Stephen Covey writes, “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour.”
Accordingly, it is likely our first impulse to build a defense of our behavior any time our intentions are misinterpreted.
I’m not a bad person! If only I could make you understand.
It’s a difficult impulse to corral.
Next time you find yourself thinking, “How can I make them understand?” try asking, “What can I learn from this?” instead.
What can you learn so that, in the future, your behavior and your intentions will be more closely aligned? How can you make sure your partner is getting the message you intended?
- How to Listen Without Getting Defensive
- Erring in the Direction of Kindness
- The Digital Age: Empathy in Utopia
The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 12 September 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.
If a child showed you their artwork, how harshly would you critique it?
That’s not what a whale looks like.
Spiders have eight legs, not five and a half.
That’s ugly and looks nothing like me.
You would probably encourage them. If you kept up the criticism, the child would eventually stop showing you their art, or stop drawing altogether.
Do you show the same encouragement to your partner?
No one can survive in a marriage (at least not happily) if they feel more judged than admired. Your partner won’t make use of your constructive criticism if there’s not a surrounding climate of admiration and respect,” Psychologist Harriet Lerner cautions.
In fact, we believe there is no such thing as constructive criticism in a relationship. All criticism is painful.
Continuing to meet your partner’s bids with criticism may cause them to stop sharing their life with you.
So couch the critic.
- Transforming Criticism into Wishes for Successful Conflict
- The Workplace: The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio
- What “Turning Against” Really Means
The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 5 September 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.
If you expect perfection of yourself, your relationship, and others, you are bound for disappointment.
A perfect relationship would require each individual to stop being imperfect or, as it is better known, human. Perfection as a metric for success is the foundation of countless sci-fi plotlines.
While you should maintain high expectations for how you are treated in a relationship, you may want to change the metric for “success.”
Instead of trying to be perfect or conflict-free, try measuring your success with questions like these:
- Was I kind to my partner today?
- Did we treat each other with respect?
- Can we trust each other?
- Are we friends?
- Were we able to repair any conflict that arose?
The answers to those questions will be better indicators of your relationship’s success. After all, holding yourself to a standard of perfection is exactly what the robots want.
- The Truth About Expectations in Relationships
- Why Conventional Marriage Wisdom is Wrong
- Seriously, What’s the Point of Marriage?
The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 29 August 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.
When your partner is upset, they may not share everything they’re feeling all at once.
They may not have a great sense of what’s going on for them, or they may not want to overwhelm you.
Think of your partner’s emotions like a train, with some feelings getting off at every station.
The next time they’re upset, try creating the space to show them you’re there for the whole ride by asking, “Is there anything else you’re feeling?”
Then hear them out.
Remember, it’s not your objective to get to the “last stop.” Just stay curious and see that every feeling leaves the train safely and acknowledged.
It may be a short trip or a long one, but hearing your partner’s experience completely can make sure nothing stays on board and carries into the next ride.
- Stop Trying to Fix Your Partner’s Feelings
- Emotion Coaching Isn’t Just for Children
- Putting Your Feelings Into Words and Asking Open-Ended Questions
The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 15 August 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.
Your experience is just that—your own, personal experience.
Your past, unconscious biases, and even the literal perspective you see things from can color an event different from the way your partner experiences that exact same thing.
In her Netflix special, “The Call to Courage” and in this Tech Insider interview, Brené Brown suggests that rather than assume the other person’s intentions or thoughts, we share our experiences using the preface, “The story I’m making up” or “The story I’m telling myself is…”
It’s a great way to acknowledge that your reality is subjective, and check in with your partner to share how you’re experiencing something in a way they may not have intended.
“Basically, you’re telling the other person your reading of the situation—and simultaneously admitting that you know it can’t be 100% accurate,” Brown says. “[It conveys] I want you to see me and understand me and hear me, and knowing what you really mean is more important to me than being right or self-protecting.”
What stories might you be making up?
- John Gottman and Brené Brown on Running Headlong Into Heartbreak
- Hurt Feelings Do Not Mean You Did Something Wrong
- How to Repair the Little Things So They Don’t Become Big Things
The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 6 August 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.
“Escape (the Piña Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes is a beachy, karaoke favorite about a husband and wife who discover they were planning to cheat on each other.
A less catchy title for the song could be, “We Never Talked to Each Other Then Assumed Infidelity Was the Only Solution Rather Than Changing Our Communication Strategy (the Piña Colada Song)”
Their “same old dull routine” didn’t include room for champagne, piña coladas, or midnight lovemaking. Their relationship was, according to the lyrics, “a worn-out recording of a favorite song.”
How do you re-heat things in your relationship before deciding to take out a personal ad (or, more likely, downloading Tinder)? How do you keep monogamy from becoming monotony?
Create opportunities for adventure. Try new things together. Write a personal ad detailing things you’d like to try with your partner (then share it with them, rather than posting it).
Find a new tune. Together.
- The Eight Conversations That Matter Most in Relationships
- 3 Betrayals That Ruin Relationships (That Aren’t Infidelity)
- Desire in a Long-Term Relationship
The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 1 August 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.