Wednesday, June 26, 2013

15 Techniques To Help You Stop Fighting & Start Talking

If you and your spouse have been locked in combat mode for a while, it's time to make some changes! Few things are more damaging to your mood, health, and relationship than being in constant conflict. Fighting actually changes our neurochemistry and physiology, which means that the effects of a fight last far longer than the fight itself. Frequent fighting means your body stays in this altered state for longer periods of time and with each fight, the stress chemicals get higher and higher, which ironically, makes another fight more likely.

To break this fighting cycle, I'd like you to think of yourself like a scientist. I want you to think of each fight as an experiment, where you need to change only one thing each time. Each fight, change just one thing and note the results. Keep experimenting, keep observing. Pretty soon, you'll realize the "secret formula" for you and your spouse

To help you find this secret formula, here are 15 different techniques to experiment with. Please try each one and make notes about which ones work best for you. Keep what works, discard what doesn't. Share and discuss your observations with your spouse so the two of you can fine tune your approach.

1. Soften up. Be warmer, be friendlier, acknowledge what you hear that makes sense to you. People want to work with and listen to someone who acts like a teddy bear, not a prickly cactus.

2. Describe how you are feeling. Explain your perspective without judging or blaming the other person. Use emotional language and talk about feelings where appropriate. For example, say "I am hurt because I feel like I am not a priority for you."

3. Stop listening like a lawyer and preparing your defense. Instead, flip a coin (pick a number or play rock/scissors/paper) to determine who will speak first and who will listen; then switch roles after 2 minutes. While you're listening like a lawyer, you're not really listening at all. You're thinking about what argument you're going to present when it's your turn to talk. So, force yourself out of this pattern, push yourself to really listen to your spouse and try to understand his/her perspective. Listen for where you can bend and offer compromises.

4. Take frequent breaks. During each break, do something to calm yourself down. Go for a walk, listen to your favorite song, do 5 minutes of yoga, watch a relaxation video, re-read a love letter from your spouse. Do anything you like that calms you down and soothes you.

5. Try adding some structure to your arguments. Try the 5-5-3-3-2-2 + Hallmark approach. Person 1 talks for 5 minutes, while the other person listens. Then person 2, while person 1 listens, for 5 minutes. Then person 1 responds for 3 minutes, followed by person 2 for 3 minutes. Then person 1 wraps up for 2 minutes, followed by person 2 for 2 minutes. To conclude, each of you should say something loving and emotional, like something you'd write in a Hallmark card. Emotional "Hallmark" moments help soothe your partner and encourage positive changes to take place.

6. Play Let's Make A Deal. Ask for something you need in exchange for something your partner wants. For example, you might say, "Honey, I really want to go to my Mom's house for Thanskgiving this year. Let's make a deal: I'll do something you'd like if you'll come with me to Mom's. What can I do for you that will make this a good deal for both of us?" Deals should be fair and be acceptable to both partners. Don't agree to do something you'll resent.

7. Respond to anger with soothing and compassion. Have you noticed what happens when you respond to anger with anger? That's right, the situation gets even worse and uglier. So, try the opposite. try getting softer, calmer, cuddlier, warmer and offer some compassion. If your spouse is upset and yelling, get quiet and say something like, "You know, I am so sorry, I must have really hurt you....I never want to do that. How can I help you now?"

8. Take responsibility; promise improvement. Everyone has the right to their feelings, even if you don't agree or think they're seeing it wrong, they have the right to feel what they feel. So instead of trying to talk someone out of their feelings, instead, take responsibility for what you can and promise change. Maybe you disagree with 99% of what your partner is feeling, that's ok...focus on what you do agree with and take responsibility for that piece of it.

9. Actively try to soothe yourself during a fight. Earlier, I mentioned taking a break and doing something relaxing. Now, let's try to soothe ourselves during the fight without leaving the discussion. What I'd like you to do is tell yourself good things, things that soothe you and make you feel better, while you're in the argument. Think about the loving things your spouse said during your last anniversary dinner, think about the moment you knew you were in love with your spouse, assume your spouse loves you and has good intentions and isn't trying to hurt you. It's hard, I know, but you can do it....practice, practice.

10. Just listen. Take a break from talking back and just focus on listening. Let the other person vent and when he/she pauses or stops, say, "Ok, I heard you, The most important thing I heard you say was ______. How can I help make that better for you?"

11. Begin softly, act with compassion. How you start a conversation is typically how you end a conversation. If you start calmly and gently, odds are, you'll end the conversation well. Start with anger and aggression, you'll end up with a hot mess. Assume that everyone does something for a reason. Assume your partner has good intentions. Strive to express empathy and compassion as often as you can in an argument.

12. Focus on yourself. When we're arguing, we tend to think our partner is being ridiculous and unreasonable and if only they'd change, things would be fine. This really isn't the case. You can't control your partner, but you can completely control yourself. Focus on changing your thoughts, your behavior, your actions, your words...not your spouse's.

13. Wave a caution flag. Often, when we are fighting, we don't realize that we've pushed someone's buttons and are making them very upset. So, help your partner know when he's triggered you by waving a caution flag, i.e., saying, "Hey, you know, you're really pushing my buttons. If you want this to be productive, I need you to not do that....."

14. Throw in "ice cubes." When the argument is getting heated, cool it down with a few "ice cubes." Ice cubes are just a few words of love, some praise or a compliment. For example, you might say, "Honey, I really do love you. We'll figure it out." Everyone responds well to genuine emotion; toss a loving ice cube into the conversation and watch it work wonders.

15. Get deep. A little secret for you: what we fight about is almost never what we're fighting about. We fight about the toothpaste, but what we're really fighting for is what the toothpaste means to us. Next time you're arguing, try asking your spouse, "Help me understand, what's really behind this for you? What does this really mean to you?" You'll be surprised by the answers! You'll learn that your leaving the toothpaste on the counter really tells your spouse that you don't care about how hard she works to keep things looking nice and clean and that you take her for granted. Going deep and asking "What does this really mean?" gets you some very interesting information.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Speaking The Language of Love: Finding Your Love Language

In his groundbreaking book, The Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman defines five different love styles. Each style is the way someone likes to be loved and feels most appreciated. Learning your own love style, as well as that of your partner, is the best way to love and be loved. It’s quite likely that your love style and your partner’s love style will be different. If so, you may need to do a little work and practice acting in the way your partner wants to be loved. Then do a little education—determine your love style and ask for your spouse to do more of what makes you feel truly valued. If you do both of these things, you’re bound to see and feel more love in your everyday life.

Chapman’s Five Emotional Love Languages:

Words of Affirmation
People who value verbal compliments, such as “Wow, you look beautiful in that dress,” and those who desire encouragement are Words of Affirmation types. Loving comments and statements of appreciation, like “You’re an incredible photographer, thank you so much for these pictures!” are what this type craves most.

Quality Time Spouses who are Quality Time types would like to spend alone time together, focusing only on each other (i.e., not on the football game on TV), while sharing inner feelings, thoughts, and emotions. People who treasure conversation about hopes and dreams while sharing a drink at a local coffee shop are most likely Quality Time types.

Gifts Most of us love to receive gifts, but this alone does not make someone a Gift type. Gift types look for visual signs of love, such that any gift—big or small, expensive or casual—is likely to be saved, treasured and adored. People of this type often feel that a lack of gifts reflects a lack of love from their spouse.

Acts of Service Partners who are Acts of Service types feel loved when their spouse does little, everyday things, such as taking out the trash, paying household bills, picking the kids up from soccer practice, and the like. In order to feel loved, an Acts of Service type would like to see their partner go out of their way to care for them: to put in the planning, time, effort, and energy to make daily life a bit easier.

Physical Touch Physical Touch types are perhaps the easiest types to spot. These partners thrive on physical contact and crave all of the hugs, kisses, and physical attention you can bestow upon them. People of this type are most want to be in close physical proximity to their partner and want to be touched or held with some frequency.

Determining Your Style

Answer these questions to determine your love style:
1. How do you show your love to others?
2. Think back to the moments when you felt most loved, what made them so memorable?
3. What do you really wish your partner knew about how to do things differently?
4. What do you complain about most often?
5. What do you save, keep, treasure, or hold on to most?

From your answers, look for a pattern: do you value physical closeness most? If so, your love style is
likely the physical touch style. Do you crave more alone time? If so, your love style is probably the
quality time style. Do you secretly desire a new wedding band for Valentine’s day? Perhaps you are
the gift style type.

Determining Your Partner’s Style

To determine your partner’s love style, which one of these statements would your spouse most agree with?

1. I feel most loved when my partner expresses feelings for me through physical contact, such as a hug or kiss.
2. I feel most loved when my partner shows affection by taking care of errands, doing household chores, and doing favors for me.
3. I feel most loved when my spouse brings me a very special gift.
4. I feel most loved when my partner pays attention to me, focuses on what I am saying, and plans to spend alone time with me.
5. I feel most loved when my partner tells me how grateful they are for me and talks about how much all the little things I do are appreciated.

Statement 5 = Words of Affirmation style
Statement 4 = Quality Time style
Statement 3 = Gift style
Statement 2 = Acts of Service style
Statement 1 = Physical Touch style
Speaking Your Partner’s Love Language

After identifying your love style and your partner’s love style, communicate what you’ve learned in
their love style. If you’re married to a Words of affirmation type, tell them “I am so lucky to be married to you, you’re the most caring man in the world.” Then go on to tell your partner what you’ve learned and how you think it could help you both, make sure to tell them about your love style and how you’d really like to be loved. If you partner is a Quality Time type, invite them for a romantic dinner and share your new knowledge. Perhaps you’re dating a Gift type? If so, write a loving statement inside a silver fortune cookie and present this gift along with a copy of The Five Love Languages.

By learning your love language and actively communicating in the love style of your partner, you’ll experience a deeper connection than you ever thought possible. Having this knowledge and
practicing it daily will be a Valentine’s gift that gets better every year!

The Five Love Languages, How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Dr. Gary Chapman is available online at and at bookstores everywhere.

Should I stay or should I go?

Many people have come in lately asking me if their relationship can be saved. They report that their relationship has been bad for years, that they’re pretty sure they want to leave, and they want to know if I think they should get a divorce.

So here’s where I have to admit some bias….I am always on the side of marriages staying together.

However, here’s what I would say to someone wondering if they should stay or leave their marriage:

I’d always encourage you to act in ways that make you feel good about yourself and your life. If this relationship has reached a point where it can no longer be saved, that’s a decision for you to make. I always believe there is hope and that any marriage can be made better, but as to whether or not we should keep trying, that’s something I cannot tell you. Any decision needs to be yours because you know yourself and your feelings better than I ever will. I am always on the side of trying to make things work, but if you do not feel that’s in your best interest or that it can work, I will certainly understand and support you. You deserve to be happy and to be in a relationship that brings you joy.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and to think about:
-Can you say that you have done all you can to make this work?
-Have you taken responsibility for the things you have done that have caused the relationship to be in this state?
-Is anyone else a factor in this relationship?
-Do you have realistic expectations of what things would be like if you left?
-Can you feel comfortable looking at your kids 5-10 years from now explaining the decision you might make?

Your answers to these will be so telling….

It would be easy for me to tell you to stay or go, but in so doing, I am “playing God” – I can’t know what’s right for you, I can only say that I trust that you to know what’s right for you, that you have the answer inside of you, and that the best I can do is help bring that answer to the surface.

But to run with it a little more – how would you feel if I told you to throw in the towel? If you're answer is "Phew, I'd be relieved," then that may tell you that you've been trying for a long time and it's time to consider a change. Act in ways that make you feel good, honest, genuine, and true to yourself.

If I can help you, feel free to drop me a line.

All my best,
Dr Kathy

Dr Kathy Nickerson is an expert marriage counselor in Orange County, California. Her practice focuses on preventing divorce, helping marriages thrive, improving communication in couples, and affair recovery. You can learn more at