How to communicate with your partner: Up the positivity!

how to communicate with your partner

This will be the final installment of our series, how to communicate with your partner. The last topic we are focusing on is positivity. There is no doubt that a positive outlook on life has plenty of rewards. People who maintain a sunny disposition and in general find the brighter side of life enjoy better emotional health. The rewards of positivity go beyond just your own emotional heath, increasing positivity also results in a longer lifespan, reduced risk of cardiovascular complications, increased resistance to illness and more.

The question remains though, is positivity an expression of happiness or can it create more happiness. In her often cited paper on positive thinking, Dr. Barbara Fredrickson says “positive emotions signal optimal functioning, but this is far from their whole story. I argue that positive emotions also produce optimal functioning, not just within the present, pleasant moment, but over the longterm as well.” What if you were to apply this idea to your relationship.  Many couples struggle with where to start when conflict and strife have become the norm in the marriage.  A wonderful place to start is with positivity. When you are struggling with how to communicate with your partner and are stuck wondering how to open the door to conversation, up the positivity.  Not only will up-ing the positivity make the day to day experience of your relationship a bit brighter it will increase the overall health and stability of your marriage.

Positivity is an action you can take to learn how to communicate with your partner.

Here are 5 actions you can take today to shift the positivity meter in the right direction. Continue reading How to communicate with your partner: Up the positivity!

Healthy Marriage. What does that look like?

What is a healthy marriage?  This is an important question to answer in light of all the information we see and read (including on this blog) about a “healthy marriage.”  Benefits touted often include, better physical health, less depression, better outcomes for children and so much more.  How wonderful these benefits are, so how can we know what a healthy marriage is and how to achieve that standard in our own lives?

healthy marriage

Research done on this topic (see Moore et al., 2004, and NHMRC website resulted in this list…

• commitment to each other over the long haul
• positive communication
• ability to resolve disagreements and handle conflicts nonviolently
• emotional and physical safety in interaction
• sexual and psychological fidelity
• mutual respect
• spending enjoyable time together
• providing emotional support and companionship
• parents’ mutual commitment to their children

Let’s take a look at these one by one… Continue reading Healthy Marriage. What does that look like?

Wondering how to make a relationship last?

Pay attention to the details.

When it comes to the causes of divorce there are the biggies…

Infidelity, physical emotional or otherwise.
Addiction and substance abuse.
Excessive anger or abuse.

And then there is the slow buildup of resentment, the everyday moments that turn from loving and attentive to bitter, angry, sour, mean or otherwise ignored. Over time these feelings can turn what was once a loving relationship into an unhappy disconnect that can lead couples to look for a way out. So here’s one way to start to turn things around today. Pay attention to the details!

Each day, moment after moment you have a choice about how to respond to and engage with your spouse or partner. Use each moment to make a change towards a more positive future. It is the compounding of these small moments that will make a relationship last.

make a relationship last

Here are a few steps you can take to stay focused on the moment in front of you and make it a positive one…

See your partner for who they are today. It is so easy to carry around with us the past hurts or failings of our loved ones.  Try to look past the fact that he didn’t pick up the dry cleaning last week, or the fact that she didn’t call when she said she would.  Instead try seeing your spouse for who they are today, right in front of you.  Give them the benefit of a new day to surprise you!

Forgive yourself and each other for slip-ups. Even the most skilled communicators and the most thoughtful people have bad days.  Try to take a more forgiving standpoint and say to yourself “oh he meant to say…” and look for what makes sense in what s/he said. Rather than reacting in an equally un-skilled way turn the conversation back in a positive direction.

Be a good listener. A marriage is hopefully a lasting pursuit.  Being in a relationship necessarily means you will be spending a good deal of time together.  It can be very easy to fall into the trap of not giving your full attention to a spouse or partner.  You may thing you’ve heard this story 10 times, or maybe you just get so accustomed to the day to day chatter.  Next time you are having a conversation stop, really listen to what is being shared.  You might be surprised at what you learn!

Express gratitude and appreciation for your partner. Couples who are struggling to make a relationship last will often share that they just don’t feel appreciated.  Days are busy, filled with work, social obligations, for some couples children. Remembering to appreciate your spouse if often left off the to do list.  Studies show that couples who continually express gratitude and appreciation for on another have deeper and more loving connections.  The good news is that you can increase the positivity today. Start with yourself, show genuine appreciation for your spouse and watch the love come back to you.

The bottom line is that small things add up.  They are the bricks that create a solid foundation.  Start paying attention to the details today and feel the warmth fill the room!


The best articles of the week: on making decisions

This week I found some amazing articles on making decisions and how choice impacts our lives and mental state. Julie Jeske talks about changing your mind about big decisions, James McNulty challenges our notions of turning the other cheek, and a California study questions whether our choice in marriage partners really leaves us any happier than an arranged marriage. Be prepared to have your mind changed!

You Can Always Change Your Mind–Part I via Julie Jeske

You and your partner will face making decisions in your lives, and the stress of the big choices can put considerable strain on your marriage. Julie Jeske offers some fantastic advice: You can always change your mind. In fact, “by feeling like you always have to “get it right” you can sometimes be so paralyzed by fear of “messing up” that you don’t take any action.” It’s not always easy, convenient, or cost free, but you can always change your mind. Next week Julie will go over how to fix a relationship if you feel like changing your mind about your marriage, and I’ll be definitely reading along. Continue reading The best articles of the week: on making decisions

How to apologize in 5 steps

A key skill for communication in a relationship is knowing how to apologize. What most people don’t know is that the key to apologizing well isn’t just saying “I’m sorry” and meaning it. Owning up to your mistakes is a big part of an apology (and the most challenging)–at the same time, to turn the upset into something productive and completely move on you need to bring subtle levels of soothing and clarity to the situation. In other words, it’s time to bring out the big guns: the 5-Step apology sequence.

Step 1: Express Regret

The first step of how to apologize is to honestly and clearly express how sorry you are to have hurt your spouse. Acknowledging the pain your partner is feeling will help her to dissolve that pain. Start with a simple “I’m sorry…” Continue reading How to apologize in 5 steps

How to get your ex back

When your spouse insists on separation, is that the end, or is there a way you can win your marriage back? How to get your ex back is the subject of Dr. Heitler’s recent post on Psychology Today. In it she explains five essential steps to recovering from a separation and reconciling with your spouse. She follows the story of Peter, a real patient who allowed her to publish his writings to her in order for others to learn from his experience.

Step #1: Get back on your feet.

“Human experience has not yet devised anything,” Peter writes, “that can shield us from the pain of a broken love, the pain of feeling thrown out of your own world and out into the cold.” A separation–perhaps being thrown out of your own home–is a devastating experience. Allow yourself to feel pain, disappointment, loneliness, and anger. These are part of your grieving process. At the same time, don’t act on these feelings. Know that they are your body’s reaction to an emotionally painful event, acknowledge them, and let them pass through you over time.

A healthy marriage is made from two healthy individuals. Now is the time for you to rebuild your emotional and physical health so you can focus on how to get your ex back from a place of strength. Reach out to friends and counselors, get active, and try new social and spiritual activities. Don’t move forward with the other steps of how to get your ex back until you are truly back on your feet.

Step #2: List your spouse’s complaints.

Listening to complaints about ourselves is one of the hardest things to do. Many times our spouse’s criticisms touch on habits and behaviors we are well aware of and bring up feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To protect our ego from this pain, we practice avoidance, defensiveness and anger.

Many of your marriage problems may have come from avoiding confronting complaints. Well, no more! Make a list of each specific complaint that your spouse has, each reason that he or she has for divorce. Remember, “information is power,” Dr. Heitler writes, “even information you don’t like.”

Step #3: Clean up your act.

Neither of you bear the full blame for the collapse of your relationship; each of you contribute your own part. Your job is not to change your partner–you can only change yourself. Now that you have an honest list of areas to work on, it’s time to do just that! Make a game plan of clear, doable steps towards how you can address and solve your problem areas.

For example, Peter had once cheated during a business trip. To make sure this would never happen again, he made certain rules: he would never hang out after work with co-ed coworkers; he would go back to his hotel room by 10pm, call home and watch a movie; he wouldn’t drink.

Peter also knew that his dislike of his job had caused him to fall into a self-obsessed depression. This had lead to further distancing from his wife, increased his loneliness, and partly contributed to his infidelity. He promised himself to attend regular therapy, avoid thought patterns of “victimizing” himself, and immediately started looking for a new job.

Step #4: Agree to divorce the old marriage.

An essential part of how to get your ex back is acknowledging that your old marriage is done for, finished, kaput. And that’s a good thing! It was toxic. Let your spouse know that you agree with him/her: you want a divorce from your old marriage. You want a new marriage but still with the same person. This is possible! Our thoughts, behaviors and habits are actually quite maleable. At the same time, they require practice and discipline to change. Learning the skills for a great marriage will take time and dedication, and is achievable for practically every couple.

Step #5: Reconnect from a position of strength.

Now that you are stable, healthy, and have a clear plan for how to do your part to build a new marriage, it’s time to meet with your ex. Get together in a neutral space that doesn’t provoke emotion or appears too intimate, such as a cafe or park. Again, how to get your ex back does not mean changing or controlling him or her in any way. All you can do is show your commitment and capacity to change by the steps that you have already taken. Avoid reacting to his or her comments with emotion, accusations, or criticism. Be prepared to take things slow. Know that you have the strength and love for yourself to weather this.


These five steps for how to get your ex back are no guarantee that your marriage will be saved. That depends on your level of commitment, your spouse, and the unique circumstances of your relationship. You will, however, find that these steps will help you find strength, clarity, and calm in a very emotional and painful time. Whatever the ultimate outcome, Dr. Heitler writes, “the panic of a devastating waterfall ahead [will be] replaced by anticipation of a safe and sunny future.”

Forgiving infidelity and moving on—for your health

Dr. Martin Luther King advised us to “never succumb to the temptation of bitterness,” and boy, was he right. Forgiving infidelity and other wrongs is one of the hardest things to do, and at the same time, it may just help you live longer. A new book, “Embitterment: Societal, psychological, and clinical perspectives,” reviews years of research on bitterness that shows not only is it unproductive from a social, emotional and spiritual perspective, but takes a devastating toll on our physical health.

Today’s CNN article opens with the story of a young college student who was tormented because of his race. The stress and bitterness he held towards the injustice eventually led to sleeping problems and panic attacks. Finally, he landed in the hospital and was found to have a dangerous condition of thickened heart muscles—one of the leading causes of heart-related sudden death in people under 30. It wasn’t until this young man was able to move on and release his bitterness that he recovered physically.

How can a mental state have so much impact on our bodies?

When we feel negatively towards another person, our brains trigger the release of stress hormones. This is a very effective mechanism for dealing with real danger situations. It prepares our bodies to attack, defend or flee from a potential threat. However, when these hormones flood the body for a long period of time, the stress begins to do some real damage. Heightened blood pressure endangers the heart, and chemicals such as C-reactive protein further weaken the heart and other body systems. Irritability, sleeping problems, anxiety and depression also often occur.

The journey of marriage is wonderful and opens the doors to some of life’s greatest joys. At the same time, bitterness is one of the biggest marriage problems couples have. Unspoken tensions, jealousies, pet peeves, family drama… all of us experience some kind of event in our relationship that could spark bitterness. Suspected or acknowledged cheating often puts the greatest strain on a marriage. So how do we move beyond bitterness and get to forgiving infidelity?

1. Grieve
Give yourself the time to grieve your loss. An infidelity is a huge blow to the foundations of your reality, and it is painful. Acknowledge that you feel this pain, that you are hurt, and that things are going to be difficult. Recognizing your feelings helps to soften them eventually and will get you ready for forgiving infidelity.

2. Seek solidarity
Read the news, talk to a friend, or find a support group. Realize that many people are going through what you are right now, and many experience worse. This in no way delegitimizes the pain you are feeling—it should give you a sense of strength and perspective to your emotions.

3. Talk it out
It is essential to talk to the person that hurt you if you are going down the path of forgiving infidelity. Communicate with your spouse openly and honestly about how you feel. At the same time, try to understand the other person’s underlying concerns and mental state. This isn’t an excuse—it is an explanation. Understanding will help you to reach a calm common ground.

4. Think of your health
Keep this article in mind. Realize how much damage you are doing to your body and mind by not forgiving infidelity. You have a right to your feelings…you also have the right to have a long, healthy, happy life regardless of other’s unjust activities. After all, “living well is the best revenge,” (George Herbert).

I also suggest calming activities such as yoga, meditation, prayer, or other mindful activity. These can reverse the effects of stress.

How about it? Do you find bitterness (and it’s ugly siblings, Regret and Envy) dominating your life? How do you deal with it? Share your tips and stories about forgiving infidelity and more!

Things you DON’T say to your wife

There are many jokes about the different ways in which we can potentially insult the women in our lives…don’t tell her she’s gained weight it usually #1. These may be stereotypes about women’s sensitivities, but they bring up a good point about how to communicate with your spouse (male or female). Sharing and honesty is always a number 1 key in any relationship, and at the same time, tact is equally important. PO2 has a nice segment about how to say things tactfully, and you can check that out here.

It’s easy to be blunt with people who we know intimately; after all, you spend your lives together and have very few boundaries between you.  At the same time, our marriages often start to run on automatic after so many years, and this can be fertile ground for unintentional negative slip ups and hurt feelings. Here’s a good mental exercise for communication: step outside your marriage for a moment. Would you say this thing to your wife if she wasn’t your wife, but a close friend? Would you do (or not do) this certain thing to your husband if you were just married? Try using this to get a little distance to your relationship and get a good long look at your spouse as a unique individual.

Also try making note of how you spouse reacts to personal comments you make about him or her. When you talk, you should be fully present and listening to what your spouse has to say and other non-verbal forms of communication. If something feels off, ask if you said something that upset them.

Ok, seriousness over! Enjoy this funny video by comedian Tim Hawkins about the things you don’t say to your wife (or husband, for that matter!).


Things You Don’t Say To Your Wife Lyrics
Tim Hawkins

Hey honey have you gained some weight in your rear-end?
That dress you wear reminds me of my old girlfriend
And where’d you get those shoes? I think they’re pretty lame
Would you stop talking ’cause I’m trying to watch the game

If you’re a man who wants to live a long and happy life
These are the things you don’t say to your wife

I planned a hunting trip next week on your birthday
I didn’t ask you ’cause I knew it’d be OK
Go make some dinner while I watch this fishing show
I taped it over our old wedding video

If you’re a man who wants to live a long and happy life
These are the things you don’t say to your wife

Your cooking is OK but not like mother makes
The diamond in the ring I bought you is a fake
Your eyes look puffy dear, are you feeling ill?
Happy anniversary I bought you a treadmill

If you’re a man who wants to live a long and happy life
These are the things you don’t say to your wife
If your a man who doesn’t want to get killed with a knife
These are the things you don’t say to your wife





When humor hurts

While looking for a video to post yesterday, I came across a two-minute clip of a little boy becoming hysterical when a little girl proclaims she is going to marry him. His mother captures the whole thing on film, encouraging the battle of wills. At first, his overreaction is pretty darn cute. And yes, it’s a funny metaphor for some adult behavior. But watching the entire thing a few times left all the PO2 staff with a sour taste in our mouths and led to an interesting discussion. It brought up a very serious topic in dealing with other people’s emotions.

We very rarely set out to consciously hurt or anger someone, especially the people we love. However, many of our patterns of speech and behavior can have unexpected impact on other people. This is why it is so important to be aware of and monitor your responses to your spouse. One example for communication in marriage in the Power of Two curriculum is the use of “but…” When you’re having a conversation, using this little word actually negates what your partner just said and sets you up in opposition. We often use “but” without realizing that it can hurt our spouse’s self-esteem and lead to arguments!

This video brings up another unexpected shark lurking in the waters of your relationship: humor. Specifically, misplaced light-heartedness– not taking other people’s emotions, desires, and needs seriously. A great sense of humor is a wonderful thing, and having little in-jokes with your spouse is part of a healthy relationship. At the same time, humor can be really hurtful and a big setback in how to communicate with your spouse. When your partner makes a serious personal statement such as “I want” or “I don’t want,” or shares an emotion with you, don’t laugh at them, tease them, or disregard their feelings. When you do, you imply that what they are feeling is mistaken, misplaced or crazy, and denies the validity of the things they care about.

Respect the power of their feelings. Be serious when your partner is serious. You don’t have to feel the same way (you are two different people after all!), but you should respect and try to understand the reasoning and concerns behind your partner’s position. This shows your spouse that you recognizing her or him as an independent, valuable human being.

This is especially important for children, who are in the midst of developing their sense of self. Your child might get upset over things your believe are completely ridiculous, but remember that to them, the pain is very, very real. Denying it can be very hurtful and confusing. Comfort your child, try to see the world from his or her point of view, and acknowledge his emotions. Try using this great phrase from our conflict resolution section:

“Yes, I understand why your are upset (elaborate)…and, at the same time (find a comforting solution).”

Treating your child with compassion and seriousness with raise compassionate, confident adult.

Granted, knowing when and when not to be light-hearted is a very tricky skill! And everyone disagrees on what is funny. What do you think? Is the video funny or not? How would you have dealt with the situation?

How to Make a Relationship Last – Clean Up Distressing Incidents With Double Apologies

Dr. Heitler shared with us an email she recently sent to a couple she sees in couples counseling (names have been changed).   Her letter explains how to make a relationship last by clearing upsets with two-person apologies that convert mistakes into learning moments.


Greetings Jack and Jill,

After our session I continued to think about your marriage problems.  It occurred to me that it might be helpful for me to share my thoughts.

First, to Jill, I was struck during the marriage counseling session by your lovely newfound sense of calm.  You never appeared to be building up the head of steam that so often in the past has put you at risk for anger eruptions.  Bravo!

Second, to Jack, I felt your palpable increase in warmth toward Jill.  Bravo!  The affection you showed toward Jill indicate that you are really getting the idea of how to make a relationship last by giving forth positivity in words, tone of voice, smiles, and more.

Both of these shifts—toward staying more calm and toward sharing more positive feelings, seemed to me to be very positive directional changes.   Communication in marriage with calm and affectionate talking is a key predictor of marriage success.

At the same time, I was surprised, Jill, that you seemed unable to reciprocate Jack’s warmth with more relaxed, positive attitudes toward him.  My surprise prompted the thought I want to share with you now.

If I recall correctly, one of you had briefly mentioned that Jill’s apology midweek for an anger outburst, and her accompanying decision to stop “doing anger,” has been helpful for both of you.   At the same time, I am wondering if Jill’s blockage in being able to respond in kind to Jack’s increased affection has something to do with a missing piece in your recent mutual apology sequence.

An effective apology can be like a surgery.  After an upsetting incident that has caused significant emotional pain, a full apology can remove the pain and therefore play a vital role in how to make a relationship last.

Two features strike me about what needs to be included in the surgery-like apology procedures that enable couples to remove bad feelings that might otherwise grow like malignancies after upsetting incidents.

1) An apology needs to go all the way. That means it needs to go all the way from the first “I’m sorry” to the point of learning how to prevent a similar upset.  As I think I said in my book The Power of Two, to fully clean up distressed feelings an apology needs to include:

  1. Specificity: “I’m sorry about my ______.” That is, specify exactly what you did that you see now was mistaken.
  2. Non-intentionality: “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
  3. Clarification:  What was your miss – the mistake, misperception, misunderstanding, miscommunication, mishap, etc?  “I can see now that I mis_______ that _______.”
  4. Learning: What will you do differently next time to prevent a similar mishap from occurring again?  “In the future I will _____________when___________ .”

Jill, you did a great job of covering all four of these steps when you told Jack, “I’m so sorry about my anger outburst.  I didn’t mean to hurt you.  I can see now that I misunderstood what you were telling me.  I was feeling so fragile after my trip that I misperceived your attempt to be welcoming as some kind of warning.  Next time I’m feeling hypersensitive I need to trust your love instead of leaping to conclusions about what you’re actually saying.”

2) Apologies tend to feel lopsided unless they are what I call Double Apologies.

Jack, you voiced appreciation for Jill’s apology, which was helpful.

What was missing though was reciprocation with a parallel apology of your own.  “Jill,  I’m sorry that I didn’t reassure you with a welcome-back hug before I went on to tell you about the problems I’d had when you were away.  I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.  Next time you return from a trip I’ll know to give more time to showing you how happy I am to see you again before I start telling you about the problems I had when you were away.”

Mistakes can create hurt and resentment.  By contrast, when both parties each verbalize what they themselves seem to have contributed to an upset, the bad feelings get cleaned up.  Double apologies thus enable couples to turn moments of upset or dissension into opportunities for growth, learning, and enhanced positive feelings.

Jack, how would you feel about sharing with Jill insights about your mistake in the upset and what you might do differently in the future?

Jill, if Jack does his part to make this a double-apology process, and that releases again your affection for Jack, wow.  That’s how to make a relationship last even though from time to time everyone makes mistakes.

Meanwhile, have a good week.

Dr. Heitler