Improve Your Relationship Tonight

Sounds like an unrealistic goal, however by changing your approach to problem resolution it is achievable. How, you may be surprised to learn, by cracking a joke.

Consider the following two scenarios:

Couple A are on their way to a party dressed in evening gown and suit. Half way there they run out of gas. They step out of the car, survey their captivity and break out into uncontrollable laughter.

Couple B are on their way to the same party dressed very fancy. As they are about to approach their destination the already bald tire goes flat. They step out of the car, survey their captivity and proceed to sort out whose fault it is. Name-calling ensues, finger pointing begins, etc.

When they both arrive at the party Couple A recounts the story with whimsy, Couple B is no longer speaking to one another.

You must have heard the expression "Laughter is the best medicine". This holds true in relationships. Humor is an essential element in relationships. Its many uses include stopping a fight dead in its tracks, providing tension relief before a situation can escalate, and changing the mood or introducing another point of view. Humor should not be used to avoid a situation or to put your partner down. Rather it's a flexible communication tool to get your point across or handle conflict in a positive way such as Couple A did.

Ethel Barrymore, great-aunt of Drew Barrymore, once said "You grow up the day you have your first real laugh - at yourself". Learn to laugh at yourself, if you don't you leave the job to others. Use humor to neutralize conflict in your relationships. According to Dr. John Gottman, best known for predicting divorce with extremely high accuracy, one predictor of marital success and happiness is a positive interaction of 5:1. This means that your relationship should average at least five pleasant, friendly, or loving experiences or periods of time for every hostile word, angry argument, or time spent feeling hurt or resentful. When people are laughing together they are keeping their relationships alive and vibrant. They're more likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt. This may be the most unambiguously positive use of humor. The lovey-dovey in-jokes create a bond between you and your partner that in time of stress, depression, or anxiety can be retrieved. When it's used well, humor helps us to put ourselves in perspective, to see past our fears and sorrows and to reach out to the people we love with a light touch instead of a heavy hand.

Most couples do not learn how to fight properly. We use our parents as models without considering their success rate. Conflict will arise in the best relationships, how it is handled will determine the success and happiness of the union. Consider approaching a serious subject by introducing it using gentle and playful language. Next step would be to use an I-statement. These are used to convey how one feels and how one would like things to be, without using inflaming language. According to Culture Change in Practice, an I-statement has four parts:

1. "I feel____" (taking responsibility for one's own feelings)
2. "when you_____" (stating the behavior that is a problem)
3. "because____" (what it is about the behavior or its consequences that one objects to)
4. "I'd appreciate it if you would_____" (offering a preferred alternative to the behavior)

Once you have shared with your partner, give them a chance to respond and actively listen. This is where you make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, to try and understand the total message being sent. Active listening has four parts:

1. Give the speaker your undivided attention by making direct eye contact and avoiding mentally rebuffing the argument. Recognize that what is not said also speaks loudly. 2. Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention such as nodding and using small verbal comments such as yes and uh huh. 3. Reflect what has been said by paraphrasing. "What I'm hearing is…" and "Sounds like you are saying…" and checking in to make sure that is accurate. 4. Respond openly and respectfully.

This new approach to conflict resolution might feel awkward in the beginning; however practicing it over time will integrate it into your normal language. If nothing else when you see your partner trying this new approach it will endear him/her to you for the effort alone and if laughter ensues, so be it.

Comments
  • Paul Cullen

    I really enjoyed this blog post. It's such a simple thing yet laughter is often the first to go when times get tough for couples. I've on occasion had couples in my consulting room who in the midst of really having a serious go at each other are suddenly struck by the absurdity of what they're arguing about and burst into laughter. This laughter joins them together for a moment often spurring a renewed effort to address their conflicts.