Here are some guidelines on how couples should behave when they’re in a new relationship or re-entering an existing relationship after time out in recovery.
Sharing your inner thoughts with someone else can be scary and make us feel vulnerable. However it’s important to remember that our partners are not mind readers and good communication, as well as keeping conversations in the present is pivotal to a functional relationship.
Pia Mellody, author, writes:
1. Don’t assign blame when you’re in conflict
When you confront your partner about something, don’t make your partner wrong. Just make statements about what happened and what feelings you have about it. I find this takes a lot of discipline. Make sure the statement about what you perceived happening does not include any hidden or open message about the other person being less-than. For example, it implies the person is less-than to say, ‘when you were acting like a nincompoop in the garage…’ A more appropriate statement might be, ‘yesterday, when you walked into the garage and raised your voice to a high volume and said….’ Describe what happened without labeling the person a nincompoop.
2. Don’t keep score on your partner
When your partner is confronting you about your behavior, avoid bringing up how the partner did the same thing several times last week. What your partner did last week is not relevant to the conversation this week. The two of you are discussing what you’ve done this week.
3. Don’t argue perceptions (or facts)
Understand that each partner has perceptions, and your job is to identify your own perception and listen to your partners perception. We can probably be most respectful of our partner simply by hearing who that person is without judgment or trying to make our partner change his or her reality.
For example, let’s say you and your best friend, Elizabeth, are looking at a turtle. You say, ‘what a nice colour green!’ And Elizabeth responds, ‘No, it’s more blue than green’. Once you are aware that the turtle looks blue to Elizabeth, don’t try to argue her into saying that it’s green. Letting Elizabeth have her own reality makes her feel your love. You keep your perception of the green turtle and let it go. At first, this may seem like dishonesty; but as I began to do this, I was amazed at how many times I later ‘saw’ the blueness or realized that there are different ways of perceiving in almost any situation. This has made me feel much more comfortable with people who see things differently from the way I see them.
4. Don’t threaten abandonment in the Face of Conflict
Threatening abandonment is something people often use to alarm their partners when they realise they are not winning. If you find yourself slipping into an argument and the partner is winning, try to avoid saying something like, “I’m going out and I don’t know when I’m coming back” or “maybe we shouldn’t even be in a relationship together”.
You may negotiate space, however, if you sense the discussion escalating into unbearable intensity. To do this without threatening abandonment, indicate when you will return by saying something like, “I need a time out and I’ll be back to discuss this in two hours”. Then keep your word and show up agin in two hours.
5. Communicate in Four sentences or less
Before making requests, describing events or even asking for support, think about what you’re going to say and try to say it in four sentences and with one breath.
In addition, in your four sentence, avoid these common pitfalls:
- Try to avoid complaining
- Try to avoid blaming, which is making one person right and the other person wrong. Complaining and blaming both make it hard for your partner to pay attention to what you’re saying, even if it’s reasonable
- Try to eliminate explaining or justifying why you are doing what you are doing. Sometimes one person challenges the other and demands an explanation for that person’s behavior or choices. Responding to such a challenge with justifications and explanations is not necessary. Adults don’t need to explain themselves to other adults. When you start explaining yourself, the listener often stops paying attention, realizing that a lecture or over-up is in the making. No one likes to be lectures, and love avoidants are often hypersensitive to this
(Published with permission by Harperone)
Of course, it can be hard work trying to change years of behaviour and it won’t happen overnight but stick with it, don’t seek perfection, just progress and try to stay present as often as you can. The changes will eventually come.