4 Really Good and Really Bad Ways to Communicate With Your Spouse

Good communication is a skill. No one is naturally perfect at it. What can make matters worse is when two less than perfect people come together in a relationship and fail at communicating with one another. It is one of the most frustrating things out there. One person is frustrated about this and the other person thinks they are saying that and then you get into an argument over this and that and keep shouting past each other.

Not only can you be on different pages, but when one person gets frustrated, the other person can get defensive. It’s like both of you are saying “Say hello to my wall. It is here to keep you out and me from getting any closer to you than I have to.” The wall can manifest in withdrawing or shouting at the other person. When bad communication is present, there is little to no chance at making a significant connection.

Dr. John and Julie Gottman have done a lot of research discovering what makes marriages work and what doesn’t. When it comes to communication they say that there are four patterns of communication (The 4 Horseman) that can indicate the end of a relationship. These four ways of communicating are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling.

Criticism – Criticism is easy to spot when you hear words like “always” or “never” during conflict. An example of criticism would be “You always forget to clean up after yourself. You never take responsibility for anything around the house.”

Defensiveness – Defensiveness is the tendency to avoid blame for any part in a conflict. An example of defensiveness would be “I was too busy to get to that today, why you didn’t just do it?” You push all of the blame onto someone or something else.

Contempt – Contempt is an attack on your partner’s sense of self. Each horseman is damaging to your partner, but contempt can be one of the most painful forms of bad conflict processing. An example of contempt during conflict is “You are such a worthless person. I can’t believe I’m married to you.” Contempt is incredibly harsh and can produce a lot of destruction within a marriage.

Stonewalling – Stonewalling is the easiest to spot because it involves few words, if any. When your partner is stonewalling they stop speaking and sometimes leave the room to avoid conflict. This signals that they have become hopeless about resolving conflict or feel too overwhelmed to handle conflict. The more that stonewalling surfaces in a relationship, the more it damages the marriage.

If you’re human you have probably used a couple of these in the past or maybe even today. No one grows up in a household where conflict is managed in a perfectly healthy way, so we bring those conflict strategies into our friendships and marriages. It is okay to mess up, but let’s get to work on using healthy conflict strategies. Here are a few alternatives to The 4 Horseman that allow healthy communication and encourage a healthy marriage as well.

Have a Gentle Posture – Instead of telling your partner what they always or never do, try to focus on the reason what they have done has upset you. In the process use more “I” statements than “You” statements. An example of having a gentle posture would be “Whenever I ask for help cleaning around the house and don’t get it, I feel burdened and stressed. Would you mind helping me clean up?”

Take Responsibility – Instead of placing blame on others or something else, take responsibility for your wrongdoing. An example might be “I completely forgot to do that. I apologize and will take care of it.”

Show Care and Respect – Using contempt within a marriage is the one of the worst things that can happen to your relationship with your partner. Instead of attacking and breaking down your partner, make it a priority to compliment and elevate them. An example of showing care and respect would be, “I really admire how much effort you put into spending time with the kids. You are a really great mom/dad”

Take a break, then come back – Stonewalling is giving up on the conflict and avoiding any sort of resolution. When you get frustrated or upset, take a break until you have calmed down. Once you have calmed down, go back to your partner and try to find a resolution or compromise. This signals that you do care and you do want to work through your disagreement.

When you reach a roadblock in communication with your partner, it can become very straining on your relationship. Instead of communicating in a hurtful way, try some of these healthy alternatives to The 4 Horseman out. If you continue to struggle with issues within your marriage, it might be helpful to reach out to a local therapist. Some therapists have years of specialization in marriage work and might be able to help. Sometimes working through conflict can seem impossible, but there is hope.


When It Feels Like No One Knows You

Some of us, to some extent, have felt like no one really knows us. Maybe it is persistent, or it comes in intense waves. It could come after losing someone important to you or when you sit down alone surrounded by yourself. Regardless, when it surfaces, it is painful, better yet, excruciating. Maybe you have tons of friends and a wonderful family, but it still seems like no one really knows you. You are not alone. Other people feel the same way, and there is hope. There is a great depiction of this feeling in the show Mad Men.

The scene happens when Don breaks down after losing Anna. If you aren’t familiar with the show, Don Draper is the main character who plays a brilliant adman on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. He remains distant and shows very little emotional vulnerability throughout the show. He continues to shove people away that care for him and keep them at arm’s length.

Anna plays the wife who was married to the man that Don steals the identity of before the show takes place. She allows him to take the identity of her dead husband, knowing that he didn’t want to go back to war and wanted to start over from a past of being raised poor and brought up in a brothel. Through Anna’s kindness and support, Don is able to start over. Don doesn’t share this with anyone for several seasons of the show, so Anna is one of the only people that knows about that part of Don’s life.

The scene takes place in Don’s office when he receives a phone call while with arguably one of the closest people he knows post identity swap. During the phone call, the person on the phone tells him that Anna has died from cancer. It takes him a few moments, but after the phone call, he breaks into tears. You see the pain, grief, agony, and loneliness sweep across his face. He realizes that he has lost someone who knew of his past and loved him regardless. He knew that she hadn’t been drawn to him because of his current prosperity and status; rather, she supported him before he had accomplished anything. He hadn’t lost everything, but it felt like it. After being asked what was wrong, Don says, “Someone very important to me died…The only person in the world who really knew me.”

You may not have lost someone, but maybe you are acquainted with that feeling. Sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious as to why you feel that way. You might have plenty of friends and great family members but still feel alone and unknown. After a while it can build, and the usual conversations and relationships may not seem like enough. You want more and don’t know where to find it or how to get it. Other times it is obvious why you feel that way. Maybe you don’t have many people to talk to, and you feel forgotten.

The antidote to this feeling is genuine deep connection. Tim Keller, a public speaker and retired NYC-based pastor, describes this well:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is…. what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

The pain is real and the satisfaction from connection runs deep. There can be a strong temptation to keep pieces of yourself hidden from everyone. If you hide the bullying you went through in school, the bad divorce you experienced, or the guilt from the way you have treated people in the past, people can’t judge you or treat you differently for it. You can keep things from people and, in fact, sometimes you should. However, the feeling of loneliness and being unknown can start to creep in the more that you hold painful things in.

Don is an excellent example of this. He keeps his identity and past a secret from most people throughout the show. No one knows of his painful and ugly past except for Anna. She was the one person he could turn to that knew and cared for him unconditionally. There is a strong sense of relief that comes from showing someone everything and then having them love and care for you despite your ugliness.

Make time to share with people that you know are trustworthy. A supportive and encouraging ear can be transformative. This isn’t something that will go away overnight, but with the right people and willingness to share, it won’t hold as much power.

If this feeling persists more often than not and doesn’t seem to go away, then seek professional help from a local counselor or psychiatrist. This could be a symptom of depression. With the right care you can move forward and find healing.

Why Relationships Are Important

Why Relationships Are Important

Whether you struggle with anxiety, anger, stress, perfectionism, depression, or anything in between, there is hope.  Developing more healthy relationships, or transforming current relationships into more healthy and positive ones, is a big piece of the healing process. This oftentimes means fighting the feeling of loneliness and I won’t pretend that it’s easy. It’s not. In fact, it’s really hard at times. Creating or maintaining healthy relationships in our society today has become more difficult than saying no to Girl Scout cookies. We are constantly being dragged from one thing to the next with little to no time to develop relationships. In order to make relationships work, they need quite a bit of time and effort. In order for them to get time and effort, most of us need to know that they are going to pay out. Is the time spent investing in relationships able to produce a high return on investment?

Relationships and Your Physical Health

The proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a study suggesting the number and quality of social relationships a person has impacts their health just as much as diet and exercise. Having less quality relationships has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and other serious health concerns across different parts of a person’s lifespan. The mortality rate for older adults significantly increases the less a person is socially connected, and the risk for obesity among adolescents significantly increases the less they are socially connected.

The physical response to being less connected to people is burdensome. Not only can it decrease your lifespan, but it can also affect your quality of life.

Relationships and Your Mental Health

Not only is a lack of relationships bad for your physical heath, but loneliness has a negative impact on your mental health as well. Loneliness has been linked to depression and increases a person’s risk of committing suicide. Loneliness can also increase stress and decrease motivation which can make it incredibly difficult to cope with everyday stressors and accomplish tasks.

Living life without meaningful relationships is hard. It becomes more difficult to deal with the hard times and enjoy the good ones.

If there is one thing worth adding to the top of your to-do list, connecting with people should be that thing. Make sure to invest time in people that are important to you and possibly even creating new relationships. If you notice that most of the things you set aside time for throughout the week are tasks related to work or running errands, and you end most weeks feeling stressed out and empty, then commit to taking some time to nurture and build relationships. That could be taking your spouse on a date, or going out with friends. Regardless of how you do it, make an effort to connect. If loneliness is something that you struggle with often and don’t see a way out, then reach out to a professional for help.

Importance of Self-Care: Why Caring for Yourself is Caring for All

You’re overwhelmed at work. You have a ton of projects piling up at home, and your calendar is packed with overdue tasks. To make room for all of this stuff, you skip lunch, stop going to the gym, and forget about your social life entirely. When we’re stressed, self-care is usually the first thing to go. And that only makes things worse.

It’s easy to neglect taking care of ourselves because when we’re busy and overwhelmed, even a small reprieve feels like a luxury. So actually taking time to eat lunch, exercise, and hang out with friends? That just feels like slacking.

Self-care is important for your physical health as well as your mind, soul and, let’s face it, your overall health. Without self-care, your relationships with others can suffer tremendously. Neglecting ourselves and focusing too much on work or other people can be like trying to write a 50-page paper, the night before it’s due, working on 2 hours of sleep. You need to get the paper done, and you might finish it. However, it won’t be published in any journal or selected as a New York Times Best Seller.

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No matter how unimportant you may think it is, self-care is crucial for our physical, emotional and mental well-being. You shouldn’t neglect self-care and here’s why:

It increases your sense of respect and care for yourself, allowing you to appreciate and accept yourself for who you are. Self-care is only possible after you come to the realization that you are important and need to be cared for. Also, it helps with productivity. When you learn how to say “no” to things that over-extend you and start making time for things that matter more, you slow life down in a wonderful way. This brings your goals into sharper focus and helps you to concentrate on what you’re doing. It also promotes feelings of peace and relaxation, serving as a way to refocus and come back to your daily life refreshed and ready to take on anything. It also enhances self-esteem like when you regularly carve out time that’s only about being good to yourself and meeting your own needs; you send a positive message to your subconscious. Specifically, you treat yourself like you matter and have intrinsic value. This can go a long way toward discouraging negative self-talk and your critical inner voice.

At the same time, it improves both physical and mental health by reducing the effects of prolonged stress on your mind and body. Lastly, when you’re good to yourself, you might think you’re being selfish. In truth, self-care gives you the resources you need to be compassionate to others as well. Giving compassion is a bit like filling a bucket; you can’t fill someone else’s if you haven’t filled your own!

Four Pathways to Self-Care

Fortunately, there are several ways that you can care for yourself:

1. Physical: care for your body (everything from sleep to seeing the dentist)

Your body needs what it needs. Getting enough sleep, food, and exercise is critical to your mental health and stability. The more you neglect your biological imperatives, the less energy, motivation, and will-power you’ll be left with throughout the day to deal with intense feelings like anxiety, anger, or depression when they come up.

2. Emotional: care for your feelings (acknowledging & processing feelings, changing distressing situations)

Take time to notice and process your feelings. For example, if you start to notice anxiety come up, then take some time to cool down and think through what might be causing it. A lot of times what feels like life or death in the moment turns out to be less severe once we have time to calm down and think through it. Other times you may need to reach out for support from people you trust.

3. Spiritual: care for your spirit (a worship community, a cause greater than you, nature)

Whatever your religious background may be, connecting to a cause greater than yourself can provide deep fulfillment and satisfaction.

4. Social: care for your relationships (friends who get you, family time, lunch with your coworkers)

Significant, healthy relationships are incredibly important. Connecting with others provides stability and support. When people notice you for who you are, and appreciate you, then it helps you to notice how important and worthwhile you are. Relationships help us to see the pieces of us that sometimes go unnoticed.

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Some practical tips for self-care include: living healthy, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and avoid drugs and excessive alcohol. Manage stress and go for regular medical check-ups, exercise by taking classes with others for motivation, and spend time doing things that help you relax. Practice good hygiene which is important for social, medical, and psychological reasons in that it not only reduces the risk of illness, but it also improves the way others view you and how you view yourself. Also, see friends to build your sense of belonging. Consider joining a support group to make new friends. You may also try to do something you enjoy every day. That might mean dancing, watching a favorite TV show, working in the garden, painting or reading. Lastly, find ways to relax, like meditation, yoga, getting a massage, taking a bath or walking in the woods.

With so many types of self-care, it can often be difficult to find a good balance. Having a self-care routine can be incredibly helpful. It’s so important to take time for yourself and shed the stress. An hour a day can make a huge difference. It’s a great way to stay motivated and take time for yourself every day!

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