In most relationships, there is conflict. The way that you deal with conflict is so important to being close. John Gottman suggests using specific word to help people repair their relationships when there is conflict. He suggests using “I feel” statements instead of “You” statements. Saying how you feel with “I feel” statements allows the other person to hear you without becoming defensive. It’s a non-threatening way of communicating.
I Feel statements:
If the communication starts to get more intense or emotional, one of you may need to take the intensity down. When emotions are high, it’s very difficult to have a reasonable conversation. Here are some suggestions for those circumstances:
I Need To Calm Down:
Apologies and taking responsibility for your part can be really powerful, especially when they’re heartfelt. They can immediately change the intensity of the interaction and start moving you in a different direction.
Finally, in every conflict there is a way to get to a resolution. Providing some positive comments can be very helpful in getting you to an agreement.
Get To Yes:
Using these statements and tools involves being kind. Kindness is the glue to healthy relationships. Kindness is like a muscle – it’s easier to be kind the more you practice. It’s difficult to practice kindness during a fight when emotions are running high. When you’re emotional, it can be hard to think of what to say to be kind. But these kind words can be powerful tools to repair feelings during a conflict so that the end result is a much closer, more intimate relationship.
When your partner pulls away, you may feel hurt. You may even feel a deep sense of rejection and fear that he or she doesn’t love you and may leave you. Typically, this is an irrational feeling if your partner has shown you over time that they love you. Your partner pulling away from you is likely the result of their past experiences and circumstances. Something happened in their past that makes them pull away when they feel upset.
Intimate relationships are hard because there are so many complex emotions that we might not fully understand. Experiences from the past are brought up and those feelings impact your reactions. If it was just about the single incident, it wouldn’t take you long to recognize that your partner loves you and when he or she pulled away, it wasn’t due to the way they feel about you. But instead you feel that irrational rejection. So why do you have that irrational feeling?
These irrational feelings are usually triggered by past experience – possibly being rejected by a parent or a past partner. A part of the brain that is triggered doesn’t know the difference between the current experience and the past experience. So you feel deeply hurt and you become scared that the person will leave you. You immediately react – either fight or pull away. This may create the same feeling in your partner and, in turn, they may pull away even further. Before you know it, you are completely disconnected from each other emotionally.
What do we do about this? The first step is try to figure out what previous experience is coming up for you. Did you have a rejecting parent? Was your parent depressed, anxious, addicted to something or unable to meet your needs when you were a child? If so, when a partner pulls away you feel like a child again. I call it being “kicked into your kid”. You are that 8 or 10-year-old child again where you didn’t get your needs met and didn’t feel unconditional love from a parent. If you have a bad experience of being hurt by a previous relationship, when a partner pulls away you may feel scared of being hurt again. This is a little easier to understand and connect on an emotional level. But this new partner didn’t leave so it’s important to separate your feelings from your past from this current relationship.
The second step is to share your feelings with your partner in a clear, non-threatening way. Use an “I message”:
I feel ________________ when you ____________ because _________. Would you please ______________?
I feel hurt when you pull away because it brings up the feelings I had when I was rejected by my mom when I was a child. Would you please let me know that you still love me?
This is scary to do for many people because you are making yourself extremely vulnerable. But you are also learning how to communicate your feelings which will bring you closer and will enable you to have a truly deep intimate connection with your significant other.
When you disagree with a spouse, co-worker or child, it’s easy to get emotional. Intense feelings can be triggered and the disagreement can turn into a messy fight. Things are said in the heat of the moment that you can’t take back. At that moment, it seems like you don’t have control over your brain. Wouldn’t it be great if you were able to train your brain so this wouldn’t happen?
During these interactions, we get consumed by what's called the “reptilian” part of the brain – the survival part of our brain that scans for danger multiple times per second to find potential danger lurking. That primitive part of the brain only sees two possible solutions to problems – fight or flight. The reptilian brain feeds on fear and actually shuts off the creative problem-solving part of the brain. Your heart starts racing, you get flushed and your voice starts getting louder. The other person responds in the same way and the interaction escalates.
When your creative thinking area of the brain is shut off, you won’t be able to come to a compromise or handle the situation in the best manner. So what do you do to train your brain not to respond this way? The main technique to learn is to slow your brain down. To be able to do that you literally have to remove yourself from the heated situation by saying, “I need some time…” Give yourself the time and space to slow down. Take deep abdominal breaths, go for a walk, listen to music or call a friend. It may take anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes. Once your brain is functioning slower, you may be able to think of a solution. Or you may realize that you don’t need to come up with a solution right away – you may be able to give yourself a few days or more to find a compromise.
Training your brain this way takes time and practice. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t do it right away. Tell yourself, “I’ve got this, I can do this.” Eventually you’ll learn this technique and you’ll find that your newly trained brain will help you tremendously in many different areas of your life.
Experts agree that parents who are divorcing need to have an age appropriate conversation with their children telling them: 1) “We both love you very much. Nothing will ever change that love and we will always be here for you.”, 2) ”The divorce isn’t your fault, it’s ours.” and 3) “Even though things are going to change, we will always be a family.” However, to give your children the best chance for a happy childhood, the positive messaging can’t stop there.
There are a number of effective strategies that are extremely important for parents to bear in mind. One strategy to minimize the negative impact of divorce on children is to keep children out of disagreements between the parents. Even when couples are married, children get upset when their parents fight. Imagine how much worse it is for children of divorced or separated parents. They already have experienced their family breaking apart. They need their parents to reassure them that their new family structure is stable and secure. Children need to know that their parents will work disagreements out in a calm and rational way.
Another way to minimize the negative impact of divorce on children is to avoid saying anything negative about the other parent in front of the children. When parents say negative things about the other parent, they “parentify” their children. They actually switch roles with the child and children become the parent. Many parents don’t even realize that they do this. They rely on their children to be their support system and share information with children that children shouldn’t be aware of. For example, a father complains to his children that he has to pay so much in alimony. Or a mother complains that the father called her a name. These things are very upsetting to children and can be damaging.
Separation and divorce can be an extremely difficult time in life and it’s very important to get support such as a therapist or a divorce coach. This will enable parents to have someone to talk to so that they won’t put their children in the middle of their conflicts with their ex-spouse. This will enable children to focus on school, friends and their own lives which is what we want them to be focused on.
Finally, if your child complains about the other parent, encourage your child to work things out with him or her. Say something supportive like, “I’m sure that mom didn’t mean to upset you. Talk to her about it.” It’s so important for children to have strong relationships with both parents, if at all possible. These strategies can make the difference and result in children who grow into adults who have happy lives and healthy relationships.
Typically couples start marriage counseling when it's too late - after an affair, when they're thinking about divorce, when there are years and years of anger and resentment built up. Although counseling can help a couple at almost any time, the sooner you start counseling, the more likely the couple will be able to make significant positive changes in their relationship.
The best time to start couples counseling is when you first see signs of issues. Even before there are any issues, most couples can benefit from counseling. During one of my sessions with a couple, one client said, "I wish I had known this years ago." If couples were to start couples counseling early on then they can avoid issues that can develop over time. Here are some signs that couples counseling is a good option:
1. When you're not talking
2. When you don't feel like your partner hears you
3. When you're communicating in a negative way - where you feel judged, shamed, disregarded or the tone of communication is condescending or sarcastic
4. When affection is withheld as punishment
5. When you see your partner as an adversary
6. When you keep secrets
7. When you're considering having an affair
8. When you find you're staying together for the children
Couples counseling can be a safe place to learn how to heal through awareness, compassion and behavior change. When couples are committed to the process, they can develop a truly connected relationship where they remember why they fell in love.
My son just recently had his wisdom teeth removed and he's recovering nicely physically. But his moods are another story. I've been biting my tongue and trying to stay calm but if I hadn't gone through this with my two older sons I wouldn't be able to be able to put this phase into perspective.
The teen years can be tough - for parents and for teens. Hormones are going wild, teens are trying to figure out who they are and there is so much pressure on them to succeed in school and in life. I wouldn't want to go back to those years for all the money in the world!
Each child experiences the teen years differently but they all have some kind of adjustment. I've counseled many parents of teens and teenagers and I've found that the most important thing that a parent can do is to focus on their relationship with the teen. If the relationship is strong, your teen should be ok. While it may be difficult to have a good relationship with your teen, here are some tips to help:
All of this requires a parent to be very patient and to have a lot of self-control. In order to do that, we need to take care of ourselves. As I've mentioned in my previous blog posts, it's extremely important for parents to take care of themselves. So when you find yourself ready to react harshly with your teen, ask yourself, "What can I do right now to take care of myself?" If you can do this successfully, you'll get through the teen years and have independent, appreciative and happy adult children to laugh about it with!
I am quoted in an article in the 2016 Central Jersey Family Living. It's titled, "Making Time to Bond" and it outlines how mother-son and father-daughter time is important. You may not have seen it because it's at the back of the magazine but if you have it, take a look. The article describes how it's easier to spend time with the same sex child - fathers take their sons to ballgames and mothers take their daughters for manicures. This may be true in some cases. What it didn't go into was that each child and parent relationship is so unique that it's difficult to generalize. Some mothers are more connected to their sons and find it easier to spend time with them while some dads are more connected to their daughters. It's so dependent upon the personality of the child and parent that it's better to discuss how important it is to spend focused time with your child.
The child can feel so special by a parent doing something that the child really enjoys. It really does a lot for a child's self-esteem if the parent regularly listens to the child and spends quality time doing what the child likes to do. This doesn't have to be every day - once a week is enough. But taking an hour or two once a week gives the child a gift that will last a lifetime.
What do you do with your child to make them feel special?
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.