Communication Skill: Positive Phrasing

Couples seeking counseling often tell me, “We just can’t communicate.”

Most of us want to feel understood and supported by our partners – but what that means can differ from person to person. Sometimes deeper emotional conflicts need to be resolved, but in most instances, focusing on how partners express themselves is the first positive step toward resolving bigger emotional issues.  

One common mistake we make in intimate relationships is that we talk naturally, like we would in any other context. But our conversations with our partners — especially on emotional or intimate topics — should be purposeful, not casual.

When talking with your partner, focus on positive phrasing. Here are a few examples: 

Negative: I’m not discouraged about that
Positive: I feel encouraged by that

Negative: I don’t want to be late
Positive: I would like to arrive early

Negative: I don’t care where we go for dinner
Positive: I like both of those options for dinner

Negative: Don’t ignore me
Positive: Please focus on me when I talk to you

Do you hear the difference? After I point out this pattern and ask clients to restate their thought in a positive sense I find that even their tone of voice and facial expression are softened, more lively. As a listener, it is more engaging to hear positive phrasing as it draws us closer together. 

I encourage you to give more detail when stating positive needs. Try to be specific, give good information to your partner on exactly how they can meet your needs.

For example, instead of simply stating “Please focus on me when I talk to you,” go further. Say something like:

“Please put down your phone and look at me, so I know you are focused on me. It helps me feel heard.”

These changes in the way partners express may seem small, but keep in mind that communication in relationships is a big picture made up of many small elements. 

Have questions or want to learn more about Couples Therapy? CLICK HERE to contact Dr. Parker

Making Up is Hard to Do

People in “good” relationships never argue or have conflict, right? Not really. All couples argue – unless, of course, their issues are not being addressed or resolved.

Don’t be afraid of conflict – be more afraid of not being able to resolve the issue or conflict.

How you reconnect with each other during and after the argument is more important than the argument itself. When we are in conflict, we are hyper-aware of our differences. We feel disconnected. It can take a terrible toll on the bond we have created.

The key to a long-lasting relationship – after a difficult argument or conflict – is the process of reconnection. Understanding how the argument went, apologizing for your part in it, and most insightful of all, learning what you both can do better next time an issue arises. This is a critical step in healthy conflict resolution because it reattaches the sense of closeness and bonding that felt lost during the conflict.

An effective “tool” in conflict resolution is the repair attempt – a phrase coined by Dr. John Gottman – couples researcher, clinical psychologist, and founder of the Gottman Institute in Seattle, whose methods I practice.

A repair attempt is a small attempt at some level of resolution that takes place in the midst of a conflict. Keep in mind that we don’t have to wait till we’re completely wrung out to start making up!

Making up is hard to do unless we remember to give the relationship higher priority than the issue itself.

When we see conflict as a necessary step in the relationship that we need to get through, it’s easier to make those repair attempts. But if we are afraid of conflict, uncomfortable or have a me vs you attitude, we don’t make the repair attempts.

If we can make up as we go through it, and at the end, conflict is not to be feared.

Here are three ways to begin with a repair attempt:
1.  Ask for a break, but be committed to coming back to the issue
2.  Validate some aspect of your partner’s position… I agree with your statement that…
3.  Find common ground in the frustration: be frustrated together rather than with each other

Have questions or want to learn more about Couples Therapy? CLICK HERE to contact Dr. Parker