselves up for success during a conversation and allow both partners to stay present, open, and attune to each other. All the while working to diminish the chance that the dialogue will turn into conflict.
The “six skills” involve:
- Gentle Start-up ---> Start with “I” statements vs. “You”
- Accept Influence ---> Acknowledge your partner’s perspective with “Good Point”
- Make Repairs --> Take responsibility when you slip with “Let me try again” or “Let’s rewind”
- De-escalate Quarrels --> Notice when you have become triggered with “Let’s take a break”
- Compromise --> Seek a solution with “Help me understand your flexible areas”
- Self-Soothing --> Listen to your body and communicate when “I feel flooded”
While this framework is easy to suggest it can be challenging to implement. Why? Because our bodies hold the memory of previous interactions and that muscle memory will be quick to fire once a threat is sensed.
Therefore, I always suggest to my clients to start small, be patient, and always be kind to themselves when they start a new process. Change is hard and it can be frustrating. If you want to break out of the pattern you currently find yourself in and experience a different type of communication with your partner then trying something new is a must.