- The attachment styles of couples can determine what type of communication works best for them, experts say.
- They advised partners to discuss one issue at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- And they recommended picking a safe word or using a timer to make sure both partners get a break.
John gottman, the famous researcher and couples therapist, estimated that 67% of couples will divorce within 40 years of marriage. In fact, Gottman was divorced twice before meeting his third wife and business partner, Julie Gottman.
Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt, the founders of Imago relationship therapy, had both divorced their partners before they got married – and they literally wrote the book on how to make a marriage work.
If even the most prolific psychologists with access to all the latest research can still fail in relationships, does the rest of us stand a chance?
Yes, they will tell you, because a partner who is willing to do the job with you can change everything. And they speak from experience.
If you don’t have hundreds of dollars to spend on couples therapy, or if your partner isn’t willing to go, you can still practice communicating effectively, hearing your partner’s needs, and dealing with conflicts. Conflicts.
Here are six research-based tools that the best couple therapists recommend to their clients.
Learn your attachment styles
In “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find – and Keep – LoveAmir Levine explains how attachment styles – secure, anxious, or avoidant – affect relationship success.
“Avoidant partners seek independence and create distance after too much proximity,” said Levine, adding that “anxious partners have a very sensitive radar for distance and react to it as a danger.”
These two styles often end up together, resulting in a conflict loop where neither feels like their needs are being met.
Levine encourages anxious partners to practice articulating their exact needs clearly and calmly instead of emotionally reacting to a trigger.
Her advice for avoidant people is to learn to be more receptive to their partners. “Small availability messages – a quick text message thinking of you once a day – make a huge difference,” he said. “In seconds, you can say the right thing or give a hug and help an anxious partner feel better.”
Discuss one problem at a time
Too often one person brings up an issue, the other becomes defensive and raises a counter-issue, and now the two are bickering and no one even remembers the topic of the initial conversation.
Levine has a rule to prevent this. “Only one person can be upset at a time,” he said. “Whoever got upset first is the person who fixed their problem. “
The next time your partner complains, keep the conversation short and to the point with your full attention.
Use a structured conversation
Catherine ford, a couples therapist, recommended that “when it is your turn to speak, speak for only one to two sentences, then allow a pause before your partner speaks.”
“It slows down the conversation and helps you both learn listening and emotional regulation skills,” Ford said.
Consider using this therapist-recommended model to phrase a problem in non-threatening language: “When you X, I feel Y. What I need from you is Z”.
Try active listening
Active listening is designed to help you really hear your partner.
“One partner takes the role of ‘sharing’, and the other takes the role of ‘listening’ and listening without interruption,” said Leanna Stockard, couple therapist with LifeStance Health.
“After the sharing partner is done, the listening partner makes sure they got it with a comment like, ‘I understand that you feel X, is that correct? “” said Stockard.
Remember, you don’t necessarily agree with your partner’s feelings – you’re just reflecting on what they’ve said to show that you’re listening and that you care.
Don’t run stop sign
Ford said that “when you are inundated – or emotionally triggered to the point of an adrenaline rush – your brain can no longer absorb and process information.”
It’s a stop sign for the conversation, Ford said.
“Running a stop sign puts the safety of the relationship at risk, so you both have to learn that and stop doing it,” Ford added. “As soon as you start to feel ‘closed’ to the other person’s feelings or point of view, as if you are just waiting for the opportunity to make your point, it’s a stop sign and you call a time out. “
Choose a security word or set a timer
If your fights tend to get out of hand, find a safe word and “use it to let your partner know you’re getting worse or stopping and you need a break,” Stockard said.
Another tactic is to set a timer for five minutes and commit to taking a break from the discussion when it goes off. Even if you haven’t worked out anything by then, “sticking to the plan together will help build trust in the relationship,” Stockard said.
After the break, resume the conversation (and the timer) for another five minutes.