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    « 20 Things Happy People Do Differently... | Main | Defensiveness: 10 listening blocks to effective communication »

    Six indicators your relationship may be in trouble, and what to do about them

    1. Your partner is starting to feel more like an opponent, an adversary, than a loved one. One or both of you are starting to become more sarcastic, harsh, demeaning or disrespectful.

    Agree on ground rules for communication: no name calling, no sarcasm, no bad language. Let go of needing to be right all the time. Emphasize a frame of cooperation, not opposition. Work on building empathy by looking at things from your partners point of view. Behave respectfully regardless of the situation.

    Being upset doesn't give anyone license to behave badly. There is no excuse for disrespectful or cruel behavior.

    Anger and rude behavior often have their root in anxiety and a fear of being out of control. Work on self-calming behaviors and reduce your overall anxiety levels. Good relationships with others flow from having a good relationship with yourself. Work on self-respect, self-acceptance, and let go of self-criticism to strengthen empathy and patience with others.

    2. One or both of you are frequently critical of the other; one or both of you show contempt or feel superior to the other; feedback or input is seen as a criticism or worse, an attack; you are becoming defensive with one another -- one or both of you feel the need to block or ignore the other's attempt to engage.

    Agree to stop complaining and criticizing your partner. Curb any sense of contempt; don't encourage such feelings. Work on tolerance and respect for differences. Commit to being open to feedback and respond to it appropriately. Being responsible in relationship means always being able to respond.

    Turn your complaint around: instead of "you never listen," ask yourself, "am I really listening?"

    The main thing is: stay calm -- discuss, don't argue. No one ever has ever resolved or managed differences by arguing. Stop trying to win the argument and start listening.

    If your partner is attempting to control you by refusing to respond to you, stonewalling or giving you the silent treatment, it may be because you're being too critical, or it may be an attempt on their part to control you by withholding and being passive-aggressive. Whatever it is, it's the opposite of cooperation and mutuality, and the relationship is in trouble.

    3. You often find your partner to be so negative that you find yourself emotionally drained, exhausted.

    Agree to take a time out from whatever is going on, a cooling off period. And commit to discussing things in a civil way at some point in the near future. Then do it.

    4. Finger pointing, cross-complaining, ("Me? What about you!"); aggressive behavior, yelling, name-calling, etc.

    Recognize all of these behaviors as attempts to bully and intimidate, to force compliance. See the first point.

    5. Attempts by one of you to de-escalate or reach out repeatedly fail. Counseling fails. Things calm down only to flair up again.

    Commit to some sort of couple's counseling and really consider the feedback that's given. Let go of a need to argue or be right. Stop being so defensive. Most relationship repair failures happen because one or both parties are trying to "win" the argument instead of finding common ground and compromise.

    6. Numbness, grief, feelings of hopelessness about the relationship. A growing sense of "I don't know you any more."

    Seek counseling and commit to the process. Feeling overwhelmed isn't the same thing as things being over. Don't let your feelings dominate your behavior. Rather, work on support and empathy, ask for help.

    You may notice that none of these warning signs are about "issues." They're all about bad process, failures in communication that make it difficult if not impossible to resolve differences. Every couple has their differences. What makes some couples successful is that they've found a way to resolve their differences to both of their satisfaction without too much mayhem.

    Relationships fail not because people disagree, but because they are unable to work out their disagreements in a respectful and amicable way.

    The single most important element in any relationship is not compatibility, but empathy and the ability to support one another despite the differences.

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