Above: Can you see her doing the nose twitch?
In my previous blog post, “The Right Way to Fight With Your Spouse,” I gave you my process for clear communication. Processes can be transformational, but they take practice to get the hang of. Sometimes you want something simple, a big win in one step.
I have that, too. In today’s blog I give you three one-step solutions: magic words to resolve conflict and deepen intimacy not just with your partner, but with your children, too.
The next time conflict rises to the surface, take a deep breath, relax your body, and try these magic words.
- “I notice. . . “
“I notice you brought your glass to the sink.”
“Oh, you put your pj’s on with no reminders!”
“You made the bed!”
So much of the work of parenting is invisible, isn’t it? It seems we only get noticed when we mess up. How much would you love to hear your family acknowledge the things you do for them each day?
If that’s what you want, give it to them first.
Catch your partner and children doing the things you want to see more of, instead of mostly noticing when they do something wrong. Criticism doesn’t help people to do better. It makes them feel bad and then they associate that thing with feeling bad. When accomplishments are noticed, on the other hand, a positive feedback loop is created.
Something does not have to be done perfectly or consistently in order to be noticed. This is important to remember when you’re trying to build habits and skills in children. Parenting is a long game. Everybody wins when you put your energy into building the children up and letting the mistakes go mostly unnoticed.
Also, noticing is distinct from praise, which has the word “good” in it, as in “Good job,” or “Good girl.”
Noticing keeps the focus on them; praise puts the focus on your judgment. To experience this, imagine your husband looking at the dinner you’ve prepared and saying, “Good job!” Now imagine him saying, “The flavors in this dish are beautifully balanced. And you did this while helping the kids with homework, too. Wow.” Which one feels better?
Credit for these magic words goes to Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, who wrote the book on parent-child communication in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.
- “You may be right.”
When you’re being judged, instead of defending yourself, say, “You may be right.” Then, go into yourself and find out where the judgment is accurate and where it isn’t.
These magic words come from Byron Katie and Loving What Is. Katie says that when you live with someone they are in a good position to observe you, and they may see you more clearly than you see yourself, so why not listen to what they have to say?
I’ve used these words with both my husband and my children. They remain completely disarming. The fight is over before it begins and we settle quickly into problem solving. Disagreements lose much of their charge when people know they’ll be listened to with curiosity rather than defensiveness.
To say these words sincerely is a powerful act vulnerability and openness, one which will be repaid to you. If you want that from the people you live with, offer it.
- “If it’s so great, you do it.”
What’s important to you may not be important to the other members of your family and vice versa. If it’s important to you, it’s your business (not someone else’s) to make it happen. If it’s important to someone else, it’s their business, (not yours) to make happen. Model cheerful self-reliance.
This phrase is also from Byron Katie. I say it to myself when someone in my family is disappointing my expectations, and I say it out loud when I’m disappointing someone else’s.
For example, it’s my son’s job to collect the upstairs trash on trash day. He often forgets. I used to spend a lot of time feeling resentful and nagging him about it. I thought I was holding him accountable and teaching him to be responsible. But the only effect was that we both felt bad about the trash.
“If it’s so great, why don’t I do it?” I thought. Well, yes. I’m the one who cares about it, because I’m the one who remembers. So when he forgets, I do it myself and I allow myself to be satisfied that I’m taking care of my own business.
When he remembers, I say, “I notice you remembered to collect the trash again, just like last week. Wow!”
“If it’s so great, you do it” + “I notice” = my son remembering more and everyone being happier.
It’s also useful when I’m the one who is disappointing. For example my husband complains, “You still haven’t done this errand?” First, I breathe and relax and say, “You may be right.” Then I notice that he is.
Next, problem solving. I ask myself why I haven’t done the errand. The answer: because I don’t want to; I hate running errands but I didn’t want to tell him no at the time because in that moment I was feeling badly about not earning more money.
Here’s my chance to be honest: “Honey, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to do that. If it’s important to you, you’ll have to do it yourself.”
How you would respond to that honesty? The first time I used that phase on my husband he was surprised, and then he smiled. He thanked me for letting him know.
“You may be right” + “If it’s so great” = It has become easier to say no to him, and my yeses are more honest. I also use this phrase with the kids when they complain. Don’t like the lunch I make you? If your kind of lunch is so great, you make it! Missing the one shirt you will wear because the laundry wasn’t done fast enough? You do it! Not only does this little phrase defuse tension, it presents me with a teachable moment: the kids will learn how to do laundry or make their lunches when it’s important to them.
As you can see, what gives both the clear communication formula and these magic words their power is surrender: the minute you notice the fight rise in you, drop it. Relax. Breathe deeply. These words will help you use the energy of the moment to build one another up, instead of to exert control. That’s how to make love grow.