Let’s Talk Relationships: Talk to me like you love me: How to use words to love your partner better


For the Gazette

Published: 04-05-2024 1:49 PM

As time goes by in a relationship, and partners get to know each other more, there will be inevitable hurts, disappointments and upsets. This is what happens when we share our life with another human being. We each come from our own backgrounds, experiences, personality, preferences, emotional wounds and communication style. Navigating the inevitable challenges that come up due to the differences between us needs to be done with care and skill.

Since the problems that surface in relationships often involve anger at one another, I wanted to offer a way to manage anger that serves to keep partners close and connected, which truly is possible. I am also including an idea that keeps partners close that has to do with affirming and appreciating each other on a daily basis.

Using loving words, even when you’re angry

When things go awry, we often express our upset feelings to our partner in ways that don’t feel loving to them. I have found that many couples need help with finding a way to communicate better when flooded with negative emotions, especially anger. When we feel anger, it might be hard to control what comes out of our mouth. We react by saying things we may regret later. We criticize our partner, saying something like: “You are so selfish!” The verbal exchange between us inevitably goes downhill and devolves into unkind words and a harsh tone on both sides. Arguments and fights result, and the bond between us frays. So, what’s the answer?

Shifting from anger to vulnerability

We can be loving and kind in our communication even when we are feeling angry. You might be wondering how this can be possible, especially when anger seems to kick loving feelings to the curb. Can’t we just be angry and tell our partner exactly how we feel? After all, we need to let them know that something they said or did is not okay.

Yes, we need to tell our partner how we feel — and that what they did or said did not land well for us. However, we need to avoid getting carried away with our anger. We often don’t feel in control of ourselves when we are angry, as it has a way of taking us over. When there is yelling, and hurtful words are said, defenses build up on both sides, and we aren’t really listening to each other. Expressing anger in these ways might serve as a momentary release and give us a temporary sense of power, but sadly, tremendous damage is left in its wake.

Instead of reacting with anger by yelling, criticizing or even withdrawing altogether, try these steps:

Take a break

The rule of thumb here is to avoid interacting when in a heightened state of anger. It’s not about denying feeling angry, but to get it under control first. Take a break and step away. Take some deep breaths. Take a walk. Write out your feelings just for you to see. Wait until you are ready to engage again. Do whatever helps you be calmer. Before taking a break, say to your partner: “I need a few minutes alone right now” and take some time to tune into what is really going on inside of you. Ask yourself: “What are the other feelings that are underneath my anger? Am I feeling hurt? Sad? Lonely? Blind-sided? Misunderstood? Disrespected?”

Talk to your partner when you are calm

Letting your partner know you have been feeling angry is fine, but it is most important to talk about your more vulnerable feelings, which are always at the root of anger. For example, we may feel angry because we feel hurt, insecure, frustrated, fearful, or jealous. The point here is that instead of letting anger blast off and control what you do or say, it is most helpful to express the vulnerable feelings underneath, as hard as they may be to reveal to someone else. Contrary to what many people believe, when we express our vulnerability, we get our partner’s attention much more easily; we will be listened to much more seriously; we will be able to stay engaged with each other (instead of one or both escalating and storming out).

Example: Putting it all together

You have something important you want to tell your partner. They are not listening well and constantly interrupt you to tell you what they want to say. In response, you start feeling really angry.

Despite feeling like lashing out, you instead take a break (Step 1). You might need just a few minutes, a few hours, or longer. Once you are feeling calm, you go back to your partner and say (Step 2): “When I was telling you something important earlier, you kept interrupting me and talking about yourself. I found myself feeling really angry. I realized that underneath my anger, I feel really hurt. I need to believe that what I have to say matters to you.”

Click here to read my column about anger, from Feb. 3, 2023.

Using words of affirmation and appreciation

When a partnership is new, the initial spark and the flow of loving words and actions can be exciting, fun and nurturing. Each partner feels affirmed and appreciated in response to frequent expressions of kindness and affection. However, over time, we might start taking each other for granted. We may increasingly react to each other in ways that feel uncaring or unloving. Our unhappiness about certain dynamics within the relationship may entirely, or partially, cloud our view of our partner. We might lose touch with the positive aspects of the other.

Dr. John Gottman, world-renowned expert on relationships, observed thousands of couples over 40 years. He discovered that one thing that sets lasting marriages apart from ones that dissolve has to do with the “emotional bank accounts” within the marriage. Every time we affirm or appreciate our partner, we are making a “deposit.” Emotional bank accounts are built up and become “full” when there is a ratio of five-to-one, meaning that there are five positive messages given and received for every one negative interaction. The fuller the emotional bank accounts are, the easier it is to deal with and to recover from relationship difficulties.

How to fill up each other’s emotional bank account

Sprinkle appreciations, validation, and words of support into everyday life, through text, a phone call or in person. Even though it might feel like a stretch for some of us, it’s important to sometimes move out of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves in this way. Here are some examples of what you might say to your partner:

“I believe in you.”

“I feel grateful for you doing the dishes when it was my turn today.”

“I just love you.”

“I appreciate the way you are listening to me so intently just now.”

“Your feelings and needs matter to me.”

“Thank you for being gentle with me when I wasn’t at my best earlier.”

“I feel really proud of how great you are at your job.”

“When you gave me a hug, I felt so cared for.”

“Tell me about your day.”

“You look sad. I’m here to listen.”

“Since you are interested in (going back to school, looking for a different job, etc), tell me more.”

Words have a tremendous impact. They can hurt. They can make someone’s day (and beyond). I am cheering you on to become aware of the power of your own words to create more loving relationships with your partner and/or others.

Amy Newshore is a couples therapist/coach who earned her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Antioch New England University and went on to train in the Developmental Model for Couples Therapy along with NonViolent Communication which serve as the foundation of her work as a Relationship Coach. For more information visit her website at www.coachingbyamy.com.