This article first appeared on SHE'SAID' and has been republished with permission.
When you and your partner are having trouble, talking things over seems like the best thing to do.
But in my experience, the silver lining of a breakup is that you can finally stop talking about your relationship. Constantly analyzing every little thing over and over, discussing who’s at fault for what, turning your fights inside out and upside down trying to figure out how to solve them, is exhausting.
And as it turns out, there might be such a thing as too much communication. All that chatter about what’s going wrong and how to make it right could actually be one of the major contributors to the failure of a relationship.
Is it possible that talking about your relationship less could actually be the key to making it better?
The danger of too many serious discussions
Conflict is part of any healthy relationship: every couple fights. Some of them even fight a lot. But when you don’t fight fair, there are negative consequences to these conflicts. Our bodies actually start to shut down and we enter fight-or-flight mode, unable to resolve anything or move forward. It’s like we wear grooves into our brains, falling into the same automatic behaviors of blaming, attacking, getting defensive, and eventually feeling contemptuous of our partners. Contempt is the worst of the “Four Horsemen” that Dr. John Gottman, noted relationship expert and bestselling author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, says are the harbingers of doom for any couple.
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There are ways to have more productive conversations with your partner; making sure you’re both well-rested and that neither of you are hungry or thirsty are probably the most important. Practicing good listening and communication skills is essential as well. But at some point, the best thing to do for your relationship is to just give it a rest and stop talking about it incessantly.
Mastering the stress-reducing conversation
So, if you’re going to stop talking about your relationship, what are you supposed to talk about instead? Gottman recommends that couples get good at what he calls the “stress-reducing conversation.” This gives you a chance to reconnect and offload some of the stress of your daily lives — the stuff not related to your relationship. This helps it from seeping into the rest of your life, and makes it easier to bring your best self to your interactions with your partner.
“Even though it is always good to regularly open up about what you need and how you feel within your marriage, when you are both trying to de-stress and connect, then your relationship is a subject that should be off-limits,” says a Gottman Institute email. At the end of the day, come together and listen to each other, without judgment and with plenty of empathy. It’s a time to offer each other emotional support, free of criticism or pressure. To make it easier, follow a few simple guidelines for making the conversation successful…
How to stop talking about your relationship
According to the Gottman Institute, there are eight cardinal rules for having a conversation that is notabout your relationship – and one that makes you and your partner feel better and closer to each other. These are: 1) take turns talking, 2) don’t give advice, 3) show real interest, 4) communicate to your partner that you hear and understand what they’re saying, 5) be supportive – don’t play devil’s advocate or offer your opinion, 6) let your partner know that you’re on their side: that the two of you are a team, 7) be affectionate — hugs, shoulder rubs, and an “I love you” go a long way, and 8) validate your partner’s feelings by telling them you understand and that their feelings make sense.
It’s not aways easy to step back and have these kinds of conversations when you are going through a rough patch in your relationship. But sometimes, talking in circles does more harm than good to your relationship. It’s important to foster positive interactions with your partner, even in the midst of hard times. What drew you together in the first place? Does he make you laugh? Do you have fun together? Hold on to that. And sometimes, stop talking and just let yourselves be.
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