It’s almost comical that many of us find a relationship partner and expect immediate symbiosis. Two people from different backgrounds, families, upbringings and experiences, yet we assume that due to some key commonalities we share similar expectations, particularly about relationships. Well, not just about relationships in general, but about what’s good for your relationship.
We often see couples come in for help when they are deciding “should I stay or should I go?” Meanwhile, these arguments have been brewing for months or even years about what each person wants for him/herself and for the relationship. Conversations about needs, wants, hopes and expectations are not a one time deal to check off the list. This conversation should be ongoing for two reasons: open communication promotes honesty and intimacy and people and their views evolve. Keeping open communication and revisiting these topics keeps your partner informed of your intentions and allows people to be open to changing their views and opinions.
Whether you are days, months or years into your relationship, the following pointers can be used to talk about relationship expectations and intentions.
Understand your partner– learn about their past relationship experiences, family history, what has gotten them in this particular frame of mind? See their point of view. This doesn’t mean you’re adopting it or agreeing with it, but simply understanding where this person stands and why.
Know your deal breakers or non-negotiables (for all you Millionaire Matchmaker fans), your needs vs. wants and what you are willing to compromise on.
Tackle the toughies early on! Don’t avoid certain topics because you fear you will disagree or think they’ll get better with time. The longer you ignore difficult topics, the more trouble you are likely to be in later.
Can you accept your partner? See the person for who they really are and what they are asking for and ask yourself “if nothing changed, could I stay in this relationship?”
Be mindful of timing– don’t bring up a touchy subject right when your partner walks through the door, has just told you he/she had a bad day or is in the middle of watching their favorite show. While there isn’t always a “good time” to address conflict, try to time your conversation at a moment when you and your partner can be open to sharing and listening.
Whether you are discussing long-term or short-term expectations and intentions with your partner, this topic may become heated and emotional for one or both parties involved. Since I feel so strongly about the necessity of having these ongoing conversations, I would like to also equip you with 4 of my own conflict resolution tools to help your relationship win!
- Listen! No, really Listen: Being a good listener entails not interrupting, focusing on what your partner is saying rather how you plan to respond, and feeding back to your partner what you heard him/her say to see if you understand. ** Active listening is a technique therapists often use to understand people and make them feel heard
- Own your message: be clear, direct and use “I” statements when possible. (I feel or I get upset when…)Your partner may not be able to glean what you intend to get across if you yourself are uncertain of exactly what you want to say. Clarity and specificity will also allow your partner to more directly address what the issue is.
- Avoid escalation: A) refrain from being disrespectful & hitting below the belt. Couples know which words and phrases are hot buttons for them so steer clear of them during arguments to lessen the fire. B) Take time to think and breathe before you respond.
- Adopt a team attitude: if we think of our relationship as a joint project where the goal is for the relationship to win, then we are less likely to steer the conversation towards who is right or wrong. One of my supervisors always asks, “Would you rather be right or happy?” Now, chew on that for a moment 😉
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