Communication is an important part of any healthy relationship, but there are a lot of other factors to keeping you and your partner’s love life flowing smoothly.
However, is there anything more important in a relationship than good communication? I believe there is.
I believe there is something so essential that it can predict and guarantee success and longevity in relationships. Are you ready to discover what it is?
The single, most important ingredient for success is that both partners feel emotionally safe in their relationship. In other words, both partners need to know in their hearts that when they allow themselves to be vulnerable and honest with their partner, they will be received and accepted.
Think about it. What happens when you feel like you can’t express your feelings and thoughts honestly? What happens when you fear you’ll be criticized, belittled, or not taken seriously?
What happens is you get defensive, and when you get defensive, all hell breaks loose! The worst aspects of your character emerge and you yell, nag, argue, and attack, or just give up and stop talking altogether.
You forget to be careful and kind when you’re on the defensive, and the bad stuff begins to erode the good stuff. You find that it gets harder and harder to reconnect and recuperate from these conversations as the trust begins to dissipate.
If you allow defensive communication to become a pattern, eventually you’ll stop saying what you’re really thinking and end up feeling disconnected and alone, which is why it’s important to nip it in the bud.
So how can you create and maintain emotional safety in your important relationships? How can you counteract your defensiveness and anger? How can you control your basic emotions and access and operate from your better self?
There is an effective strategy that can help you and your partner accomplish all of the above.
Learning and practicing this technique can make a huge difference in the quality of your relationship. It works because it allows couples to work together as a team and interrupts unhealthy patterns of relating when you’re upset. I call it the “Take a Break” strategy.
Here’s an overview of how it works:
1. Start noticing when you begin to escalate and/or get defensive.
Before you can change something, you have to recognize it. Here’s a hint: When either of you begins a sentence with, “Yeah, but,” that’s a good indicator defensiveness has crept in.
2. Take a break.
This is harder than it sounds — you’re not used to interrupting your fights when you’re in the thick of them, but this is the most important part of the strategy. As soon as you notice defensiveness or any other unhealthy communication creeping in, that’s when you want to take a break!
3. Either of you can state the need to take a break at any time.
And the other partner agrees to respect it, even if they don’t feel like it. Sometimes one of you will feel the need to take a break, but the other partner wants to keep talking. This is where the teamwork comes into play. Respect each other by supporting the request.
4. Never say, “You need to take a break,” even if you think it’s necessary.
Taking a break should always be approached as something you both need to do. You’re in this together and you’re both taking responsibility to prevent negatives from invading your relationship. Always say, “We need to take a break.”
5. Brainstorm ways to calm down.
Once you’ve decided to take a break, do something healthy to calm yourselves down so that you can go back into the conversation later, in better shape than you left it. Some people like to go for walks, meditate, exercise, or watch television. You should do whatever it is that calms you down so you can think clearly again. But don’t use the time you’re apart to repeat the argument over and over in your head. That never helps!
6. Communicate how you will calm yourself down to your partner
This prevents misunderstandings from arising. For example, if you choose to watch mindless sports for a while, you don’t want your partner to misinterpret it and assume you are ignoring the problem.
7. Commit to resume the conversation.
This is crucial. Be specific about when you will meet again and stick to it! This technique is not meant to be a way to get out of having difficult conversations. It’s designed to help you manage your feelings so you can be more respectful towards each other when you’re in them. Sometimes, a 15-minute break will suffice, but other times, you may need longer, or you may have plans that prevent you from meeting until the next day. That’s okay, as long as both partners commit to resuming the conversation and do it!
This strategy may seem simple, yet most couples find it difficult to do, especially at the beginning. You get used to communicating and fighting in a certain way, and it can be challenging to change your patterns. But if the way you communicate when you’re upset is damaging to your partner and your relationship, why not try something different?
Using this strategy together will improve your relationship! It will help you take responsibility for your own behavior and prevent your negative feelings from escalating. It will encourage teamwork and make it easier to be respectful and considerate towards each other.
This is a skill that you agree to use as a couple, to manage your emotions and preserve emotional safety. Committing to use it communicates that you care enough about your relationship to stop hurting each other. So, go ahead — take a break for your relationship’s sake!
Debby Gullery is a relationship coach and author who loves to teach people simple strategies they can use to improve their relationships. She is passionate about helping single adults prepare for lasting love and commitment. She is the author of Small Steps to Bigger Love, a practical, easy-to-use book for couples who seek to be more intentional and loving. You can reach her on her website.