If you have a fight with your husband and think “this relationship is never going to work”, then it probably won’t. If your boredom and lack of desire cause you to wonder “are we growing apart?” you’re missing an opportunity to rekindle your passion. Moreover, you may probably repeat this pattern in your next relationship.
People with a fixed mindset about relationships tend to become either entrenched and combative, or to simply give up when the going gets rough. Often they hide their feelings to maintain harmony, but this ultimately leads to resentment and disillusionment.
When we view emotional intelligence as a set of skills that can be improved throughout life, we can improve our relationships.
Those who ask themselves “What do I need to learn to improve my relationships?” (as a partner, parent or friend) have relationships that tend to improve and deepen over time. The mere belief that relationship skills can be learned increases the likelihood that your relationships will improve.
How do we figure out what skills we could learn?
Pinpoint how and why a certain problem occurs. Then ask yourself the following questions:
1. “How am I participating in the problem?”
This is not to blame oneself, but rather to solve the problem. It’s easy to see what the other person is doing. But we have no control over another person; we can only change our own attitude and reactions.
2. “How am I triggering the other person?”
“Is it my tone of voice?” “Do I sound like I’m whining, complaining, or being controlling?” The easiest way to find out is to ask the other person directly. If he or she can’t articulate it, ask friends, family, or a therapist. If you are honest with yourself, you can probably figure it out yourself.
3. “How do I allow him/her to trigger me?”
Take a look at what tends to trigger you. When you become aware of your triggers, you have an opportunity to change your reactions.
For example, if someone’s controlling tone of voice triggers the rebel in you, which makes the other person even angrier, you can choose not to rebel. It’s amazing how an ingrained pattern simply vanishes if one party sincerely changes his or her reactions. Instead of sneering: “Don’t you trust me!?” you might respond more neutrally: “You sound really worried, and I want to assure you that ….”
4. Focus on what works. Don’t label the relationship good or bad.
“Our discussions are more productive when I bring up problems after she’s eaten.”
“When I state the problem once, I get a better response than when I repeat myself and go on and on.”
“When I listen to her without interrupting, she listens to me.”
“When I tell him I love him and am not angry at him, but am overwhelmed by work, he doesn’t get defensive.”
“When I tell him that I’ll feel better by telling him my work situation, but that he doesn’t need to fix the problem, he seems relieved.”
Looking at problems as opportunities to learn new skills.
Start by asking yourself the right questions.
Does your spouse feels criticized?
How can I express my desires and needs without sounding critical?
Do you argue about how to spend money?
How can we each discuss our fears and desires about money and security, and develop a mutual plan, taking into account each person’s underlying fears and desires?
Has your relationship run dry of desire?
Maybe there is another underlying problem, feelings of disrespect, contempt, or being controlled, for example. What can I do to develop and sustain an atmosphere of desire, appreciation and sensuality?
Has the relationship become pedestrian and ordinary?
What can I do to make the relationship feel special or even sacred? What actions and attitude would help?
Do you find yourself yelling or complaining a lot?
How can I express my own desires and needs without sounding controlling or critical? This can be learned. (Dr. Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication” is excellent.)
Is one person always late and the other always punctual?
How can we deal with that problem structurally (by using two cars, for example), so the punctual person doesn’t end up resenting the late person, and the late person doesn’t feel pushed?
Those who view a successful relationship as a result of skills to be developed are more likely to improve their relationship or marriage. Such a growth mind-set leads to a desire to learn and to embrace challenges, to persist in the face of setbacks, and to see effort as the path to mastery. Learn from feedback rather than becoming defensive, and be inspired by the success of others. The reward is an increasingly fulfilling,loving and happy relationship.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD