For making significant changes in your relationship, the good news is that doing “small things often” will get you there. Dr. Gottman’s research shows that tiny moments in couple interactions make a big difference in the relationship over time. The first few moments in a conversation, for example, around a disagreement, predict not only how that conversation will go, but how the relationship will go (whether “happily ever after” or in divorce). I’ve talked about the four horsemen of the apocalypse in other blogs, and if you guessed that these were the things that predicted divorce, you would be right!
So, if I had only one recommendation to couples for a new year’s resolution, I would choose this one: get rid of the four horsemen in your relationship. Start by choosing one to work on. For instance, criticism. Step one, notice if you use any “you” statements (e.g., “You never take out the trash.”) or global statements (these include words like never and always). Step two, keep a journal of the times you notice when you use a criticism (a simple tally on your phone would work great). Step three, work on replacing these with I statements (“I feel about , I need .”). For example, “I feel irritated that the trash is overflowing, please help me by taking it out.” You can start small by practicing starting statements with “I.” Bonus step, tally the times you remember to use “I.” Step four, continue previous steps for at least six weeks.
Once you have “you” statements reduced, you can focus on other horsemen, like defensiveness. The same steps above work for this one, in this case, replace the I statements with taking responsibility; for example, “You’re right, I haven’t taken out the trash yet.” Taking responsibility is the antidote for the second horseman. That “I statement” is also handy in avoiding defensiveness (which can take the form of a counter-attack, a critical statement or whining). After taking responsibility, it may be helpful to continue the conversation with your own perspective on the subject. So, the above example could be: “You’re right, I haven’t taken the trash out yet. I’ve been feeling stressed lately and would like to talk about how to handle household chores when we are so busy.”
If you focus on one horseman at a time, for six weeks each, it would only take you half the year. This will result in significant changes in your relationship for the better!