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7 Simple Ways to Improve Your Relationship

Avoid relationship land mines.

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Couple having tea.
Source: Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Marriages, friendships, and other intimate relationship difficulties are often reversed using these strategies.

1. Use the 5 to 1 ratio. People love appreciation, admiration, and approval, verbal as well as non-verbal. The more the better, as long as it's genuine.

Ken Blanchard advises, "catch them doing things right" and praise their efforts.

John Gottman observes, "five positive interactions for every negative" is essential for nurturing a relationship.

Relationships thrive on the many varieties of positive attention. It's a double win when you initiate it: You'll feel good too.

2. State your preference. In a long-term relationship, it's second-nature to make a request using an impersonal delivery bordering on an order. For example, "pick up your clothes," "lend me $100," "don't shout at me."

Try this format instead: "I prefer X; how do you feel?'' "X" represents anything you prefer your partner say or do in the future: for example, "I prefer that you speak to me in a soft voice; how do you feel about this?" Be sure to include "how do you feel." It engages your partner in the request and invites a response, a commitment, or an objection to discuss further.

3. Be forward-looking, not backward-looking. When discussing a problem or stating your preference, avoid dredging up the past and bickering about who did what to whom, who was right or wrong, who was the biggest offender, or what the offense actually was. Couples can be endlessly creative in their defensive accusations.

Suppose you prefer your partner to avoid raising his/her voice with you. You begin backward-looking: "You've been shouting at me the last few days. Today you yelled at me 'clean up the kids' mess!'"

Instead, immediately begin forward-looking. "I prefer you to speak in a soft voice. How do you feel about my request?" is effective, even more effective than prefacing it with accusations.

I don't recall that a couple's disagreement when stating a past offense helped with finding a solution.

4. Have a Regularly Scheduled Relationship Discussion (RSRD). Both positive and negative constructive feedback are essential for relationship growth. Many of my couples schedule an RSRD weekly.

Begin the discussion by highlighting what has pleased you about your partner or your interactions. Then raise relationship challenges. End by setting the date and time for the next RSRD. Be sure to touch base with an RSRD, even when things are going well.

5. Focus solutions on what uniquely works. In managing conflict, couples may argue about whether a proposed solution is common, reasonable, or fair. Instead, find a solution that works for both of you.

Suppose you request your partner write "I love my spouse" 1,000 times to redress poor treatment. This may seem unreasonable or unfair to ask, yet if you both agree, use it! You have a solution without arguing about what may be considered reasonable or fair.

6. Turn toward. Also borrowed from John Gottman: With a simple comment, smile, or nod, acknowledge you're attentively listening and in sync with your conversation-mate. Look at them and intersperse their comments with signs of acknowledgment. For example:

  • Your partner: "I enjoyed a video last evening." You: "Do you think I would like it?"
  • Your partner: "I have a stomachache." You: "I'm sorry. Is it very painful?"

Even a simple nod or "uh-huh" qualifies.

7. Practice Unconditional Other Acceptance (UOA). Regard UOA as the soil for growing a fulfilling relationship. When your partner seems difficult, remind yourself this proves s/he's fundamentally an imperfect human, always was, and always be.

To have the fulfillment and love in your partnership, it's necessary to have the frustration and discord. At best, deep love occasionally comes with emotional pain. Developing UOA is quite challenging during rough times. Practice, practice, and more practice is essential.

References

Blanchard, K., & Johnson, S. (1982). The One Minute Manager. New York, NY: Berkley Books.

Edelstein, M.R., & Steele, D.R. (2019). Three Minute Therapy. San Francisco, CA: Gallatin House.

Gottman, J.M. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.

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