My husband and I have been together 14 years, 10 of them married. I still consider him my soulmate and best friend, and enjoy his company.
If I had to point out a few things that have kept us together all these years it is that we share common goals and values, and we are good about airing our grievances — no matter the discomfort or fight that may ensue.
That said, we can always use tips whether it be stronger communication or a more lasting bond. That’s where Laurie Puhn’s Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In comes in.
Puhn is a family lawyer and couples mediator with a private practice in Manhattan. She also runs the Expecting Words blog, which I often link to here in my open threads. I generally think her advice is spot-on, and she really outdid herself with her book, which was both a fast read and practical one.
Citing research and her own observations with her clients — she changed their names by the way — she finger-pointed some communication pitfalls made by couples, as well 5-minute conversations that could remedy them. At first, I was incredulous that a major communication lapse that has festered into a deep wound could be healed with a five-minute conversation. But I did try some of her suggestions, and I can say that DH has reciprocated, and that has made us an even happier couple.
For example, I found that DH and I had established what Puhn referred to as a “daily weak communication” repertoire, in which we hardly said “good morning” or even a “thank you” to each other. Because we have been together for so long, we have taken each other for granted and expected the other to pay the bills, pick up the children at school or wash the dishes. This time, I made note of all my husband does around the house, and thanked him for it. “Thank you for folding the clothes,” I would say to him.
At first, DH gave me a puzzled look as if he must have thought to himself, “Why the hell is she thanking me for this?” But then he answered with a “you welcome.” You could tell that he appreciated the validation. Soon it became contagious. Now we almost always say “good morning,” “good night”, give each other pecks and lots of “thank yous.” I made a lot of little changes like this, and I do think it’s made for an even stronger relationship.
Here are some other relationship pitfalls and 5-minute remedies that Puhn offers:
Pitfall #1 Never say “Honey, we have to talk.” Instead say, “Honey, can we have a 5-minute conversation?”
My husband tells me that while hearing “Honey we have to talk” immediately raises his blood pressure, my saying “Honey, can we have a 5-minute conversation?” actually makes him feel better because he knows that whatever issue it is that we’re confronting will be resolved in 5 minutes.
Pitfall #2 Avoid dumb arguments and own up to factual errors.
Have you ever found yourself getting agitated because your partner says you’re wrong when you’re sure you’re right? Or have you found yourself trading “It’s true” or “No, it isn’t” until you’re blue in the face? Those are all familiar set-up words for the dumb factual argument. Instead, when you are bickering about a fact like an address, a name, or a statistic, recognize this and say, “Hey we’re arguing about a fact. Let’s just find out the information instead of fighting about it.” With the help of Google, you’ll have your answer and avoid an argument over nothing.
Yes! I can’t tell you how often Google or Wikipedia has been a Godsend to our relationship. DH and I have avoided so many factual arguments because of the Internet, although I admit, I am a proud person and have a hard time apologizing when I am the one who’s wrong.
Pitfall #3 A good partner does not have to care about everything and anything that interests you.
I have two pieces of advice for you. First, I suggest that you pay more attention to the signs that your partner is beginning to tune you out. You know exactly what I’m talking about: those moments when he starts to fidget or look bored and you instinctively utter the infamous words “Are you listening to me?” You probably don’t want an honest answer to that question. Most likely, he feels bored to death or stressed out by your onslaught of information. Recognize this moment, and when it happens, stop talking.
Second, you need to learn how to communicate more effectively. How do you do that? One way is to stay away from frothy, detailed descriptions and repetition.
Pitfall #4 Don’t interrupt your partner.
I know this might sound a little corny–we’ve seen this method played out comically in movies and on television shows–but using an object such as a “talking rock” really can help interrupters learn to give their conversation partners a turn. In case you’re not familiar with it, in this technique no one is allowed to talk unless he or she is holding a designated object–such a rock, a pillow, or another small household object.
Pitfall #5 Don’t let jobs or children get in the way of couple time.
Couple time isn’t indulgent or selfish, it’s essential. Being able to communicate one-on-one, as adults, without interruption offers great rewards. You don’t need to schedule hours on end for “couple time,” and you don’t need to do anything out of the ordinary. You might simply watch a movie together or take a walk around the neighborhood. Use household chores and errands as opportunities for a Pitch-In Love Play. Join your mate on a trip to the grocery store, help prepare dinner, or help fold the laundry. If you view a task as an opportunity to focus on each other, the chore will become less annoying and sometimes even enjoyable.
Pitfall #6 Love means never having to say you’re sorry? Wrong. Learn to give heartfelt apologies.
As we’ve seen, certain conditions are necessary for love to survive: appreciation, respect, compassion, trust, and companionship. If any one of those conditions isn’t met, love cannot endure. That’s why the act of apologizing is essential. A perfect apology offers an acknowledgement that a line has been crossed, causing one or more of those conditions to be threatened or violated, and it provides a way for you to move back to the right side of the line together.
Pitfall #7 Don’t be a know-it-all.
Misleading or speaking as if one’s opinion is fact is unacceptable, but to make matters worse, this know-it-all communication habit is usually accompanied by an arrogant attitude: “How dare you question me?”
Puhn goes into detail — again, using her clients as examples — as to how to navigate the defensiveness caused by second-guessing a know-it-all. For example, how a wife should question a husband who won’t ask for directions, or a spouse who assumes that someone offers the cheapest services because a neighbor said so. She offers much more detail in navigating each of these pitfalls, which reads a lot like Ladies’ Home Journal’s “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” — a column I have always enjoyed.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in making their relationship stronger. While I have implemented many of these 5-minute conversations already, I wouldn’t mind my husband to read the book to see what I am up to. I will make sure to leave it on his night table.