They're the phrases we fall back on: "We need to talk" or "Can I talk to you for a minute?" or "Come sit down." They somehow sound ominous even when you're using your kindliest, I-swear-I'm-not-angry voice, and they always make him think that this is going to get ugly. A better idea, Gehart says, is to ease into a contentious conversation by acknowledging his position (especially when it's different from yours) and showing empathy. This is one way to bring up the idea of a vacation you know he's opposed to: "I understand why you don't want to spend extra money right now, but I also know that you've been working hard and need a break." This next part is key: Explain your thinking behind the request, as well as the benefits it will bring him. "I also need a break, and getting out of town really helps me relax in a way that a 'staycation' doesn't. You've mentioned that you feel the same way." Then finish with the thing you want: "That's why I think we should book that trip to Paris." Gehart says that another strategy involves having a mini-conversation about the bigger discussion you know you two need to have. For example, instead of "We need to talk about where we're spending Thanksgiving this year," you could try, "I know you don't want to talk about Thanksgiving, and honestly, I don't either, but it's just around the corner. Let me know when you're ready to discuss it—I want to make sure I'm prepared with a glass of wine in case things get tense."
Turn a complaint into a request.
Marital researchers have found that in 70 percent of the situations in which heterosexual couples are unhappy, women will be more likely to initiate a dispute and request change, while men will tend to withdraw, avoid and stonewall their partners. This communication style is self-perpetuating: As she continues to make demands, he withdraws further. What's more, Gehart says, women are more likely than men to bring up a negative topic by criticizing their partner. Even if you're dying to tell him exactly what he did wrong, focus instead on explaining how to do it right and why that's important for you both. "Try to make it a positive, specific request," says Gehart, and avoid "you never" or "you always" (no matter how many times we hear this advice, we always seem to forget it when we're frustrated). Instead of "You never dry the dishes and put them away," try "It would really help me out if, after you rinse the dishes, you'd dry them and put them away. I know it takes some extra time, but that would make my morning a thousand times easier."
When emotions escalate, take a time-out.
During a heated argument, a verbal attack can prompt the release of adrenaline. Our heart starts racing, our blood pressure rises and our stress level increases. As soon as the heart is beating more than 100 times per minute, Gehart says, our fight-or-flight instincts kick in, and we start looking for an escape. Men are more likely to feel defensive in a conversation because (as we mentioned before) women are socialized to talk things out. When his voice rises and his face turns red, give up—for now. Your instinct may be to comfort him by touching him, but this can backfire. "Some men feel overwhelmed by these intense feelings, and they physiologically can't handle your touch," says Levant. It takes men longer to recover from these types of emotional flare-ups, so don't expect to dive back in for a few more hours. Even better, wait for him to initiate the conversation. It's likely he will—remember, even if he doesn't like the topic, he likes you and wants you to be happy.
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