Step by step

  • Go slowly.
  • Work to feel like a team,
  • Lean into a feeling for yourselves as one entity, and
  • Think and act like people who usually get treated well by their partners.
  • Prepare for difficult conversations.
  • Practice self-soothing techniques.
  • Learn to focus on emotional process. These are the big three!
  • Together, agree to begin.
  • Use the 10 minute rule: If the guy or girl in the relationship hates to open up emotionally, or isn’t good at talking, or feels s/he gets interrupted all the time, or shouted down, then it’s worth working to the 10-minute rule. Sit down together to discuss things calmly and you each have ten minutes of uninterrupted talking time to put your case. Neither of you must interrupt or swear, or shout, or flounce out. You just talk when it’s your turn, and listen when it’s not. If you need another 10 minutes each, then have it. But agree before you start that you won’t let this discussion go on all night. Guys in particular hate the idea of an open-ended row that goes on and on. So agree that after, say, half an hour, you’ll go and get a pizza or something. Source
  • Balance this with a 2 minute drama or monologue as needed. Stamp your feet, howl, scream, blame the government, whatever… Okay you’ve got 15 seconds left… get it off your chest… Now, back to team work, after offering appreciation for the time given to letting off steam.
  • ‘When women say “let’s talk” every man runs for cover.’ The trouble with “we have to talk!” or “I have a question” as openers is they don’t invite our partner to lean into the conversation and leave the person asking the question, believing the other won’t talk or doesn’t listen.
  • Assume that each is acting in good faith and with a good heart.
  • Your partner is likely doing their best and carrying the most they can bear as well.
  • If disturbed sleep is an issue, address sleep deprivation first!
  • Choose tiny steps. Intend the smallest imaginable change first and together.
  • For example, turning toward bids for connection rather than away,
  • ensuring the first four minutes of coming together after work offers meaningful re-connection,
  • turning every complaint into a request.
  • Intentionally expressing appreciation and gratitude to each other.
  • Err on the side of using ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘us’ rather than ‘you’ and ‘me’ language. Source.
  • Organize your lives, cooperatively around these intentions.
  • That is a mammoth task for many couples but
  • even a tiny speck of light changes the very nature of darkness.
  • A strong friendship and one of fondness and admiration are key.
  • Most marriages can mend if a tiny spark of fondness and admiration remains. Become well versed in each other’s likes, dislikes, quirks, hopes and dreams. Make a habit of enquiring about these.Gottman
  • Ask both yourself and your beloved what surprised you today? What inspired you today? What touched or moved you today? What strength did you draw on to pull yourself through a difficult moment today?
  • These can be about work, home and life. Note them in a shared diary.
  • Deepen your knowledge of each other by asking how, what, where and when questions.
  • Avoid ‘why’ questions when a ‘how’ will do.
  • Express appreciation and gratitude – I can’t repeat this enough.
  • Talk with tact, and scan ahead.
  • React if you must but with forethought and later.
  • Put good manners first, rehash garbage last.
  • Don’t get caught in the criticize/pursue/attack and defend/placate/withdraw cycle
  • The above are also the ground rules for a dignified co-existence in a broken relationship.
  • Communication change makes a difference.
  • Change saying ‘you make me feel’ to saying ‘I feel … when you …’.
  • Change ‘don’t wants’ to ‘would likes’.
  • Change hoping and hinting to asking directly with ‘I …’
  • Change guessing or assuming to making it explicit.
  • Label your feelings – verbalize emotions instead of acting them out.
  • Give up the struggle to change them into someone you want and they are not.
  • Forget the idea that all problems can be solved. Many issues are not solvable, they are perpetual.
  • Solve the solvable ones and work around the irreconcilable differences.
  • Apologize even if you are right (the “right” or “happy”, “proud” or “close” dilemma) or turn your marriage into a courtroom: “I’m right, you’re wrong and I can prove it” by using the deal breaking trump card that I keep in store for these occasions.
  • Sometimes both of you are exhausted by an absorbing yet divisive negative interaction cycle. Unable to find the positive cycle that will draw you together again?
  • The negative interaction cycle is the problem – not your partner.
  • The pattern is the problem.
  • Finding it hard to believe that you contribute equally to the cycle? It is a dance remember!
  • If in doubt read Sue Johnson’s “Hold Me Tight.”
  • First, agree to consciously manage the space and time given to recycling reactive emotions like anger, jealousy, resentment, despair and frustration.
  • These create isolation and push you further apart.
  • This is not recommending censorship nor silencing but intentional and kind management of difficult emotions by
  • changing difficult conversations to learning conversations.
  • If you can’t work as a team at this level, then get help.