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What is your critic saying?

We all have that critical inner voice – the one that specializes in giving a running (mostly negative) commentary in our heads. Creating self doubt, telling us off and breaking our confidence.

Sometimes, we just accept this commentary without challenge.

"You look so tired/fat/ugly/stupid", "You can't do this." "You're such a mess." "What's the matter with you?", "What's WRONG with you, you still don't have it together".

So how do we continue to live our best selves' moment to moment while this critic is having a field day inside our heads?

The very first step is to become aware of this narrator/critic/commentator. Just by recognizing the existence of this critic, we begin to loosen her hold on our life.

By noticing the script that s/he is playing, we begin to recognize that these statements are NOT a reflection of reality.

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Are you aiming for the real prize or the booby prize?

Over the last month, we have discussed many ways to nurture our relationships.

We need to end this discussion with a word of caution.

Sometimes, when we become aware of new insights or learn new skills, our relationships take a turn for the worse!

How is that possible, you ask?

Because, once we learn these skills, we get REALLY good at figuring out how our spouse is falling short of applying these insights and strategies.

This kind of knowledge though, is a booby prize. A booby prize is defined as "a joke prize usually given in recognition of a terrible performance or last-place finish".

Here's the thing: if you are anything like me, you are already pretty good at figuring out how people around you can improve. So no real prizes for that!

Winning at love means taking on the challenge of 'self improvement' rather than 'other-improvement'.

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The Magic Ratio

One of Dr. Gottman's biggest research findings is the 5:1 rule.

Dr. Gottman has found that for the emotional climate of a relationship to be positive, the ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions between the spouses has to be greater than 5:1. This is because negative experiences have a much bigger impact on the human brain than positive ones (something we will talk about in the future inshallah)

Simply put, this means that for every negative interaction you have with your spouse (even happy couples have negative interactions) you need to have at least 5 times as many positive ones to keep the relationship happy.

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Make a list

I once came across a woman who taught me a great lesson about acceptance in relationships.

A group of us were complaining about annoying habits of spouses and how they can drive us quite crazy. She was the only one in a long term relationship who did not add to the griping.

We wondered if she was married to a saint.

"Nope", she said, "He is no saint. Early on in my relationship, I made a list of all the things I find irritating about my husband. I then made a decision to accept him as he is and love him despite all these annoying habits that sometimes drive me crazy. So now, on days when I want to nit pick at his exasperating habits, I remind myself, Oh yea, that is on the list, so big deal".

If we have been grumbling about the shortcomings of our other halves for a while now, isn't it time to accept them as they are, the whole package?

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Make a clean apology

One of the worst things we can hear from the ones we love are: "I am sorry but . . ." or "I am sorry if . . . ".

Imagine that you are on the receiving end of such an 'apology'. The words "I am sorry" become meaningless when they followed by 'ifs' and 'buts'.

A true apology contains three simple ingredients:

Regret: I am sorry for causing you pain.
Responsibility: I accept my part in it.
Remedy: Here is how I would like to make it up to you.

Practice making a clean apology and then STOP before you are tempted to undermine it by 'ifs and buts and what about yous'.

 

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A simple choice

Do you want to be happy in your relationship?

Or would you rather be right?

Unfortunately, this is mostly an either/or choice. As unfair as it seems, you can either be right or you can be happy.

Is it worth your happiness to give up your claim to be right?

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Fight to win

How many times have we heard that marriage is about compromise?

I don't like that word. To me it sounds like losing. I don't know about you, but when I fight, I want to win!

Well if you are like me, here is the good news, you can fight to win.

We just to need to remember that our relationship is an entity, an entity bigger than me and you.

If we are fighting FOR our marriage, need to fight in a way that the relationship will win.

And this may sometimes mean that my short term interests may need to be 'compromised' for the ultimate victory for the relationship.

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Soothe yourself and the other

Do you know what calms you down? Have you shared this with your spouse?

Do you know what you can do to help your spouse calm down when they are upset?

HINT: It is almost NEVER telling them to calm down, take it easy, chill out, saying, "why are you getting bent out of shape", etc. etc.Phrases such as these are almost guaranteed to make another person more upset.

You can really only know these things by asking the question: How can I help you calm down when you are upset?

It is a great idea to get to know what soothes each of you when you are NOT in the middle of a conflict discussion so that you can practice calming each other when you need to, in the middle of an argument.

When you ask and practice soothing each other, it lays the foundation for dealing with conflict as friends, rather than as adversaries.

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Take a break

Almost everyone who likes to talk about issues as they arise is in a relationship ends up with someone who would rather NEVER talk about them. Know what I mean?

Arguments in such a relationship often don't get resolved because the couple is locked in a pattern which psychologists call "demand – withdraw", one person demanding for their voice to be heard and the other finding it very challenging to engage in difficult conversations.

There are many good explanations for this pattern, which we will not go into here. What you need to know is that doing what you always do will probably not work in such a situation.

So, how about trying something different?

If you are the one who finds it difficult to stay in challenging conversations because there is an emotional storm going on inside, try this: next time when things are getting heated up, how about taking a break so that you can calm down with the commitment that you will engage in the discussion again when you are not triggered?
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Accept the olive branch.

Research shows that in most arguments or fights, people do tend to make repair attempts. The repair attempt may be in the form of humour, a smile, a touch, a word of apology or some other gesture. Anything with the intention of stopping the conflict from getting worse.

The problem happens when the other does not recognize or refuses to accept the attempt. This escalates the cycle and makes it less likely that the other will continue to turn the argument around.

Accepting repair attempts does not mean that you do not hold the other accountable for continued bad behaviour nor does this mean that you do not discuss significant issues in your relationship.

What it does mean is that you give the other a chance to make amends. To stop an argument or a fight from becoming worse. To allow the person to pull themselves out of the proverbial doghouse, so to speak.

So in your next argument, why not be on the look out for that olive branch, however clumsily offered.

And graciously accept it.

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