“What’s the secret?” is the first question I get about my 30-year marriage adventure to the man who was once the source of my greatest frustrations and eventually became my best friend.
“Lots of failure,” I tease, only half-joking before I clarify, “failing forward.”
Great relationships take practice, patience and perseverance in the midst of failure. Learning from our mistakes is the first step. Here are three to avoid making:
Falling prey to “The Four Horsemen”
World-renowned relationship researcher and therapist, John Gottman discovered that Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling are the four relationship killers. Criticism, contempt and defensiveness require no explanation. Stonewalling involves closing ourselves off to the other person.
I tell my clients that one pivotal move can change the momentum of the game, and so can you:
- Pivot criticism through positive “I” statements instead of inflammatory “You” statements: “I would love to spend more time talking about our plans” instead of “You never want to communicate.”
- Pivot contempt through gratitude. Instead of focusing on your partner’s faults, regularly review the attributes you admire.
- Pivot defensiveness by acknowledging your partner’s viewpoint and owning your part. Sincere apologies defuse anger and inspire humility from the other person.
Pivot stonewalling through self-care. Instead of giving your partner a cold, “NOTHING!” when asked, “What’s wrong?” Choose transparency: “Can we continue talking after I have some time to rest and clear my head?”
Keeping the passive-aggressive switch on
A form of stonewalling, passive-aggressive behavior can be conscious or unconscious: slamming doors, turning off the lights when your partner is still in the room, “forgetting” to pass on a message, etc. Either way, it’s a method of “closing off a route of communication,” says Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne.
Pivot passive-aggressiveness: “If you’re engaging in behavior like this, and it’s not typical of you (i.e. you’re usually very organized),” says Dr. Krauss Whitbourne, “you might take some time to reflect on what’s really bothering you and then discuss it honestly with your partner.”
Choosing your interpretation over the facts
Women inadvertently trigger the wrong response when they choose their interpretation of the facts because the story they believe in wins. Licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Azita Sayan puts it this way:
“If a man is tired, it doesn’t mean he has no time for you. He is simply tired. If he says he has no money, it doesn’t mean he wants to give you less money to spend on the family, just that he has no money. Whenever a man speaks, we interpret his words as a woman, and believe that those interpretations reflect reality, that they are what he means instead of what he actually says.”
Pivot interpretations: Assume positive intentions. When in doubt, ask.
Bottom line: a meaningful, long-lasting relationship is not about perfection. It’s about choosing to fail forward one pivot move at a time. It’s your move!