Category Archives: Relationships

When You…. I Feel… I Wish….

conflict res

In Honest, Direct, Respectful: Three Simple Words that will Change your Life, Dennis Adams describes a three step process for communicating your needs to others. This can be used in times of conflict to share your feelings and work toward a mutual resolution.

  1. Identify the behavior: “When you….”  The more concrete and specific you can be, the better.
  2. Identify the feeling: “I feel…” and then state the emotion (e.g. “I feel sad…” or angry… or disappointed.) Be careful not to say “I feel like….” because then you may be tempted to say “I feel like you are ignoring me” which is your interpretation of their intent, it is not how you feel because of their behavior.
  3. Identify something you want, wish, or wonder. You might use “I want” with someone you supervise – a child or employee – to tell them what action you want (and expect) them to take. “I wonder” is a continuation of your feeling statement: “I wonder if you notice what I do for you?” And “I wish” says what you want, without telling them that they have to do it for you.

Imagine if you said, in frustration: “You never pick up around the house. I always have to do all the work.” That would likely put your partner on the defensive, and it’s easy to get into a battle of one-up-manship where you both pull out all your martyr cards about how hard you work and how unappreciated you are. Instead, try:

“When you leave your piles of clean laundry in the TV room, I feel stressed that our house doesn’t feel like someplace I can relax. I wish the house was tidier so we could both enjoy our time here together.”

This re-frames the situation to you working together as allies toward a mutual goal.

Let’s look at a few more examples.

Instead of “You don’t care about this project – you never even respond to my emails!”, try “When you don’t respond to my emails, I feel frustrated, and I wonder whether you really want to work on this project with me.”

Instead of “You need to get your act together and be on time”, try “When you’re late to meet me, I feel unloved, and I also feel frustrated that I’m wasting time waiting for you. I wish you could be on time or let me know when you’re running late.”

Instead of “You’re so rude to people! Why are you such a jerk?”, try “When you interrupted her when she was speaking, I felt really uncomfortable. I wonder if you realize that could seem disrespectful to her?”

Instead of saying to your child “I’ve told you 1000 times not to leave your shoes all over the house”, try “When you leave your shoes all over the house, I feel frustrated. When we ran late to school three days this week because you couldn’t find the shoes you wanted, I felt mad. I want you to always take your shoes off and put them on the shelf as soon as we get home, so we can easily find them when you need them.”

This model is reminiscent of Marshall Rosenberg, and his model of Non-Violent Communication. I’ve written a handout on using a variant of his model to Communicating what You Really Need.

Test it out this week – it’s an easy method you can use with your kids, partner, co-workers, or anyone you’re feeling in conflict with.

Click here for a free downloadable worksheet on using this Conflict Resolution tool.

To see all my posts on relationship skills, click here.

Parental Anger

angryParents often ask: “Is it OK to be angry in front of my kids?” “Is it OK to be angry at my kids, or does that make me a bad parent?” “What if my partner and I get in a fight when the kids are in the room?” The reality is that there will be times you’re angry in your child’s presence, there will be times you’re angry at your child, and there will be times you fight with a family member when your child is around. Anger is a very basic human emotion, and we all feel it sometimes. (Click here for a post on your child’s anger and how to respond.)

When teaching your child emotional intelligence, I recommend that you say to them clearly that “Your emotions are always OK. Sometimes your behavior is not OK, so I will set limits on that when I need to. But I still love you even when you’re having big emotions and even when your behavior is bad.” We can set the same standards for ourselves as parents – all emotions are OK, but we want to handle them as maturely as we can in the moment, and repair things later when we don’t handle them well. Rather than trying to hold yourself up to an impossible standard of never getting angry, instead, accept that it will happen and make a plan for how you will manage the situation.

If our children see us get angry and then calm ourselves down, they learn many things: it’s normal to get angry, being angry doesn’t make you a bad person, being angry doesn’t have to mean losing control, and it is possible to calm yourself down from a big emotional meltdown.

This week, I’ll be doing a full series on parental anger. Tune in for

(If you’re a parent educator, who would like a one page printable handout on this topic, click here: Parental Anger.)

photo credit: Yelling Man via photopin (license)

Love Maps

John Gottman, a prominent relationship researcher, says that successful couples have “Love Maps” of each other’s lives.

These couples have made plenty of cognitive room in their minds for their relationship. They remember the major events in each other’s histories, and they keep updating their information as the facts and feelings of their spouse’s world change. They know each other’s goals in life, each other’s worries, each other’s hopes and dreams. Without such a love map, you can’t really know your partner. And if you don’t really know someone, how can you truly love them? (Source)

I think love maps are VERY powerful.

I know someone who says “Every time my mom calls me, she asks me about the weather. I would love it if someday she said ‘How’s work?’ or, even better ‘I know you’ve been frustrated by budget issues at work – is that getting better?'”

I know lots of parents of school age children whose standard question every day is “So, how was school?” Think how much more powerful these questions would be: “I know you were worried about your math test today – how did it go?” or “You and Chris have been having a great time playing ____ together. Did you have time to do that today?”

Read more about love maps:

Relationship Skills for Parents

In every relationship – whether with our romantic partners, our children, our parents, our co-workers, or friends – we have good days and bad days. We can have more good days if we know and use effective relationship skills. Here are some I find most helpful, with links to more details on each.

Turning Toward your Partner (based on Gottman)

When someone wants to make a connection, they make “bids for affection.” These can be questions, invitations, non-verbal gestures, glances, or touch – anything that asks you to connect. When someone bids for your attention, there are three main categories of ways that you might respond.

Turn Toward: Act in a responsive, interested, positive, and loving way. Reach out, touch them, look at them, smile. Say “I hear you”, “I want to connect with you,” “I’m interested in you.” Ask a question.

Turn Away: Act in a way that ignores them, or dismisses their bid. Look away, wander away. Don’t respond verbally, or respond in a way that has nothing to do with what they said.

Turn Against: Act in an angry way that rejects them and their bid. Walk away, glare, make threatening movements. Use sarcasm or put-downs, roll your eyes. Do the opposite of what they asked you to do.

In the most successful relationships, partners have a 20:1 ratio. They have 20 positive bids and/or turning toward incidents for every one incident of turning against or away.Can you aim for at least 5:1?

Expressing Appreciation (inspired by Hendricks and Louden)

When juggling day-to-day responsibilities at work, home, and with children, we  we might start feeling disconnected and invisible, or drained and undervalued. One of the best ways to re-fill our tanks is by creating a “culture of appreciation”. Some ideas:

  • Always thank your partner for the things s/he has done. Even if they’re part of his/her “job.” It’s still nice to know that they are noticed and appreciated.
  • When asking your partner to do something, make it a real question (i.e. something they could say no to) not an order disguised as a question. (And say please!) Thank them if they say yes.
  • Five minute writing. Each of you takes a piece of paper and a pen. Spend five full minutes listing everything you love about your partner. Pour out all the appreciation you haven’t had time to share. Give your list to your partner to have and to hold.
  • Exchanging appreciations: Sit facing each other. One person begins with “Something I appreciate about you is…” The other partner listens to that, lets it sink in, says thank you, and then shares something that they appreciate about the other.
  • Post-its: leave notes around the house, listing what you love about each other or life in general.
  • Write a thank you note, letting him/her know why you’re glad s/he is a part of your life.

Speak your partner’s love language (Chapman)

In Chapman’s The Five Love Languages, he argues that different individuals have different “languages” they use to express love, and that we “hear” love best when it’s spoken in our language. Which one of these sounds most like how your partner hears love from you? Which describes how you hear love?

Physical Touch: Feels most loved when you touch him/her: stroke her hair, hold hands, massage, rub her feet, hugging, kissing, sex. Feels most rejected when touch is missing (or if touch is used in anger).

Words of Affirmation: Encouragement and praise are vital. Being acknowledged for work, appreciated for who s/he is, validated for concerns, cheered on for efforts. May be very sensitive to criticism.

Acts of Service: Wants active support with household tasks, like laundry, washing dishes, running errands, making a to-do list together and taking on jobs. Feels unsupported when you don’t pitch in.

Gifts: Loves any special little thing done just for him/her. Little notes left around the house, something special from the grocery store, pictures of the baby texted during the day. Will be especially upset if you forget a birthday, anniversary or other gift-giving occasion.

Quality Time: Wants your Presence – time together, spent talking and connecting, doing activities together. Feels unsupported if you’re off buying gifts or doing tasks instead of spending time together.

Discuss this with your partner. Are you right about what his/her language is? What does s/he think is your language? Sometimes couples discover that if one is feeling unloved, it’s not that their partner wasn’t trying to communicate love, it’s just that s/he was shouting a lot in the wrong language.

Spend Time with your Partner

Ideally, you will find a way to have a regular date night with your partner. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Just a chance to be together, really listen to each other, really see the other person, and remember why you chose to spend your lives together. Celebrate being a couple!

But beyond date night, think about ways that even a few minutes a day can make a big difference. In an article by Carolyn Pirak ( she recommends making a commitment to 40 minutes a day to improve your relationship: When you separate, spend at least two minutes saying goodbye. When you reunite, spend 20 minutes talking about your days. Take five minutes a day to express appreciation to each other. Devote at least 8 minutes a day to showing affection. Give at least five minutes a day to sharing dreams and planning ahead.

Make a plan for special time together this week. Each day, grab some sweet little moments together.

Conflict Resolution / Communicating needs

Many conflicts arise because one or both of you is not getting something that you need. You can start feeling like opponents on opposite sides of an issue or like competitors for scarce resources. Here are some steps to start thinking like allies again, and being working things out.

  1. Identify what you need. Sometimes you need to figure it out yourself before you can tell your partner. Hint: if you often find yourself saying “You never do X” or “You always do Y” or “I never get to do Z,” there’s a hint in there somewhere.
  2. Communicate that need to your partner. Be clear, and specific. Use the “I” word – “I need this”, not the “You” word – “Here’s what you need to do.” Help them understand how you feel about this emotionally. “It makes me sad when…” “I feel overwhelmed when…”
  3. Ask for help meeting that need.
  4. Listen to your partner’s opinions and concerns. Avoid interrupting, criticizing, defensiveness, and contempt. (Expressed out loud or with body language.) Paraphrase – repeat back what your partner has said, and make sure you heard him/her right.
  5. Ask your partner what s/he needs and work together to get that need met.

Next time you find yourself in conflict, try these ideas. Even better, try working preventatively. When you’re not in the heat of the moment, explore one areas of conflict, and see what you learn together.

Here’s a printable handout covering this information on Key Relationship Skills.

Sources: Louden’s Couples Comfort Book, Hendricks’ Conscious Heart; Gottman’s Baby Makes Three.

Extended Family

At this time of year, many families are traveling to visit other family members, or longing to spend time with faraway family, or overloading on time with local family. Check out last year’s posts on Building Relationships with Family Near and Far; Staying Connected with Family Long-Distance, and Resolving Differences with Extended Family.