Five New Year's resolutions from famed relationship expert Laurie Puhn that will help you talk more effectively with your partner - and be a better role model to your kids.
On January 1, we typically make New Year's resolutions that focus on ourselves: to eat better, exercise more, start a new hobby, or become more organized. What if, this year, you resolved to have a better relationship with your spouse and become a better role model for your children? As a Harvard-educated lawyer, couples mediator, and author of the new book Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In (Rodale, Oct. 2010), I am giving you five simple tips from my book that will work to keep peace in the family and make your love connection stronger. You might be surprised to find that I am not going to tell you to talk more, as many experts might insist; instead, I am going to show you how to use just a few minutes a day to talk better, so you get the love you want from the partner you have.
Pick the right battles.
Your mate comes home from work drenched from the rain because he forgot an umbrella. You had told him to take one that morning after you heard the weather report. Before you start criticizing him while he's soaked, ask yourself this wise question: "Does this affect me?" In this example, it doesn't. He arrived home drenched, not you. So don't pick that battle. In the future, when your mate makes a mistake, rather than using a "fight line" like "I told you to take an umbrella - you should have listened to me!" use a compassionate love line like, "You're all wet. Do you want a towel?" And, if you can't get those words out of your mouth, just say nothing.
Give a character compliment.
In researching my book, we did an online survey and found some interesting results that can help us understand how to have a better marriage. Not only do people like being complimented, but there is a specific kind of compliment that people want to receive. When we asked individuals, "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 compliment your mate's character (such as his or her generosity to a friend, compassion to a relative, etc.) rather than his or her looks. Offer up character compliments to your children too. Share this research study with your family and ask them to join you in a daily compliment challenge.
Avoid premature arguments.
My clients are smart people who often have dumb arguments. One type of these unnecessary battles is so common that it threatens almost every relationship (including my own). I call it the "premature argument." Look out for those times when you and your mate get into a brawl about a decision that doesn't have to be made for weeks, months, or years, such as where to move in three years when your oldest child enters school, or where to go for Mother's Day next year. When you realize you're arguing about something prematurely, stop yourself and say, "Hey, we're having a dumb argument. Let's stop talking about this now and continue the conversation when we have more information."
A little bit of remembering shows a lot of love. If you know your mate has an important meeting, doctor's appointment, job interview, etc., be sure to follow up with your partner that day. Call, email, text, or ask in person, "How did it go?" This sends a clear message: I care about you, and you are important to me. Make it a habit to do this whenever something unique happens during your partner's day. And if you seldom have anything to follow up on, that's a telltale sign that you don't know or care about what is going on in your mate's days. So start asking, listening, and remembering. It's also a great idea to follow up on your children's daily activities. But be sure to teach them to reciprocate and ask you about your day too.
Disagree without being disagreeable.
An easy way to start a fight is to quickly jump in to say "You're wrong," or "That's a stupid idea!" Meanwhile, a better, more loving way to make the same point is to use a wise question. The moment you know you disagree with what your mate said, stop and ask your mate, "Why do you think that?" Listen to the answer first (you may uncover some new information that alters your opinion), then feel free to disagree - without using judgmental words. By holding your tongue and listening first (even if it's only for a minute), you show respect. And when your children overhear you, they learn an important lesson about how to turn a disagreement into a conversation.
The values we hold dear to us - respect, appreciation, compassion, loyalty, and companionship - are fostered or destroyed every day by our word choices and actions. If you resolve to use these five simple communication tips in 2011, you will see amazing and lasting change in your relationship. And the better your relationship, the better your life.
Laurie Puhn, J.D., author of the new book Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In, is a Harvard-educated family lawyer, couples mediator, and television personality. Visit www.fightlesslovemore.com for more information, and check out her blog, www.ExpectingWords.com, for more relationship advice for moms, dads, and expecting couples.
Also by Laurie Puhn:
How to Save a Financially Wounded Marriage
How Takeout Saved My Marriage
Ten Habits of Happy Couples