In my last article, I discussed the key to having good emotional health and thriving relationships—learning and practicing habits. In this article, I will discuss specific habits to help you have thriving relationships.
I will categorize these habits using the ‘Sound Relationship House’ model of Dr. John Gottman. The two categories from this model on which I will focus are constructive discussions of issues and having a strong relationship friendship. In this article, I will consider habits which facilitate constructive discussions of issues in relationships. I help my clients in relationship counselling and couples counselling learn and practice these habits in my work as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist.
Habits which help you to have constructive discussions of issues
Your ability to make and keep your relationships in a good state is enhanced by habits which make it easier for you and your partner to discuss issues constructively. Habits which will help you and your partner discuss issues constructively include:
- Choose the right time to begin discussions of issues. Make it a point to begin discussing issues only when both you and your partner are on ‘green light’—relaxed enough to be constructive—and to postpone such discussions when you and/or your partner are on ‘red light’—too stressed to be constructive.
- Practice ‘pulling out’ of discussions when it is no longer wise to continue them. When the discussion is becoming less constructive to the point that you and/or your partner are no longer on green light, it is better to stop the discussion with an agreed-upon signal and resume it later rather than continuing with little prospect of constructive dialogue on the horizon.
- Practice raising issues in a constructive manner. Focusing on the behaviour you would like your partner to address or change gets the discussion of an issue off on a constructive foot. Avoid putting your partner on the defensive when bringing up an issue by steering clear of their negative character traits or using ‘You always’ or ‘You never” references when bringing up an issue.
- Practice responding to issues brought up by your partner in a non-defensive manner. Responding in a non-defensive manner by accepting whole or partial responsibility, offering a compromise and acknowledging valid points your partner makes will help the discussion stay constructive. Practice steering clear of defensive responses in which you take no responsibility for the issue and/or fire back with a criticism of your partner.
- Practice making repair attempts to keep discussions constructive. Repairing discussions so that they return to being constructive can help you and your partner gain confidence in your ability to get discussions back on track. Apologizing, using humour and taking a break are a few of the common repair attempt methods.
- Practice using skills to discuss perpetual problems constructively. Some discussions between you and your partner will focus on issues which are ongoing because they are rooted in differences in your backgrounds and personalities. These ‘perpetual problems’ are best approached by giving each partner an opportunity to express the meaning underlying their position while the other partner listens and tries to understand this meaning. This deep understanding of the meaning underneath each partner’s position makes it easier to dialogue about and accept these perpetual problems even if solutions are not in the cards.
- Practice skills for getting your relationship back on track after heated discussions. Much like in dialoguing about perpetual problems, ‘debriefing’ a heated discussion after you have both calmed down will help you both realize that there is typically no objective right or wrong in these arguments. Instead, there are different points of view between you and your partner, often rooted in background experiences and personality. Exploring the meaning underneath each partner’s positions in heated discussions will help you rebound better and be more likely to get a better result the next time you have a discussion of an issue.
In my next article, Part 2 of my discussion of habits to make your relationship thrive will focus on how to build and maintain a solid relationship friendship.
May you learn and practice habits to constructively discuss issues in your relationship,