When conversation goes from sweet to spicy

Emil Harker

Everyone can get along when things are nice and sweet, but what do you do when things get sassy? Expert Marriage Therapist Emil Harker, The author of the book, You Can Turn Conflict Into Closeness is here to share special tips on how to handle the most difficult part of a relationship.

Let’s get real. Our society does a terrible job preparing people for marriage. In school we spend more time learning where the rivers are in Europe than we do learning how to get along with people. We watch a lot of Disney shows and chick flicks but none of them teach us how to work through the difficult issues that come up in marriage. Hurt feelings, disappointments, frustrations poke at our insecurities. And when insecurities flare up, so do emotions. That’s when its really important to manage conflict. Unable to deal with conflict appropriately, conflict is either avoided or exploited. Knowing how to handle the inevitable conflict in marriage can make the difference between a happy marriage and a miserable divorce. After years of research I’ve boiled down conflict into 4 different types of statements: Criticisms, Questions, Declarations and Commands. Today I’m going to teach you how to deal with the most difficult of the four statements - Criticisms.

Before I dive into dealing with Criticisms, isn’t it fantastic that there are only 4 statements in conflict!? Think about that. When we get into conflict it seems there are an unlimited number of statements that take us off guard and catapult us into fight or flight mode. The good news is that there is a way to take control of the conflict and turn it into closeness.

Criticisms are statements about you or your behavior. “You this” or “You that”, “Instead of responding the normal defensive way with an explanation or counter criticism, surprise your spouse by agreeing with the part of the criticism that is true. It really confuses the other person. For example, if your spouse says “You are late again” instead of explaining yourself or pointing out how bad traffic is, or that something came up, just own up to what is true. “Yep, you are right. I’m late again.” Don’t quickly explain, because most of the time they don’t really care. They make the statement to make a point. If they want to know why, they will ask a question.

Validating someone is like giving them an emotional sedative. What could turn into an intense emotional interaction becomes a quieted storm.

“But what do you do when your spouse criticizes you and there isn’t any truth to it?” Simply ask, “What do you mean?” or “Why would you say that?” This gives the other person a moment of pause of rethink and restate their message. You use that moment to dial into finding the element of truth so you can agree with it.

To see how Emil teaches the process of complaining watch the free video “Why we get stuck and how to get unstuck.” at EmilHarker.com.