As a couples therapist in San Francisco who uses DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) to help people handle conflict, I often see couples who want to stop negative cycles in their relationships.
If you’re fighting with your partner, you’re probably frustrated, unhappy and disconnected.
You may wonder if your relationship will be able to make it.
Here’s some good news.
There are things you can do right now to improve things.
Think of these things as a form of triage for your relationship. You can quickly stop and prevent damage to your relationship by focusing on changing specific behaviors.
True, this won’t solve long-standing or complex issues in your relationship the way couples counseling can, but this will help stop the bleeding (so to speak).
How to stop negative behaviors in your relationship
There are 4 things you can stop doing right now: threats, judgements, disrespect and attacks.*
Let’s define each one.
Do not threaten your partner by saying that you will hurt yourself if they don’t do what you want and need.
This might sound like: “If you don’t do X, I’m going to kill myself.”
If you threaten your partner by saying you will hurt yourself, they will feel manipulated, which will get you what you want in the moment, but will backfire in the long run.
Tolerate a “no”:
Accept a “no” when you make a request from your partner – even if you don’t like it.
Remember, acceptance does not equal approval.
Respecting your partner’s “no” will communicate to them that they have choice in the relationship, and when they later say “yes” to a request you can trust they really mean it.
Avoid put-downs of your partner.
Don’t call your partner selfish, immature, or out of control. Don’t diagnose your partner.
Keep other family members and exes out of the discussion. Don’t say they’re just like their controlling mother or your immature ex-boyfriend.
Avoid saying, “It’s your fault that we got in that fight” or “You’re the reason this marriage is going to fail”.
There’s no saying, “If you really loved me, you would do this for me” or “A good partner would do X”.
Avoid making faces, eye rolling, sneering or smirking.
Don’t walk away and cut off conversations abruptly.
Don’t tell your partner what they’re saying is stupid or that you don’t care about how they feel.
Don’t express contempt or disgust and don’t put them down.
Direct Physical Attacks:
This may seem obvious, but do not be physically aggressive with your partner. Do not hit or push them or physically threaten them in any way.
If you are the victim of physical attacks from your partner, get help immediately.
And, if you can’t control your impulses to physically attack your partner, get help immediately.
Indirect Physical Attacks:
Avoid slamming doors, throwing things or stomping around the house in anger.
Stop jumping out of cars or running out of the house.
No name-calling or insults.
Stopping the negative behaviors
If you commit to not threatening, judging, disrespecting or attacking your partner, things will improve in your relationship.
Remember to focus on changing what you do, not what your partner does.
Changing their behavior is their job.
It will take some time, but if you consciously focus on changing what you do, you can work to stop negative behaviors in your relationship.
In my next post, I show you 4 things you can do to help improve your relationship immediately.
Couples counseling can help you both learn to treat each other better right away.
And help you to uncover the root of conflict over time.
Call (415) 310-5142 to see how couples counseling can help your relationship now.
*The above list of what not to do in relationships is adapted from “DBT’s Guidelines of Relationship Effectiveness.”