S.T.O.P. ! A four-step strategy for handling conflicts and healing your relationship

Written by Betsy Sansby, MS, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

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Every act of overt muscling by one partner leads to 2 equally powerful acts of covert defiance byrepparttar other! Don’t mistake submission for devotion, or obedience for love.

Q: Have I engaged in any acts of covert defiance? • Withdrawing or Avoiding (includes:repparttar 122050 garage,repparttar 122051 kids, work, school, alcohol, etc.). • Stonewalling (includes:repparttar 122052 silent treatment, refusing to talk). • Withholding affection, attention, tenderness, appreciation, sex. • Making excuses for why I didn’t follow-through . . . again. • Making and breaking promises and agreements. • Procrastinating. • Chronic “forgetting”: “Oops. . . You know how my memory is.” • Chronic lateness. • Chronic apologies without subsequent changes in behavior. • Flaunting my affection for others in front of my partner. • Lying or hidingrepparttar 122053 truth. • Bad-mouthing my partner to our children, friends, family. • Developing a social network that excludes my partner.

Q: What could I have done that would have been more helpful, more considerate, more kind?

Q: What vulnerable feelings were beneath my anger or defensiveness? (Examples: fear, guilt, embarrassment, sadness, hurt).

Q: What vulnerable feelings might have been beneath my partner’s behavior?

After you’ve answered these questions and have a better understanding of what went wrong and what part you played, you’re ready forrepparttar 122054 last step: Peace Offering.

4. PEACE OFFERING. Assuming you’ve done all 3 previous steps, you should be ready to come back together and talk. Each of you should take a turn sharing what you learned about yourself from your time away. This means owning your part, apologizing to your partner forrepparttar 122055 hurt you may have caused, and making a peace offering. A peace offering can be as simple as a hug or a kiss, or it can be a promise or an agreement to do something different. When both of you have completed this step, chances are you’ll be feeling lots better.

Here’s an example of how this step might sound:

“At first, all I could see was what you did to make me mad–but when I went throughrepparttar 122056 lists and saw: blaming, forgetting, and excusing–I realized that I played a part in what went wrong. I think I was attacking you because I was feeling guilty myself for forgetting to do X. Sorry. I know I let you down. Next time I can try to be more honest sooner, or I can at least stop blaming you before you’ve even had a chance to talk. I promise to do X by Friday.”

Sounds good, huh? You can do it, too. Practicerepparttar 122057 STOP strategy over and over untilrepparttar 122058 steps are automatic. It takes lots of repetition, so hang in there! When you’ve got it down, try teaching it to your kids. If they’re too young to understand it, userepparttar 122059 strategy in front of them. They’ll learn by example how to communicate lovingly and respectfully.

Good Luck! © Copyright 2004 by Betsy Sansby, MS, LMFT

Betsy Sansby is a licensed marriage & family therapist in Minneapolis. She has just produced a communication tool for couples called: The OuchKit--Marriage Counseling in a Box: www.theouchkit.com.

The Art of Conversation:
A Communication Exercise for Couples ©

Written by Betsy Sansby, MS, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist

Continued from page 1

For Both Partners: Be open to learning. Regardless of which role you’re playing, both partners need to come to this exercise with a willingness to: make mistakes, learn something new, give and receive feedback, and take responsibility for their own words and actions. It’s okay to say, “That question makes me uncomfortable.” It’s not okay to say, “You’re a jerk for asking it.”

Let go of being right. In order for this exercise to work, both of you need to decide that you really do care more about healing your relationship than you do about being right. As someone once said: If you want to be right allrepparttar time, live alone.

Assumerepparttar 122049 best. Most people are basically good. So when good people act badly, it usually means there’s something going on inside of them that feels pretty awful. Assumingrepparttar 122050 best doesn’t mean letting your partner abuse you. It just means trying to understand what hurt or fear might be driving someone you love to act in hurtful ways. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Pay close attention to your feelings. If you’re unsure about what you’re feeling, tune in to cues from your body. Notice when a question or comment generates strong feelings, negative or positive. Tension, nervous laughter, a desire to flee, flushing, all these tell you something. A smile, excitement, tears, sighing, all these tell you something. As soon as you notice any strong feelings, it’s perfectly fine to say, “Stop for a second, I’m feeling something.” This should be taken as a cue to S-L-O-W down. It means something is shifting. Something worth understanding is happening. Let yourself be curious, and these new sensations will take you someplace new.

Don’t hammer your partner. Now that you have your partner’s undivided attention, use your time well. If you’re Partner B, don’t ask loaded questions that demean your partner. “Example: “Don’t you think you’d feel better if you weren’t so fat?” And if you’re Partner A, describe a problem once. Don’t repeat a point you’ve already made. Example: “You didrepparttar 122051 same thing yesterday withrepparttar 122052 kids . . . and what about on our honeymoon? You didrepparttar 122053 same thing then, too.” When in doubt, try more compassion. Whenever communication starts to break down, take a break and ask yourself: What vulnerability is beneath all this anger, frustration, defensiveness, or blame? Then say to your partner: “This is starting to feel really hard. What can I do right now to help?”

If it feels right to both of you, it’s okay to switch midstream. Sometimes a conversation gets stuck because either Person A wants to know what Person B is thinking, or Person B can’t continue until he’s had a chance to say what’s on his mind. As long as Person A is all right withrepparttar 122054 decision, it’s fine to switch. Just make sure you eventually go back to where Person A left off, so she doesn’t get permanently sidetracked.

Practice! Once you’ve succeeded in doing this exercise with neutral subjects, try more difficult ones. The more you practice,repparttar 122055 better you’ll get. The sooner you learn to admit your part in what went wrong in any given interaction,repparttar 122056 sooner you’ll find this process rewarding, andrepparttar 122057 better your relationship will feel.

Sample Questions and Tips for Partner B: Here are some things you might ask or say to Partner A. Use them to help you get started, help you get un-stuck, help you go deeper, or get you out of trouble if things start breaking down. Other thanrepparttar 122058 first two questions, you can userepparttar 122059 questions in any order. Some can be asked several times during a session. And feel free to come up with your own: •Before we start, let me make sure I understand. You want to talk about ____. Is that right? •Have I missed anything important? •What can I do to make it easier for you to talk to me about this issue? (Examples: Don’t rush, don’t interrupt, don’t try to fix, etc.) •Do you know what you’d like from me? (Understanding? Help? Compliance? Agreement?) •Do you need me to feelrepparttar 122060 same way you do about this issue, or would it be enough for me to understand how you feel? •What would it look like if you were getting what you need from me? (Get specifics here so you’re sure you know what your partner wants.) •You look ____ (sad, closed off, angry, distracted, etc.), what are you feeling? (This combination--guessing what your partner’s feeling, followed by a direct question---is a good one to use whenever you sense a shift in mood from your partner. It’s a way to make sure you understand, and it gives your partner a chance to tune into feelings she/he may or may not have noticed.) •Do you know why this issue is on your mind right now? Did something happen, or is there an upcoming event? •Does it have anything to do with ____ ? •Is there something I’m doing that makes you feel bad? •Does it help when I ____? •If you were a four-year old, how would you express how you’re feeling? •Here’s how I’d describerepparttar 122061 situation using a metaphor____. Does this feel accurate to you, or do you have a better one? (Example: You feel like I’m a freight train that’s moving too fast and you’re afraid to jump off or get on.”) •What would you like me to be doing differently? •I remember when you____. Did that feel similar to how you’re feeling now? •Would it help if I did ____ ? •If I did that, how would it make you feel about us? •I’m not sure I understand exactly . Could you say more about____? •Is there more? Are there other things related to this issue, which are hard for you? •Is it possible that there is some fear beneath your anger or frustration about this issue? (Common fears: being rejected, losing control, being abandoned, failing, being broke, never being loved or understood, dying, and ending up like a relative that is unwell, cruel, or chemically dependent.) •What’srepparttar 122062 worst, or hardest part of this for you? •Have you tried anything that’s worked inrepparttar 122063 past? •What have you tried that hasn’t worked? •If I could do one thing to help you right now, what would it be? •If I did that one thing, what would you take my actions to mean? (Example: I care. I’ve heard you. I’m trying.) •Is it possible that part of what’s going on might be related to _____? (This question only works if your partner is feeling understood. If not, your question may sound like a judgment.) •I’m trying to understand, but I’m feeling attacked. Could you tell me what you don’t like without sounding so harsh? For example, I’m fine with you saying: “I didn’t like it when you talked to everyone but me at dinner.” That’s easier for me to hear than when you say: “You were such an arrogant jerk.”

Note to Person B: If your partner says something that’s inaccurate or accusatory, don’t correct them or defend yourself. If you do, your partner will feel defensive and will either launch a counterattack, or shut down. Instead, say: “I understand you felt/feel X (hurt, sad, mad, frustrated, disappointed, etc.) when Y happened. (If you stay away from defending yourself now, chances are your partner will be willing to hear your side ofrepparttar 122064 story later.)

Copyright 2004, Betsy Sansby

Betsy Sansby is a licensed marriage & family therapist. She is the creator of an ingenious communication tool for couples called: The Ouchkit: Marriage Counseling in a Box. You can read her relationship advice column “Ask Betsy” at: www.theouchkit.com.

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