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4 Not-Obvious Signs Your Relationship Is In Trouble

4 Not-Obvious Signs Your Relationship Is In Trouble

Unfortunately, there’s no alarm that magically signals the start of relationship problems. Usually, problems creep up on a couple, affecting their lives in ways that seemingly have little to do with the relationship.

After several exchanges where he feels disrespected by his wife, a husband may suddenly begin to find reasons to spend more and more time at work. A wife, feeling lonely and unimportant, may begin to have a short fuse with the kids and her husband. And this hypothetical couple may have no idea their workaholic or irritable tendencies actually stem from their relationship problems.

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Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to detect relationship problems before they do lasting damage to your life, your well-being, or your relationship itself?

Relationship researcher, John Gottman, investigated just that by observing and comparing patterns of behavior in happy vs. unhappy couples. He came up with four behaviors which he dubbed, “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” and concluded these are the behaviors that best predict deterioration of relationships. Here are Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, AKA “four not-obvious signs your relationship is in trouble.”

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1. You criticize

Criticism is a destructive relationship habit. Criticism means putting down your partner’s character or behavior. Instead of criticism, healthy couples explain how they feel and make direct requests. In healthy couples, critical comments such as,  “You never do the dishes,”  are replaced with I-statements and direct requests such as, “I feel overwhelmed when I come home to a messy kitchen. Could you please put your dishes in the dishwasher before I get home?” If you want to rid your relationship of criticism, practice beginning your statements with, “I feel…” and then ask your partner for what you want directly.

2. You hold contempt

Contempt is any form of disrespect or ridicule. It can be name-calling, belittling, sarcasm or any other communication meant to show disgust, disregard or disdain. According to Gottman, contempt is the single biggest predictor of divorce. Healthy couples think in terms of other-appreciation and self-responsibility, and are able to truly validate and empathize with another person. If you want to rid your relationship of contempt, these mindsets and skills do much to fight off the second horseman.

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3. You are defensive

Defensiveness is exactly as it sounds: Automatically defending your position. This occurs at the expense of understanding or validating the other person’s position, and is usually a trigger for the other person to also become defensive. Examples of defensiveness are making excuses for your behavior, changing the subject to what your partner did wrong, and justifying your behavior. Instead of being defensive, healthy couples practice daring to see the others’ statements as understandable and true according to their partners’ perspective.

4. You stonewall

“Stonewalling” is withdrawing from the conversation or from the relationship for the sake of avoiding conflict. This could occur in the form of “the silent treatment,” walking away, leaving the house, refusing to talk, or nonsensical mutterings. The solution to “stonewalling” is self-awareness and self-control to indicate that you are too upset to speak constructively, but would be willing to come back to the conversation after a given amount of cool-down time (20 minutes to a few hours). Thus, there is no avoiding the topic or the relationship partner. A relationship without stonewalling is a relationship in which problems and conversations are addressed instead of being swept under the rug or ignored.

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If any of these signs sound like a habit of yours or your partner, the good news is, researchers have found couples are able to change these habits with guidance and practice. Couples counseling may be a helpful way to learn and practice alternative communication strategies if you notice any of “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” trampling over your relationship.

Featured photo credit: taliesin via http

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The Gentle Art of Saying No

The Gentle Art of Saying No

No!

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

  1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
  2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
  3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
  4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
  5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
  6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
  7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
  8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
  9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
  10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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