In Fight Less, Love More, readers will learn how to identify the bad verbal habits, instinctive responses, and emotional reasoning that can cloud judgment and ultimately lead to the deterioration of otherwise healthy relationships. With exercises, examples, and sample scripts, Puhn's modern voice presents simple 5-minute strategies create immediate, positive changes and provide long-lasting communication skills that couples can continually employ when faced with conflict.
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CRACKING THE CODE TO RELATIONSHIP BLISS
YOU CAN DO IT!
IN THE BEGINNING, when your love was new, you probably thought your mate was the best thing that had ever happened to you. You couldn't get enough of each other. You both felt valued, appreciated, and loved. Even your friends and families commented on what a wonderful couple you made. But something seems to have happened to your perfect match. Your mate treats you with less respect and consideration than he used to--less than he shows friends and colleagues. Frustration and anger often creep into your conversations, and the next thing you know, you're fighting. Again. You know that you are both good people and that you love one another, but somehow you have ended up in a bad relationship. Where did it all go wrong?
Until now, you may have been hoping that your relationship would turn around on its own. But we both know that won't happen. There will be no turnaround until one of you identifies the problem and takes steps toward resolving it. And since you're the one with the book in your hands, you'll need to be the first person to own that responsibility.
If you want a better relationship tomorrow, the work begins today. It's time to do something wonderful for yourself, your partner, and your relationship. There are no more "buts" about it!
Excuse #1: But . . . It's Too Late
If this excuse resonates with you, you're probably thinking, "I'm worried we're too far gone. We can't turn this thing around. Maybe we're just destined to be unhappy. Maybe we should never have gotten together in the first place." Those are all excuses that take the pressure off you. After all, why try to fix something that is beyond repair?
But here's the thing: Even the best couples fall into bad relationship habits. Most of us just want to love and be loved. We want relationships filled with respect and appreciation as well as passion. Yet we've never been taught the verbal skills we need to use to give and get that kind of love. Without this training, in our noble pursuit of that love, we say and do things that cause the opposite to happen. We one-up each other, poke and prod about flaws, and demand the last word. We make thoughtless word choices that come back to haunt us. We unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) turn conversations into conflicts. We yell and scream in our quest for love, or we do just the opposite--give in and hold in our feelings to avoid arguments.
Today, you will obtain a new lens through which to view your relationship and your conversations with your mate. This lens will help you to see clearly the weak verbal habits that are sabotaging your relationship. You'll also receive the tools you need to restructure your words so you can rebuild your love. You will become a better person and a better role model for your children. Be hopeful--your best days are right in front of you!
My uncle Joe's experience with dieting offers a stark illustration of how incorrect information and a lack of awareness can block someone from getting what he wants. Joe, who has been overweight all his life and hardly ever diets, had attempted a diet for 2 weeks and was upset because he had lost only 2 £ds. "What are you eating?" I asked him. "A lot of salads and chicken and no desserts," he said. That seemed like a reasonable plan. "What kinds of salads do you eat?" I asked. I was shocked when he told me, "I eat Caesar salad, Cobb salad, things like that, with my chicken. You know, the basics." There it was. Joe couldn't lose weight because he didn't know which salads were low calorie. Similarly, most couples I work with simply don't know which verbal skills work for them and which work against them. For example, one spouse might think that dispensing advice like "It's cold outside, you need a jacket," "You should join a gym," or "Here's what you should say to your boss" shows love and connection. Yet in reality, offering unwanted advice can be a verbal disaster that breeds resentment.
Every couple has difficult issues to manage. We all face challenges like managing money, making difficult decisions, raising children, caring for aging parents, and maintaining a household. But it's the couples who are able to communicate with one another who weather the rough patches. It's never too late to raise your awareness and change your words to change your relationship.
Excuse #2: But . . . Don't We Need Therapy?
Most of us think that a couple in crisis needs counseling to "work out issues." But research shows that more than two-thirds of couples who attend relationship counseling are no better off after 1 year of therapy than they were when they walked in their therapist's door. Clearly, then, therapy is not a cure-all for ending marital strife.
The years I've spent mediating couple disputes and marital problems have taught me that most marital conflicts stem not from emotional problems but from weak communication skills. With the exception of couples who are facing very serious, life-threatening issues such as addiction, mental illness, or abuse (which call for specific mental health therapies), the solution for almost everyone else I've encountered is improved communication skills.
Why isn't therapy the answer? Therapy is designed to explore your emotions, to dig deep into the past and tug at your rough edges to discover the source of your relationship problems. Often it leads only to the rehashing of past hurts and leaves couples with more questions and no answers. If you're like most people, there is nothing wrong with you and there is nothing wrong with your mate (you may not believe me now, but you will by the end of this book!). What you need is information and tools to fight less and love more. Even if your mate stubbornly refuses to change, you can improve your own verbal skills so that your mate begins to hear what you say and know what you mean.
What you are probably experiencing are conversational struggles, not people struggles, and conversational struggles can be resolved with Fight Less, Love More. When we view marital problems as conversational problems rather than people problems, we see that our dilemmas do not stem from deep-seated emotional flaws, but rather from communication flaws that are easy to weed out.
Excuse #3: But . . . We're Too Different
News flash: Every person is different! Each of us has unique preferences and ideas about most things, from trivial matters like what toppings you like on your pizza to big life decisions like how to raise your children. Getting married and going from "me" to "we" does not automatically eliminate those differences between partners. In fact, an individual's own preferences also change from year to year, so it follows that two people will continue to develop new differences as time goes on. That means that if you want a happy marriage that's built to last, you're going to need to know how to negotiate and communicate about a wide variety of differences.
A major study compared two groups of couples, those who married between 1964 and 1980 and those who married between 1981 and 1997. The latter group reported significantly higher levels of conflict and lower levels of marital interaction (meaning that they spent less time together doing things like enjoying a meal, shopping, visiting friends, working on projects around the house, and going out for entertainment). From my observations, interviews, and mediation work with couples, it's my opinion that during the last decade the number of couples in conflict has increased. Even couples married just a few years are spending little time interacting with each other, and when they come into my office, they carry extremely long lists of battle topics.
We fight more today because we have ambiguous gender roles, additional work/life balance stressors, and more opportunities for differences of opinion and disagreements. Years ago, when a majority of mothers stayed at home, couples may have fought about how to spend money, but they were less likely to fight about who should be responsible for earning the family income and who should shoulder the responsibilities of child care and household chores. Today, approximately 70 percent of mothers of children under the age of 18 are in the labor force. Recent research has shed light on a surprising trend: Many married people believe that they undertake a larger share of the housework than they actually do. When it comes time to negotiate housework and both people overestimate how much they already contribute, how can the negotiation not lead to a fight?
HAVE YOU HEARD?
An MSNBC poll asked whether household chores were shared or done by just one person. Seventy-four percent of men said household chores were shared, while only 51 percent of women said chores were shared.
Fueled by our country's economic growth over the past 35 years, we have more purchasing choices than ever before, from what kind of toothpaste to buy (fluoride, tartar control, extra whitening, or all three!) to what kind of computer, cell phone, or television to get. Though you would think that having so many choices would make us happier, research shows that having too many choices is counterproductive, making us stressed out and anxious about the options we had to pass up. And of course, all of these choices provide additional opportunities to argue with our partners.
Nowadays, thanks to no-fault divorces and do-it-yourself legal filing, it's easier than ever to end a marriage. With about one in five marriages ending before the fifth anniversary, it's clear that when marital discord surfaces, many people jump ship to look for someone who is "more compatible." Yet divorce rates for second (and third) marriages are even higher than they are for first marriages. Simply choosing a different partner doesn't mean that you'll never have a disagreement again. The only way to navigate around naturally occurring differences in perspectives, personalities, and preferences is to change your mind-set and communication strategies--not your partner. You can become empowered with the verbal skills that will allow you to resolve any difference, at any time, with anyone.
Excuse #4: But . . . It's Too Hard
Are the 5-minute conversations in this book hard to use? No way! After you spend some time reading and reviewing the lessons in this book, all you have to do is use the five vital manners discussed in Chapter 3 every day and add on the other 5-minute conversations that will help to prevent or resolve new and ongoing stressful situations between you and your partner.
How will you know which 5-minute conversation to choose? After a while, it will be easy to know which strategy is the best fit for a given situation. For example, if you want more appreciation in your relationship, then use the conversation in Chapter 5 (Inspire Appreciation: End Relationship Madness). If you want your mate to open up to you, use the conversation in Chapter 8 (Awaken Your Silent Mate: Pump Up a Verbal Exchange). If nothing bothers you on a given day, then just stick to the five vital manners, required daily, which reinforce the foundation of lasting love.
After a few uses of the 5-minute conversations, your partner won't withdraw or feel threatened by hearing the words "let's have a 5-minute conversation" because he or she will know that the talk will end shortly, without a fight. Both of you will begin to like these simple conversations that quickly solve problems. You will discover how easy it is for both of you to move from complaining to explaining, from rejecting to accepting, from conspiring to admiring, and from alienation to reconciliation.
In 5 minutes you will see results: a fight avoided, a decision made, an apology given, a word of appreciation spoken. Use these strategies and you'll ignite a new mood of respect, cooperation, and love.
Excuse #5: But . . . My Partner Won't Participate
I know you may be wondering, "How can anything change if I read this book and my partner doesn't?" Trust me, your relationship will change. It's a chain reaction. In relationships, when one person makes a change in the words he or she uses, the other person will be influenced to respond in a different way. If you say, "I can't believe you lost your keys again," you know you'll trigger a defensive response such as "What? Like you've never lost your keys." But if you say, "That's too bad you misplaced your keys. Can I help you look for them?" you'll trigger a different, more appreciative response. Once you have the right words to use in a 5-minute conversation, it's easy to predict the effects they will have. That means you have the power to influence the way your partner responds to you--good, bad, or indifferent.
If both of you read and use this book, then the results will be even more visible, the changes more dramatic. Working together for a common goal is always better--and after all, logically, both of you should want to fight less and love more. But even if your partner isn't on board, you can still restructure your side of your conversations to create change. You can become a great partner who has the power to make a great relationship. You see, it takes two people to start an argument, but only one to end it.
Excuse #6: I'm Not Sure I Can Do It Alone
You are not alone! Just as you wouldn't embark upon an unknown path without a map and a guide, I am your guide on this journey, and you are holding the map. With it, you won't get lost. It's up to you to do the work every day, but you will have support every step of the way.
Whether you're beginning to build a life together, stuck in a years-long relationship rut, or teetering on the brink of divorce, it's never too late or too early to learn the tools to bring unity, joy, and more love to your relationship.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Cracking the Code to Relationship Bliss
1 You Can Do It! 3
2 Love Is Conditional 13
Part 2 5 Minutes to Fight Less and Love More
3 Tame Rudeness: Install a Daily Communication Routine 21
4 Short-Circuit an Argument: Stop the Lion That Roars 35
5 Inspire Appreciation: End Relationship Madness 47
6 Keep It Confidential: Protect Your Union 63
7 Be More Lovable: Conquer with Compassion 77
8 Awaken Your Silent Mate: Pump Up a Verbal Exchange 87
9 Kick-Start Intimacy: Engage Your Brain 103
10 Deter Cheating: Put the "Adult" Back in Adultery 121
11 Criticize with Influence: Bark, Don't Bite 141
12 Reject Stubbornness: Get Out of Your Own Way 157
13 Orchestrate a Perfect Apology: Make Music for Your Ears 167
14 Negotiate for Love: Nothing Is Ever 50-50 177
15 Control Overreactions: Get Your Point Across 191
16 Disarm the Know-It-All: Regain Confidence in Each Other 207
17 Have a Good Fight: End Your Bad Fight Habit 221
Part 3 Change Your Thinking, Not Your Partner
18 Practice Optimism: Fuel Your Relationship 237
19 You: The Great Partner 247