The Magic Key To Repairing Relationships

Couples who come to me for help in repairing their marriage or relationship often say,
“We seem to fight about the same things over and over; we can’t get past
these issues!”  One or both partners repeatedly bring up the same things
from the past with frustration and resentment, saying, “Why can’t you
understand why this upsets me?”

Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist dedicated to researching and documenting
the keys to happy a marriage and intimate relationships, discovered that every couple has
recurring issues creating stress and tension in their relationship.  Some
of these issues are, to some degree, irresolvable, or at the very least
won’t go away any time soon.  These relationship stressors include personality differences,
children and blended families, infidelity, , chronic illness, grief, and so forth.  Gottman found that one
distinguishing characteristic of couples who remain happily together is not
their lack of stressors and conflict, rather it is how they repair their
relationship when the inevitable hurt feelings and upset occur.

Of course everyone responds better to what Gottman calls a “soft start up”
in raising issues that irritate or upset us, such as “Honey, you left your
socks on the floor again,” rather than yelling at your spouse and setting
the cursed socks on fire in the sink (so tempting, I know, but not
helpful!)  Still, such communication techniques don’t address why the same
issues resurface time and again in couples’ arguments.

Harville Hendrix, author of Getting The Love You Want, explains why couples
argue about the same things over and over, and what to do about it, even
when the issue cannot be fixed but only managed.  When I experienced
Hendrix’s Imago Dialogue, or “Safe Conversations” technique firsthand with
my own partner, I was amazed at how quickly we moved from a place of being
hurt, angry and stuck, to feeling compassion and empathy for one another.

Rather than focusing how to better state our own side of things, *we need
to **actively listen** deeply to one another, so that we each feel truly
understood*.  Once your partner can honestly say, “Now you really do get
why I feel so upset when that happens,” they can finally let go of
explaining their side and be open to moving forward together.

The old saying, “You can be right, or you can be happily married,” is
true.  *There is no place for “right or wrong” in marriage and intimate relationships.*
We each have our own experience of “what happened” and what it means to
us.  I needed to understand what my words and actions meant to my partner.
I needed to be able to restate his experience in my own words, “So, when I
said ‘X”, you felt “Y’ and what that meant to you was ‘Z’ - is that right?”

Once I correctly understood my partner’s experience, I needed to validate
his experience by saying, “It makes sense to me that you feel that way
because ….”.  *We all want to feel understood AND validated. * It’s not
enough to understand that your partner feels hurt - it needs to make sense
to you why they feel hurt.  You don’t have to agree with their experience
or share it, but it needs to make sense to you.  When your partner feels
heard and validated, they can begin to “let go” of the old stuff because
now you “get it”.  And then they are freed up to be able to hear your
experience, which is going to be different from their experience because you are
different people.

Listening deeply and validating your partner’s experience and feelings is
harder to do in the beginning than it sounds.   It’s hard to deeply listen
and not interrupt your partner, edit their “version” of things, criticize
them or defend yourself.  However, once couples learn this dialogue
technique they are often as amazed as I was to see how quickly it shifts
the conversation from being a rehash of the past to being about the
present, with deeper compassion and connection with one another.

I now teach couples how to listen deeply and have compassionate
conversations from the beginning of our work together, to stop “The Blame
Game,” and to give them  a practical skill that immediately creates deeper
connection.  This communication skill is also useful with friends, family
and coworkers.  Once you learn how to use this “magic key” to repair
misunderstandings and hurt feelings, your conversations will never be “the
same old thing over and over” - and that’s a good thing!

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