Think about a conversation with a treasured loved one that brings a smile to your face. You know the conversations I'm talking about. The first time your son or daughter says, "I love you!" The last lunch you had with your best friend before you moved across the country. Recall the most recent time you and your partner sat together in a calm and quiet place and spoke softly about your dreams for each other and your future. Sacred moments of deep connection satisfy our minds, our bodies, and our spirits. They are the moments we live for.
Sadly, the complexities of our modern lives and the unrelenting stress keep many couples reacting to their partners instead of responding with curiosity, kindness, and patience. While perfect communication in every conversation is an unrealistic goal, it is possible to adopt an attitude of just having the next encounter go a little better than the last one. Relationship researchers and couples therapists John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute recommend cultivating an atmosphere of kindness and admiration in the couple's relationship. A great place to begin is recognizing and counter The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. When present in a relationship, the Four Horsemen, Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling, indicate high levels of relationship dissatisfaction. Couples who both recognize and counter with the antidotes to the Four Horsemen will have an increasing ability to stop quarrels before they become damaging relationship ruptures.
Ouch! You can head this one off by using "I" statements and talking about how you feel and what you feel in a calm, neutral way, and then stating what you need. This is what John and Julie Gottman call "A Gentle Start-Up." A summary of the Gentle Start-up looks like this:
Physiological Self-Soothing promotes well-being and is a great way to teach yourself how to stay calm in an emotionally tense situation. Physiological Self-Soothing is the subject of my next Blog.
About the author: Claudia Nell Hawley is located in Centennial Colorado and sees couples and individuals virtually. She offers educational workshops, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Claudia is trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, The Gottman Method, and Eye Movement Desensitization. She has experience in treating infidelity in couples and partner betrayal trauma.