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Be gentle with your partner
It’s easy to take our partners for granted. Especially when we have been in the relationship for a while. We get comfortable, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because that can breed intimacy. But when comfortable means we get lazy, short or even harsh, it has the cumulative effect of making our partner feel unappreciated and even unloved.
This year, when speaking with your partner, start to watch your tone of voice. Take note of how gentle you are. How much care and love do you feel you are conveying?
In his book, “The Relationship Cure,” renowned relationship psychologist Dr. Gottman reveals that when it comes to assessing the meaning of what their partners are saying, only 7% of that meaning comes from the spoken word, while 38% comes from tone of voice and speech patterns. Words that may seem neutral can become incendiary if spoken with a sarcastic, demeaning, or contemptuous tone of voice, causing the listener to feel hurt and disrespected.
But while we’ve always known that tone of voice is an important part of clear communication, just how critical are things like vocal inflection, volume and pitch when it comes to the health of your relationship? According to a study that examined hundreds of conversations from over 100 couples during marriage therapy sessions — your tone of voice may be a key indicator of your marital success.
Another area to start taking note of in your relationship is how you frame and deliver your thoughts and feelings to your partner. Arguments about housework, priorities and money are inevitable, but this is exactly why choosing the right words during an argument is so important.
Even when you have the best of intentions, what you say can escalate into a full-blown fight and really hurt the one you love. And one of the most common mistakes those in a relationship make with their language is the use of “you-statements.”
“You-statements” are phrases that begin with the pronoun “you” and imply that the listener is responsible for something. They show no ownership of emotions, but rather, blame, accuse and assume the receiver. This type of statement is more likely to make your partner feel defensive and resentful, and he or she will be less likely to want to make peace.
“I-statements,” on the other hand, force us to take responsibility for what we are thinking and feeling, and prevents us from blaming our partners. With “I-statements,” we can still be assertive, but find a less hostile, more compassionate way to communicate.
So how do you turn a “you-statement” into an “I-statement?” First, remember that the point of an “I-statement” is to express how you feel inside. A true “I-statement” uses specific emotions such as “I feel…” joyful, anxious, lonely, resentful, angry, calm, embarrassed, fearful, etc.
Avoid words that may seem like emotions, but really imply the action of your partner: “I feel…ignored, annoyed, pissed off, mistreated, manipulated, controlled, cheated, abandoned, etc.”
It is also a common misperception that you can tack on the words “I feel” in front of a statement. For example, “I feel like you are taking me for granted.” That is just a “you-statement” in disguise. It implies blame. And there is no actual emotion being expressed.
Lastly, make it a point to care for your partner by trying to see his or her point of view.
We tend to think that the way we view the world is the way the world really is. And when our partners disagree with us, it’s easy to think that they are the ones who are misinformed or have a distorted perception of reality. How else could they see things so differently?
But failing to understand that each individual is entitled to his or her own point of view is failing to appreciate what makes the other person who they really are. After all, you both are two unique individuals, with two unique backgrounds and life experiences that help form two unique perspectives. And those perspectives should be respected and valued.
Learning not only to recognize, but to appreciate your partner’s perspective may be challenging at times. But with discipline, practice and emotional maturity, you will be able to find new ways of understanding your partner’s point of view. And by doing so, you will not only find that you can enrich your vision of reality, but that you can create a new level of intimacy in your relationship.