Despite our best intentions we often fall into habits in relationship that can sabotage our sense of connection, partnership, and passion. Combined with our family and relationship histories, Western society’s focus on instant gratification, unrealistic expectations (thanks, Hollywood) and valuing independence over interdependence leads us to behaviors and perspectives that limit our ability to become and stay connected.
Fortunately, there are practical remedies that can strengthen our relationships. Below you’ll find tips on how to take five harmful habits and replace them with five relationship-enriching remedies.
1. Replace defensiveness with openness.
We become defensive when we take things personally or perceive that feedback is intended in a negative way. Learning to relax our defenses is helpful in truly hearing feedback and avoiding criticism, wanting to win, demanding change, and listening with an agenda.
Being open involves receptivity to feedback, difference, and resolving miscommunication in relationship without deflecting blame back onto your partner. Openness means being able to receive and understand your partner’s feedback or needs, even if their perspective doesn’t match yours.
2. Replace criticism with compassionate concern.
Expressing concerns or complaints through criticism is sure to send your partner into defensiveness. Avoid making broad criticisms like “you never do the dishes! You’re so lazy and inconsiderate!” Exploring your underlying needs/desires will help you communicate what the issue really is (it’s usually not the dishes).
When you want to express your concern to someone, approach them with compassion and love. Ditch the generalizations and name-calling. Instead, be specific about one time the behavior happened, what you felt and thought it meant, and ask for your partner’s help in coming up with a strategy that will work for both of you in the future. Often, the concern has less to do with the dishes and more to do with what we think it means about us and the relationship.
3. Replace wanting to win with valuing the relationship (even over being right).
Trying to approach a relationship with an attitude of “winning” arguments or being “right” leads us into the trap of keeping score in relationship – who did what, when, and what actions matter most. When we’re constantly trying to make sure we have the most points we create discontent and resentment rather than satisfaction and support in relationship.
Let go of needing to be right. Focus on approaching challenges as a team rather than competing against each other. The mark of an effective relationship is collaboration not competition.
4. Replace demanding your partner change with active acceptance.
A surefire way to get our partners to dig in their heels and become defensive is to demand that they change what they are doing or else. Ultimatums and threats can decrease trust and connection in relationship. We can still speak up when we see need for a change, just shift how we communicate our hope for change.
Coming from a place of acceptance sends a message of unconditional love and worth. Focusing on acceptance also helps us get in touch with what really matters. If we still feel a specific change is desirable, requests (not demands) opens space for change to happen as a collaborative and organic process. Still, our request may not be fulfilled, reminding us to focus on acceptance of the other or making a change in ourselves.
5. Stop listening with an agenda and start listening with curiosity.
Often, when we claim to be listening to someone we’re not really understanding them. We typically hear one or two key words that we latch onto that are different from our perspective, and go to town formulating a response. It’s easy to get wrapped up in figuring out how to “win” or getting our partner to see our “side” without taking the time to hear out their perspective.
We can show our curiosity by listening to understand instead of listening to respond. Listening to understand involves being engaged and curious about your partner’s perspective rather than making judgments or assumptions. Curiosity and listening to understand sends a message of caring about the other and valuing the relationship.
These five things aren’t easy to do, but they have the power to completely transform a relationship and your relationship with yourself! Good luck!