How to turn it around in a relationship
We all want to live our best lives and have the healthiest relationships possible. But we may not know how to get there and what to do. I spoke with Barbra Russell, MA a counselor, speaker and author of Yes! I Said No! about how we can create and maintain a relationship of optimal wellness.
We know that boundaries are important. We understand that we should have them and we know when it feels like someone has crossed them. But how do we set and maintain good boundaries? The biggest fear most people have with boundaries is coming across as rude, harsh or mean, especially when it is someone we care deeply about. We may also worry that we may hurt someone’s feelings or that they may not want to continue to have a relationship with them if we have a serious discussion about boundaries. We want to compromise, but we also need for our own needs to be met.
Barbra Russell gives us 3 steps to follow when setting a boundary.
“Step 1: Say what you don’t like (without attacking the others character) Step 2: Say what you want (specifically) Step 3: Set a consequence.”
This sounds pretty simple, but let’s look at exactly how to put it into practice. Barbra explains two examples. Here is an example of a woman who might set a boundary, “Step 1: We’ve been so busy, we don’t take time to show affection and that’s important to me.
Step 2:So I’d like for you to kiss me every morning before work and we talk to each other for at least half an hour after the kids are asleep. Step 3: I’ll remind you for a few times until we make this a habit.”
Here is an example of a boundary a man might set, according to Barbra, “Step 1: I need time to myself when I first come home from work so I can clear my mind.
Step 2: I’d like 30 minutes of quiet time before I help with dinner or with the kids. Step 3.I’ll go into my ‘man cave’ every day for 30 minutes.”
It can feel scary or needy to ask for more affection or for time away from your significant other and kids. We may worry we will hurt their feelings or make them feel judged or criticized. But if we don’t communicate our needs, we can feel stressed or resentful and that can be toxic to a healthy relationship.
When expressing what you don’t like, try to make it a request that your partner can easily fulfill. Try to keep emotions such as anger, frustration, etc out of the equation. Make sure what you want is something reasonable and specific. The consequence should not skew negative. It may take some time to put the new actions into place, since it can take some time to change and break a habit. So be patient and kind to your partner as this transition is happening. Also ask for your partner to be patient with you.
Communication Between The Sexes
Communicating with anyone can be hard, and there are some fundamental differences in how men and women think and communicate. Understanding these differences can help us feel more seen and heard. Barbra explains it very clearly, “She ‘connects’ more memories, words and thoughts faster, and tends to talk ‘in circles,’ bringing up one thing, then another before arriving at the final thought or solution. His brain works more efficiently, thinking in a ‘straight line,’ solving a problem by quickly giving advice or a solution.”
Communicate directly what you want from your partner. Barbra gives the examples, “She says, ‘I just need you to listen, while I talk this through.’ He instructs, ‘Write down what you need me to do, because I’m likely to forget.”
Again, ask for what you want and communicate what you think can be helpful to your relationship. Make sure it is a request and an actionable step, such as writing something down or listening as someone processes their thoughts. Keep any judgements out if, you don’t want to judge your partner for thinking and processing things differently that you do. Use positive reinforcement to encourage each other.
One main reward is your relationship will probably start to feel easier and you will both feel more supported. Compliment each other frequently and let them know how much you appreciate them doing what you asked for and explain how it makes you feel so much better.
This is a process, so patience is key. Understanding these communication differences can help same sex couples and can also help you communicate in friendships as well. If you identify as gender fluid or non-binary then you may find yourself falling somewhere along this spectrum.
How Our Brains Look For What’s Wrong
Sometimes couples that have been together for a while start to focus more on the negative aspects of their relationship and less on the positive ones. They may lose sight of what brought them together initially.
This can become even more challenging as couples build a life together, raise children together, focus on extended family and career obligations. Barbra states, “Our brains are designed to look for what’s wrong – a survival mechanism to keep us alive – but in a relationship, the ratio often becomes 90:10, with the 90% of what’s right, what you like about the other person is taken for granted and we focus on the 10% — what you don’t like, what’s irritating, etc.” This can start a negative pattern or downward spiral. Barbra explains, “What you focus on gets bigger. Therefore, the more you focus on what’s wrong, the bigger problem that becomes.” We have all experienced this in other aspects of our lives as well, where we focus on the negative and the problem spirals. We can begin to feel discouraged or even hopeless that our situation can change.
Barbra offers some helpful solutions, “Compliment more than you complain.” If you find yourself complaining alot, take a step back and try to turn the situation around. Try to compliment your partner on what they are doing well and make them feel appreciated for all of their positive qualities.
Her second tip is, “Do the things you used to do that made them fall in love.” Maybe you used to go on dates to your favorite restaurant in the beginning but now you don’t anymore because you’d have to get a sitter. Or maybe you used to cook together, but with work schedules you don’t have the time. Try to make an effort to do these things together to make you feel more connected and to just have more fun together.
Lastly, Barbra states,”Provide safety by listening before you talk.” Let your partner get their full ideas out there before responding. Try not to interrupt. It can be easy to get defensive or feel misunderstood. Even if you don’t agree with their comment, try to really see their point of view and why they may feel this way. You want to get to a resolution and both be understood, not be right or wrong or assign blame.
Trying It Out
Personally I used to be more hesitant to bring up these conversations for fear of hurting the other person’s feelings or worrying how they would react. I also felt like I didn’t know how to communicate what I wanted to say in the most productive way. But then I would feel as though the issues would remain and that was stressful in it’s own way. Learning how to communicate in a positive and healthy way has made me feel like my relationships are stronger.
Try using these skills in your relationships and see if you feel more confident and positive about your relationship and yourself. Being a great communicator can help you not only in your romantic relationships, but friendships, family and work relationships. Setting boundaries and having a positive mindset can make you feel like the best version of yourself.