By Isiah McKimmie, Couples Therapist, Sexologist + Coach.
Images by Nina Hamilton.
Do you ever feel like you’re not sure how to talk to your partner about something important without upsetting them?
Maybe you decide to say nothing at all, but then find that doesn’t really work either?
Communication is one of the most important areas of a relationship.
Dr John Gottman has studied couples in his ‘Love Lab’ for over 40 years in an effort to determine what makes relationships succeed and what make them fail.
With his research, it’s possible to predict with 90% accuracy whether a relationship will succeed or fail if it doesn’t get support.
What Dr Gottman found is that it isn’t what couples argue about – it’s how they argue that really makes the difference.
You see, he believes that every couple with a healthy relationship will disagree at times.
His research found that couples need to learn to argue well to have a thriving, harmonious relationship.
What he found is that there is a key thing that women can do to improve communication. And something that men can do.
Now, whenever I teach my students this, we end up in a debate on gender. But stay with me here – Dr John Gottman is one of the most respected relationship researchers on the planet. His discoveries are really interesting. (Apologies to my folks in same-sex relationships for the heterosexual focus here. This info is still valuable to you.)
Women are more likely to raise issues (or things that they’re unhappy about) than men in a relationship.
How women raise an issue is vital to how the rest of the discussion progresses.
Often women think they’re just being helpful by giving feedback or sharing how their partner can improve. But unfortunately, we women have a tendency to do that by complaining and criticising.
When we criticise or complain… you guessed it – the rest of the conversation doesn’t go well. It usually gets responded to with defensiveness or silence.
So then, how can you tell your partner what’s bothering you?
You do it by using a ‘Gentle Start-Up’.
A ‘Gentle Start-Up’ focuses on you and your needs.
Here’s an example.
❌Complaint: I see you didn’t bring the washing in – again! Do I have to do everything myself around here?!
✅ Feedback: Hey, I feel frustrated when I notice the washing hasn’t been brought in. I really need your help with that. Would you please do it as soon as you can?
Notice the difference?
Research shows that there’s something incredibly powerful that MEN need to do to create a loving, harmonious relationship too.
This ONE communication tweak is so powerful that if men can’t do this, their relationship has an 81% chance of failing. Yikes!
It’s this: To accept influence from their partner.
Accepting influence means taking on board what the other person is saying and trying to see things from their perspective. It’s literally accepting what the other person has to say as valid – even if we don’t agree with it at first.
Here’s some examples of what accepting influence might sound like:
✅You’re right. I can absolutely understand how you feel that way.
✅Oh, that’s how you see it. Mmm that makes sense to me from your perspective.
✅Can you share more about why you feel that way? I want to understand your opinion.
Why only men? Don’t women need to accept influence too?
Absolutely. It’s also important that women accept influence from their partner. It’s just that women already do this to a high degree in our relationships. So, our relationships depend on our men being able to do it too.
Remember, relationships change one step at a time. Start today by making just one of these changes in your communication.
Isiah McKimmie, Couples Therapist, Sexologist + Coach
Images by #teamless member Nina Hamilton.