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Day 1: Serenity for Perpetual Problems

Today’s Easy Relationship Task: Learn what you can change to courageously address your relationship problems.

How to love on this task:

  • Read through the four communication mistakes that ruin relationships and predict divorce.
  • Learn and implement 5 courageous changes you can make to have more understanding, trust, and positive connection.
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    94% of the time, the way a discussion starts determines the way it will end.
    - John Gottman

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    Admit when you're wrong. Shut up when you're right.
    - John Gottman


God, grant me the Courage to change the things I can.



When I think about The Serenity Prayer and what it means to have courage in your relationship, I think about these words.   

Grant Me Courage 
“I’m asking for the strength to confront the pain of my problems and the ability to face the uncertainty of how my partner may react…”
to Change 
“to me becoming different with my words and my approach. To me making more effort to influence…”
Things I can
“the solvable problems and issues I am responsible for.”

The commitment to becoming more courageous starts with you.  It’s a decision to stop fighting your partner and instead fight the problems. The outcome is a deeper capacity to fight and love courageously.

Fighting Courageously is Hard.

Because its not natural. Courage, defined, is the ability and willingness to confront agony, pain, uncertainty, or intimidation. And I believe courage is a must-have in your relationship because, from my experience, most couples who frequently go to bed mad are not practicing courage. Instead, they’re practicing the art of being in the jungle.

Imagine you’re in the heart of a safari exploration. The tour guide is describing the wildlife when, as fate would have it, an anaconda approaches. You got 3.2 seconds to do something (Okay, 1.8 seconds). One tourist carefully ducks down and makes like a statute, her eyes pinched shut as she prays for a miracle. Her partner leaps out the window, taking off down a familiar trail that leads back to the campsite. And your partner decides its all or nothing, grabs a knife, and flings it toward the monster! The startled snake slithers away. Guh, he brave.

You can imagine that everyone’s heart is about to beat out of their chest, though they all had different responses. These are our survival instincts when danger is present, to either: fight (kill it), flight (run from it), or freeze (make like a statue). This is great for survival; however, unfortunate for your relationship. Most couples stay in this “keyed-up” state, dreading the next big fight.

If you’re using survival instincts, you’re neglecting the ability to think rationally, which leads to major communication issues, conflict, frustration, and eventually feeling disconnected from each other.  Plus, its just not physically healthy to do this over the life of your relationship.

But it takes courage not to run to your mamma’s house.

To put down the gloves. To put your guards down and have a real conversation about how you really feel. What you truly need.

And to stop shutting down and ignoring each other.

4 communication mistakes that ruin your relationship and predict divorce

John Gottman’s research, which led to the development of the 7 Principles for Making Marriages Work, reports four negative interactions that not only corrode a conversation but the tone of the entire relationship.  He refers to them as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because they run rampant whenever a couple gets into the habit of speaking to each other in these negative ways:

Criticism

Criticism involves focusing on your partner’s character or personality flaws when bringing up an issue, instead of what you would like them to do differently. It looks like blame, name-calling, and character assassination.

Ex. “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish!”

Okay, let’s break this one down. First, notice the finger pointing when she says youYou did this. You’re to blame. Then, you NEVER, which is so absolute and rare, because none of us “never” or “always” do something. Lastly, this person completely attacked her partner, calling him selfish.

Now, think about how you might respond if someone came at you like this. Would you be open to listen? Receptive to doing anything differently? Or would it be on like a chicken bone, again?

Defensiveness

Defensiveness is an attempt to protect yourself, defend your innocence, and ward off a perceived attack. People get defensive when they are being criticized. It looks like a counter-attack or whining (playing the innocent victim).
Ex. Your partner complains that you lose track of time and are often late.

  • The Counter-attack: “You’re too uptight. I’ve got a lot on my mind. I’m never that late. Besides, you were the one who was late last night.”
  • The Innocent Victim: “I wasn’t late on purpose. You’re always picking on me.No matter when I get there, it’s never early enough. I can’t do anything right to please you.”

Guess what happens next? Yep, more criticisms and more counterattacks.
Getting defensive only adds to the fact that this conversation is going No. Where.

Contempt

Contempt is putting your partner down and putting yourself on a higher plane. It’s you looking down on him with an attitude of “I’m better/smarter/cleaner/more punctual, etc. than you.” It looks like sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, or mocking.

Contempt is the single best predictor of relationship dissolution.

The Gottman Institute

Contempt is the most damaging of the four Horseman because it takes a toll on your partner’s self-esteem. It sends a message that you’re disgusted with him.

Stonewalling

Stonewalling happens when you withdraw from interacting but stay physically present. You don’t give a clue that you’re listening or even paying attention. It looks like avoiding eye contact and crossing your arms. It’s you retreating internally away from your partner.

Ex. Your partner comes home to these words, “We need to talk.” The last time you talked, it ended badly. Here are some of his internal thoughts:

“This is never going to end. I don’t need this. If I tell her what I think, she’ll really explode. It’s not worth it. If I say anything, it will just make it worse. Just keep your mouth shut.”

He shuts down, again.

Stonewalling creates a lot of stress, elevating your heart rate and releasing stress hormones. It makes it nearly impossible to listen, think, and solve the problem constructively.

5 Changes You Can Make Using Courage

Select the drop-downs to learn more about ways to love and fight courageously.

1. Confront the behavior not your partner
Instead of criticizing, use a gentler start-up (Begin statements with “I” instead of the finger-pointing you) and ask for a specific behavior change.
2. Take some responsibility
It never feels good to be wrong, but it can can help your partner feel heard and understood when you suck up the ego and just admit it. Instead of becoming defensive, take responsibility for even a small part of the problem. It takes courage to apologize and admit that you were wrong. Go a step further and talk about one way you will change the behavior.
3. Describe your feelings and needs
Instead of stabbing your partner’s ego, just say what you really need.  Underneath contempt is a desire. A need. Or a want.  So try describing your feelings to yourself first, under the anger, and then have the conversation. 
4. Create a culture of appreciation
Tell your partner the things you appreciate and why you appreciate them.  Share random acts of thank you and express admiration and praise. Get in the habit of catching your partner doing good.
5. Challenge Your Thoughts
Every feeling follows a thought. And every thought follows a particular situation. You may not be in control of every situation, but you can control your thoughts about it. This is important because your thought controls how you feel. If your negative emotions are getting the best of you, best believe that there is an equally negative thought about what happened.