Relationship expert Laurie Puhn, the author of "Fight Less, Love More," lists 10 tips for how to best mediate conflict as a couple.
As Leo Tolstoy once said, "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." We can smile at that quote or it can inspire us to ask ourselves some wise questions: What is it that happy families are doing? And, do my spouse and I fall into the category of happy couples?
If you want to have a superior relationship with your partner and be a good role model for your children, then enhance your verbal skills today by adopting the tips below. What I have found as a couples mediator is that the same verbal skills work to improve every relationship. These 10 quick and simple tips will keep the peace in the family and make your love connection stronger. Even if you're using the tips and your husband or wife isn't, their effect will still be astonishing.
1. Pick the right battles.
Before you get angry and reprimand your mate for making a mistake or doing something you told him or her not to do, stop and ask yourself this one wise question: "Does this affect me?" If it doesn't, button your lips and avoid a fight. After all, your mate is the one who must deal with the consequence, not you.
2. Be a detective.
When your mate's mistake does affect you, what then? Rather than being hostile, find out what really happened. Ask neutral and respectful questions such as, "Can you tell me what happened?" or "I don't understand. Am I missing something here?" You might discover a good reason for the oversight or blunder, which could avoid a blow-up.
3. Complain with impact.
When you have a complaint, say what you do want, not what you don't want. For example, rather than saying to your child or mate, "Get off that darn computer -- you're so rude!" instead target your mate using a positive approach: "I miss your company. Can you join me in the living room to hang out?"
4. Skip the "whatever" word.
Being passive by often saying "whatever you want" might temporarily avoid a fight, but it could breed resentment because it leaves the majority of decisions to your mate, which can be stressful. Instead, have a real opinion and share it.
To find out about your relationship communication style and whether it's harming your relationship, take my quiz "Are You Mismatched?" at www.expectingwords.com.
5. Create policies.
If your mate does something that affects and disturbs you, such as overspending or making plans for both of you without asking the other first, don't get sucked into the heated "How could you?" argument.
Instead, focus on the future by creating policy solutions, as in, "From now on can we agree to make a budget for our personal expenses?" Or: "Can we agree to check in with each other before making plans for both of us?"
6. Show you care.
Forgetting to ask about what's going on in your child or your mate's daily life is a surefire way to erode a relationship. From now on, if you know that someone in your family has an important meeting, test, doctor appointment, or event that day, don't neglect it -- instead, respect it. Call, email, text, or ask in person, "How did it go?" This sends a clear message: I care about you.
7. Avoid factual arguments.
Do you and your mate often find yourselves arguing about the name of a restaurant you went to, a certain address, someone's birthday, an historical fact, or sports figure? Then you are prone to having a dumb argument! Stop the conversation and do an online fact check, call a friend, or simply drive by the location.
8. Apologize with the "B" word.
Quickly saying the words "I'm sorry" is a bad apology because it often comes off as insincere, and could trigger another battle. Next time you seek mercy, add the "B" word: Say, "I'm sorry because..." and share how you hurt your mate and what you will do to prevent the wrongdoing from recurring. Research shows that when you add the "because clause" your words are more persuasive.
9. Create border control.
Are you ever angry with your partner for revealing something to others that you consider private, like a health issue, a child discipline issue, job insecurity, or a marital disagreement? If so, bypass the "How could you say that?!" argument. Instead, establish border control: Outline the topics that should remain private to insure that neither of you becomes an accidental traitor.
10. Give a daily dose of recognition.
Most couples on the divorce path seldom compliment each other. In our online survey for Fight Less, Love More, we asked people "Would you rather your mate compliment you for being kind or good-looking?" The result was that 84 percent of people said "kind." The lesson: Find daily opportunities to recognize your mate for something that reflects a character strength (you are such a wonderful mother/father, you are so thoughtful when you...).
Our monthly relationship columnist Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, pregnancy and parenting blogger at www.expectingwords.com, and bestselling author of "Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In," who frequently appears on CNN, "Good Morning America," and "The Early Show" to offer relationship advice. She lives in Westchester with her husband and two children.
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Fight Less, Love More: Tips From Relationship Expert Laurie Puhn