When Things Get Tough – Talk!

When the going gets tough in your relationships, do you tend to say forget it and throw in the towel? Or, do you find yourself hanging in there miserably, continuously fighting over the same issues, day in and day out?

If you’re constantly hitting your head against a wall, or in the midst of devising a plan to call it quits, consider this: Instead of breaking up, you might actually be on the brink of a possible breakthrough in your relationship!

“Just because the relationship is having difficulty doesn’t mean it’s history. There is hope,” according to psychologists Dennis S. Reina and Michelle L. Reina, co-authors of Trust and Betrayal in the Workplace: Building Effective Relationships in Your Organization. “However, the partners have to be willing to do the necessary work, which includes honest communication.”

Saving a relationship definitely calls for the right communication tools. If you don’t have them, don’t despair, the following steps and tips could very well help rebuild your union.

1. Allow feelings to surface
If something is bothering you, don’t deny your feelings and pretend that nothing is wrong. “People in relationships need to acknowledge the difficulties they are experiencing as well as the impact these difficulties have had on them,” believe psychologists Reina and Reina.

Meanwhile, don’t imagine that you know what is going on with him. Don’t make up a story based on what is whirling in your head. You’re probably totally wrong. Instead, ask what your partner is thinking, says Elaine Fantle Shimberg, author of Another Chance for Love.

Asking isn’t easy, as it can bring up topics that are difficult to talk about. But, ideally you should want to know how your partner is feeling – even if it’s disappointed, frustrated or angry. Besides, these feelings do not go away by themselves. If they’re not acknowledged and properly managed they get worse – they go underground, contributing to resentment, anger and bitterness, add Reina and Reina. And that’s not pretty.

2. Watch your mouth
Make the effort to set up a time to talk when it’s convenient for both of you. Talking while your partner is at work, for instance, usually isnt ideal. You want their undivided attention, right? And, when communication has broken down, wait until both of you have cooled off. Otherwise, you are likely to perpetuate the misunderstanding, says Karen Sherman, Ph.D. and author of Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, Make It Last.” When you do go back to where the “disconnect” was, each person should be allowed to describe their experience. Most likely, you had different experiences or different expectations, which is what created the problem in the first place” says Sherman.

3. Listen up
Take turns speaking without interruptions. And really listen to your partner. Some experts suggest using a timer to promote a sense of fairness. Consider the words you use carefully. How you choose to express your differences is vital. The ability to say the right thing at the right time can influence the people in our lives to listen, cooperate, respect (or despise!) us says relationship and communication expert Laurie Punn, author of Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life. “Whether we’re apologizing, complaining, agreeing, disagreeing, delivering a compliment, or asking for a favor, words make the difference between understanding and misunderstanding, connection and disconnection, getting what we want or watching it slip away.”

With that said, refrain from phrases such as, “you always…” or “you never…” which can sound like a direct attack. Instead, offer words that indicate understanding, like: “I see,” “you have a point there,” or “tell me more.”

4. Take responsibility
One of the most important communication tools is validation – letting the other person know that you understand their point of view, even if you don’t agree with it. This shows respect, which you need if you intend to keep a relationship going.

If either person made a mistake, it is essential not to deny it, make excuses or try to cover it up, add Reina and Reina. These actions will only make matters worse. Acknowledge your role in the difficulties and recognize the pain each of you are experiencing. Manage expectations and keep promises. At times like this it is best to “under-promise and over-deliver.” Give back more than that which was perceived to be taken away.

5. Forgive and move on
Resentment, cynicism, and blame are toxic to our system. Help yourself and others shift from blame to focusing on needs, focusing on problem solving. Ask what needs to happen to resolve these difficulties. What needs to be said and done to put the issue to rest? You may not be able to erase the past, but you can make amends and recover in the present, explain Reina and Reina. “Acceptance is not condoning – it is telling the truth without blame. It is when you and your partner shift from dwelling on past difficulties to investing energies into the present to create a different future.”

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