One of the biggest problems relationships have is lack of quality communication. Many couples misinterpret the intention of the partner and both have different standards, morals and values when communicating. These sometimes lead to arguments, resentments and lack of trust in a relationship. Communication breakdowns often lead to nasty breakups, all of which may have been resolved. This article explores 21 proven behavioural techniques to strengthen any relationship.
These techniques are based on the principles of approved counselling techniques, which focuses on building and maintaining healthy and satisfying relationships. Thee behavioural techniques are designed to help couples develop the skills and tools they need to improve communication, increase emotional connection, and resolve conflicts in a healthy and effective way.
Here are 21 techniques to help resolve conflicts and make your relationship thrive.
- Active Listening: Active listening is a technique that involves fully focusing on what your partner is saying and responding in a way that shows that you understand and empathise with their feelings. This can include things like nodding, making eye contact, and summarising what your partner has said.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement they had earlier in the day. One partner uses active listening by nodding and making eye contact while the other is speaking, and summarizes what they said, ” So it sounds like you were feeling hurt and frustrated when I didn’t come home on time.”
- Validation: Validation is a technique that involves acknowledging and accepting your partner’s feelings and perspective, even if you don’t agree with them. This can include things like saying “I understand how you feel” or “I can see your point of view.”
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement about finances. One partner uses validation by saying “I understand that you’re worried about our budget, and it makes sense that you would want to be more cautious with our spending.”
- Empathy: Empathy is a technique that involves trying to understand and share your partner’s feelings. This can include things like putting yourself in their shoes, imagining how they might feel, and responding with understanding and compassion.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement about parenting. One partner uses empathy by imagining how the other partner might feel and responding with understanding and compassion, “I can understand why you would feel frustrated, I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes.”
- Repairing Communication Breakdowns: Repairing communication breakdowns is a technique that involves recognising and addressing communication breakdowns as they happen. This can include things like using “I” statements, taking a break if things get heated, and finding ways to get back on track. It’s important to read 8 Communication Levels To Build Long-Term Relationships to learn how to communicate in your relationships.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement and things start to escalate. One partner uses repairing communication breakdowns by saying “let’s take a break for a moment and cool down” and after that, they come back and use “I” statements, “I feel frustrated when you don’t listen to me, Can we start again and try to listen to each other?”
- Setting Boundaries: Setting boundaries is a technique that involves communicating your needs and limits in the relationship. This can include things like saying “no” when you need to, setting limits on how much time or energy you’re willing to give, and being clear about what you will and won’t tolerate.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement about spending time with friends. One partner uses setting boundaries by saying “I understand that you want to spend time with your friends, but I need to have some alone time as well, Can we come up with a schedule that works for both of us?”
- Compromise: Compromise is a technique that involves finding a solution that meets the needs of both partners. This can include things like being willing to give and take, being open to different options, and finding middle ground.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement about where to go on vacation. One partner uses compromise by suggesting a few options that meet the needs of both partners, ” How about we go to the beach for a week and then spend the next week in the mountains? That way we can both get what we want.”
- Positive Reframing: Positive reframing is a technique that involves looking at a situation in a positive light, rather than a negative one. This can include things like finding the silver lining, focusing on the good, and looking for the positive aspects of a situation.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement about house chores. One partner uses positive reframing by focusing on the good aspects of the situation, “I know we’ve been disagreeing about who does what around the house, but let’s focus on the fact that we’re both willing to contribute and make things work.”
- Apology and Forgiveness: Apology and forgiveness is a technique that involves taking responsibility for your actions, apologising when necessary, and being willing to forgive your partner when they apologise. This can include things like saying “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” when an argument arises.
Example: A couple had an argument and one partner hurt the other’s feeling, the partner who made a mistake apologize and the other partner forgives them by saying “I forgive you, I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”
- Creating Shared Meaning: Creating shared meaning is a technique that involves finding meaning and purpose in the relationship. This can include things like creating shared goals, values, and traditions. This helps to create a sense of purpose and direction in the relationship.
Example: A couple creates shared goals, values, and traditions that they hold dear. They take time to discuss these things and make plans to achieve them together.
- Building Trust: Building trust is a technique that involves being transparent, reliable and dependable, and following through with your words and actions. It also involves being able to forgive and letting go of past mistakes.
Example: A couple works on building trust by being transparent and honest with each other, and by following through on their commitments. They also make an effort to forgive each other when mistakes are made and to let go of past hurts.
- Softened Start-up: This technique involves starting a conversation or bringing up a sensitive topic in a calm and non-threatening way. This can include things like using “I” statements, avoiding blame and criticism, and being specific about the issue at hand.
Example: A couple wants to discuss their finances and one partner uses a softened start-up by saying “I want to talk about our finances, can we sit down and discuss it without getting defensive or blaming each other?”
- The Four Horsemen: This technique is used to identify and counteract negative patterns of behaviour that can harm the relationship. The Four Horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Couples learn to recognise these patterns and replace them with more positive behaviours.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement and one partner starts to criticize the other. The other partner uses the Four Horsemen technique by recognizing the criticism and replacing it with a more positive behavior, such as saying “I understand your point of view, but let’s talk about it without criticizing each other.”
- The Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): This technique involves accepting that certain aspects of the relationship are unchangeable and committing to making the most of the relationship. This can include things like accepting that your partner has certain flaws, and finding ways to live with them.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement about a habit that one partner has that the other find it annoying. One partner uses the ACT technique by accepting that this habit is a part of the partner’s personality and commit to finding ways to live with it.
- The Positive Sentiment Override: This technique involves increasing positive emotions in the relationship by focusing on the things that you appreciate about your partner and expressing them regularly. This can include things like complimenting your partner, expressing gratitude and showing appreciation.
Example: A couple is going through a difficult time, one partner uses the Positive Sentiment Override technique by expressing gratitude for the other partner’s support and reminding them of all the things they appreciate about them.
- The Emotion Coaching: This technique involves helping your partner to understand and manage their emotions. This can include things like listening to your partner when they are upset, helping them to identify their feelings, and providing guidance and support as they process their emotions.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement, one partner is upset and the other uses the Emotion Coaching technique by listening to them, helping them to identify their feelings and providing guidance and support as they process their emotions.
- The Conflict Resolution: This technique involves learning how to resolve conflicts in a healthy and effective way. This can include things like staying calm, identifying the underlying issues, and finding a solution that works for both partners.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement and one partner uses the conflict resolution technique by staying calm, identifying the underlying issues and finding a solution that works for both partners, “I understand that we have different opinions about this, let’s try to find a solution that we both agree on.”
- The Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT): This technique involves helping couples to understand and express their emotions in a healthy way. This can include things like active listening, validation, and empathy.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement and one partner uses the EFT technique by actively listening to the other partner, validating their feelings and showing empathy, “I understand how you feel and I’m sorry that I hurt you, let’s talk about how we can move forward.”
- The Fair Fighting Rules: This technique involves learning how to fight fair and avoid harmful patterns of behaviour. This can include things like avoiding name-calling, staying on topic, and avoiding threats and ultimatums.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement and one partner uses the fair fighting rules by avoiding name-calling, staying on topic, and avoiding threats and ultimatums, “I understand that we have different opinions about this, let’s try to find a solution that we both agree on without resorting to name calling or ultimatums.”
- The Mindfulness: This technique involves being present in the moment and aware of your thoughts and feelings. This can include things like taking deep breaths, focusing on your partner’s words, and being aware of your own reactions.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement and one partner uses mindfulness by taking deep breaths and focusing on their partner’s words, “I hear you and I understand your perspective, let me take a moment to process my thoughts and feelings.”
- The Positive Interaction Ritual: This technique involves creating positive interactions between partners by doing things that you both enjoy. This can include things like going on a date, taking a walk together, or simply spending time together.
Example: A couple is going through a difficult time and one partner uses the Positive Interaction Ritual by suggesting a date night or a walk together, “Let’s take a break from discussing this and go out for dinner or take a walk together, it will help us to relax and reconnect.”
- The Reality Testing: This technique involves looking at a situation objectively and questioning whether your thoughts and feelings about the situation are accurate or not. This can include things like checking facts, considering different perspectives, and seeking feedback from others.
Example: A couple is discussing a disagreement and one partner uses the reality testing technique by checking facts, considering different perspectives and seeking feedback from others, “Let’s make sure that we have all the facts and let’s hear other people’s perspective before we make a decision.”
It’s important to note that these techniques require consistent effort, commitment and practice to have an impact. Each couple is different and may find that some techniques work better for them than others. Seeking the help of a trained therapist can also be beneficial for couples who are having difficulty implementing these techniques on their own. It’s also important to remember that a healthy relationship takes work and effort, but with the right tools and techniques, couples can build a strong and lasting relationship.
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- Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (1994). What Predicts Divorce? The Relationship Between Marital Processes and Marital Outcomes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (1999). The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
- Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (2002). The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships. New York: Crown Publishers.
- Gottman, J. M., & Gottman, J. S. (2017). The Man’s Guide to Women: Scientifically Proven Secrets from the Love Lab About What Women Really Want. New York: St. Martin’s Press.