Tag Archives: relationship skills

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.

Relationship Skills Round-Up, part 2: Appreciation


Life (especially life as a parent) can often leave us feeling undervalued or unappreciated. And when we’re feeling worn out, it may be hard for us to remember what we’re grateful for – what we appreciate about our life and the people we share it with.This drains our energy.  One of the best ways to re-fill our tanks is by creating a “culture of appreciation”.

  • 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!) Then 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.

Some ideas inspired by Hendricks’ Conscious Loving and Louden’s Couples’ Comfort Book)

Get more appreciation ideas from my handout on appreciation here

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


Read more about appreciation on other blogs:

The Effects of Gratitude in Relationships on Mindfulness Muse: “Begin to actively pay attention to and notice the positive things that your partner does.  Many of us have a natural tendency to only [notice] signs that our partners have done something wrong.  It is much more beneficial… to “catch your partner doing something positive.””

Creating a Culture of Appreciation on the Gottman Institute’s blog: “Building a culture of appreciation, fondness, and admiration involves using the things you know about your partner to show that you care and want them to be happy. Positive thoughts invoke positive feelings, and the goal is to turn both into positive actions that help to heal and bring companionship back in your relationship.”

The power of appreciation on Psychology Today: “My friend told me that she and her spouse were doing wonderfully. She attributed [this] to the consistent appreciation that she and her partner express to one another. She told me that they often say “thank you” to each other for daily tasks—laughing while revealing that her husband had recently thanked her for putting a frozen pizza in the oven.”

photo credit: Ilya Eric Lee via photopin cc

Relationship Skills Round-Up, part 1: Turn toward your partner

Over the next week, I’ll be sharing a collection of my favorite tools for strengthening a relationship – whether that relationship is with our partner, friends, co-workers, or kids.

Turning Toward bids for connection (based on John Gottman’s work)

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  ways that you might respond.

By Michelle Spaulding (Flickr: Gratuitous Cuddle Shot) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Michelle Spaulding (Flickr: Gratuitous Cuddle Shot) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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 at them, make threatening movements. Use sarcasm or put-downs. Do the opposite of what they have asked you to do.


A friend might bid “Want to go out to that new French restaurant Friday night?” You might ‘turn against’ by saying “A formal restaurant?? With a toddler?? In the evening?? Are you crazy?” Or you might ‘turn away’ by calling out to your child to be careful or asking if he wants a snack, then turning back to your friend and saying “I’m sorry, what were we talking about?” Or, you could ‘turn toward’ by saying “I would LOVE to go out with you. I’ve really missed all the long talks we used to have over meals. But what would work better for me is brunch before nap time… or a kid-friendly restaurant… or just meeting at my house.’

Your partner might bid “After we put her to bed, do you want to snuggle up on the couch and talk for a while?” You might ‘turn away’ by saying “The couch is covered in laundry I meant to put away during nap time. Oh, that reminds me, I’ve been meaning to…” You might ‘turn against’ by saying “I am so exhausted. I just want to go to bed. If you’ve got time to kill, could you just fold the laundry for a change?” Or you could turn toward by saying “Yes, that would be great. I’ll warn you that I’m exhausted, and I may just fall asleep.. but I’d love to have a little time with you.” Or “I’d love to snuggle. I’m stressed out by the laundry though… could you help me put it away real quick and then I can focus on snuggle time with you?”

What leads to a successful relationship?

In successful relationships, partners have a 20:1 ratio. They have 20 positive bids and/or turning toward incidents for every one negative bid or incident of turning against or away. Learn more.

Young children are very clear and obvious in their bids for connection: they chatter non-stop, they cry, they hang on your legs, they climb on your lap when you’re trying to work. Most parents do a good job of ‘turning toward’ most of a child’s bids: we look at them, we smile, we echo their words back to them. Even if we say no, we often say it in a connecting way “oh, honey, I’d LOVE to read that book to you, but right now I need to finish washing the dishes.”

Unfortunately, we aren’t always this responsive to our partners! At the end of a long and tiring day of parenting and work, and feeling under-appreciated, we may feel like we only have a tiny bit of energy left to give in our day, and we save that up for our little ones, assuming our partners will “understand.” And they do. Generally. But eventually, all their bids are ignored (turn away) or rejected (turn against) that can really damage a relationship.

What can you do today to “bid” for affection – let your partner know you want to connect?

What can you do today to tune in to bids from your partner, and try to turn toward?


Look here for Gottman’s suggestions on ways to connect, such as “Your partner sends you a text message about something, anything. Send them one back that lets them know how irresistible they are to you.

Or look here for Gottman’s suggestions for how to apply this idea in the work setting to build better relationships with co-workers, such as: “Turn away from your work and look at the person who’s talking to you.

Look here to see simple examples of the mundane ways this idea plays out in a relationship and learn why those little things matter: http://alwayspsyched.blogspot.com/2011/05/for-love-of-gottman-make-your.html: “Comical as it may sound, romance actually grows when a couple are in the supermarket and the wife says, “Are we out of bleach?” and the husband says, “I don’t know. Let me go get some just in case,” instead of shrugging apathetically.”.