Couplespeak™ Blog

How Do You Manage Conflict?

The most prevalent problem I deal with in my work as a psychotherapist with individuals and couples is the issue of how people talk to each other when they’re trying to manage conflict. And “conflict” isn’t always about big ticket items, like how to handle a kid’s bad behavior, or who is spending how much money. Conflict can be about who forgot to feed the dog or who did a lousy job declining an invitation to a party. It can be about anything where there’s an experience of difference or disappointment or hurt or aggravation or frustration. (The list goes on and on). So, if you notice a fair amount of escalation or reactivity or avoidance or defensiveness or criticism in your marriage you may need some help. You’ll want to first understand how the tactics you and your spouse use may be destructive and why. You’ll also want to know how these behaviors can become part of a toxic pattern which may put you at a higher risk for divorce. Most importantly, you’ll want some tools for how to deal with conflict in more mature, constructive and respectful ways so the two of you don’t become a nasty statistic.

For a quick primer on all of this I’d recommend that you listen to my latest podcast on BlogTalk Radio about this subject. In just 30 minutes I condense the subject sufficiently so you’ll be better equipped in this department. After that, it just takes practice, practice, practice, like anything else that matters in life.

Here’s the link to the podcast:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/susanlager/2019/03/07/4-communication-styles-that-can-ruin-marriage-and-what-you-can-do-to-fix-them

*If you need some help with this issue because you either get too distracted or overwhelmed or discouraged on your own, then contact me for an appointment at my Portsmouth office at 603-431-7131

Next 30 minute BlogTalk Radio podcast Wed., 1/30/19 at 8:30 PM: “How to Interrupt Frustrating Impasses and Standoffs with Your Spouse”

In this 30 minute episode I explore the frequently experienced issue of standoffs or impasses in marriage – those times when couples get “locked in” to a negative sequence when nobody feels heard or acknowledged, and nothing gets resolved. These “lock-in’s” can be about critical issues of importance or minor things, but the feelings of frustration, anger, and helplessness generally feel quite awful for each spouse.

Tune in to get some handy tools this couples therapist can teach you to interrupt the impasses, manage yourself more calmly, and move forward with your spouse in a more conciliatory manner.

Join me and have to option to be live on the air with questions or comments by calling toll-free 877-497-9046.

If you can’t make the live podcast you can stream it anytime at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager.

A Second Important Question for Spouses with Kids

(Here’s the second very good question Parenting NH magazine asked me recently):

What are some practical tips and ways for parents to prioritize their relationship as spouses/partners?

Most people know about the importance of setting aside quality time together through things like “date night.” Having a planned, ritualized time alone with your partner amplifies your “couple-ness” through shared experiences, reminding you about your reasons for choosing and staying with each other. I encourage couples to ramp it up a notch by taking turns with the planning, each putting energy into the “work” of connection.

Sometimes surprise experiences can expand a sense of fun, and even ramp up friendly competition. Anticipating and later reminiscing about these events can actually build happy neural pathways in your brains!

Novelty and a shared sense of discovery by doing new things together also generates excitement and joy, which are important antidotes to the doldrums which often plague long term relationships.

Equally as important, build mini “pockets of connection” into your everyday life as a couple. Don’t overload date nights with too much expectation, especially if you can’t manage to have them regularly and frequently. Instead, look for small, subtle moments of sharing by being intentional about them:

– If you’re getting dinner ready, create a shared experience with some conversation and a glass of wine while you prepare the meal.

– If the kids are in bed sit on the deck or the porch and watch the stars come out together. Talk about your dreams and passions, not just who aced it at your kid’s soccer game.

– If you’re watching a TV program sit next to each other and use the commercial breaks to have a snack and share your thoughts about the program.

– “Kill two birds with one stone” and have some lively conversation while you walk your dog.

However brief your time together may be, protect it from outside intrusion. Get more comfortable saying “No, thank you” to invitations that might cut in on the two of you too often. Set boundaries and prioritize your time together, even if it’s not a Hallmark moment.

Whatever you do together, be intentional about it, be present, and put down your cellphones! Texts, Facebook, and Instagram can wait, unless they’re shared activities you both enjoy. Here again, remember that one way or the other, your kids are watching, and you’re giving them a template for either a loving, respectful partnership, or an empty one.

Living in Connection

I recently returned from a whirlwind vacation in Slovenia and Croatia, where my husband Thom and I not only had a terrific adventure, but also where the experience of living in connection was palpable. In the above picture I was having one of our daily Cappuccino’s at a riverfront cafe in Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. Not only are their coffees terrific there, but most special was being immersed in a culture which seems to embrace connection. People there routinely sit outside together, young and old, regardless of the weather, enjoying coffees, wine, sweets, meals and good old conversation all day and night! We hardly saw anyone on their cellphones, ignoring the humans in their midst the way we routinely do in the USA. We were struck by how friendly and happy the people there seemed, and not just the tourists who were enjoying a vacation. We returned to the States convinced in a new way that the experience of daily human connection and personal happiness are intertwined.   So, when you’re not on vacation in a friendly spot what can you do in your daily life to promote connection?  
  1. Be intentional about engagement when you’re with other people. Maintain eye contact, listen, share, and most importantly, don’t confuse cellphone use with human socialization unless you’re sharing photos or anecdotes, and it’s not a solo, isolating activity.
  2. Take time each day to find people and places where you can have some meaningful conversation – whether it’s at the cooler, at lunch on a walk, or after work at a restaurant. If you’re a stay- at- home Mom join a mother’s group or a gym where you can find connection.
  3. Create small pockets of connection with your partner if you lack big expanses of time. Get away from an”all or nothing” frame. Share a glass of wine while cooking dinner, sit together and talk about the TV program you’re watching, share news about your day over dinner or walking the dog together. Plan your weekend and create something to look forward to.
  4. Use technology to let the people you care about know you’re thinking about them, then make a date. Don’t use technology as a substitute for the real thing, creating pseudo intimacy. Reach out and do stuff with the people you value.
  5. When you’ve experienced conflict in a relationship, (as you inevitably will in most normal relationships), don’t let it stew – instead, address it in whatever way the relationship will sustain, so it doesn’t become a barrier to connection. (The exception to this would be relationships which feel abusive, then boundaries are your best resource).
  6. When you’re alone find moments of connection with strangers who feel safe to you – talk with the supermarket clerk, start a conversation with the person next to you at a bar or restaurant, compare dog stories with other dog walkers. Engage!
However you do it, be intentional and creative about maximizing the experience of connection in your life. You’ll be happier, for sure.                                                          PS. If you need help with this issue feel free to contact me at my Portsmouth, NH office at 603-431-7131 for an appointment.

“5 Communication Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them” podcast 7/19/17 8:30 PM EST

In this 20 to 30 minute episode I’ll share my experiences as a psychotherapist witnessing common communication blunders clients often make. Whether you’re trying to communicate with a spouse, partner, friend or family member there are predictable and avoidable pitfalls you need to know about! You’ll learn about simple techniques to avoid these communication problems, be clearer about your message, and be heard and understood in a way which greatly improves relationships. Using my popular book “I’m Talking! Are You Listening?” as a guide, I will empower listeners to communicate with almost anyone more effectively about anything.

Call 877-497-9046 to join the live conversation with questions or comments. If you can’t make the live episode tune into www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager to listen to the recording anytime afterward.

 

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Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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