Saturday, October 16, 2010

GUEST BLOG POST: When Love is Like a Pebble in Your Shoe by Laurie Puhn, author, Fight Less, Love More

When you put your shoes on, they felt fine. But 10 minutes later you can tell something is off. Your foot is uncomfortable. You keep walking because you have to get somewhere, but two hours later you call a time out because you have a blister. You sit down on the nearest park bench or in a bathroom stall, and take a look. There it is, a tiny little hard thing stuck inside your shoe. Phew. You weren’t crazy after all. There was something in there.

I tell this story because it reminds me of another little hard thing that many of us ignore, at first. It’s those tiny put-downs or jokey insults our partners might say to us or we might unwittingly say to them. In my new book, “Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In” I share tips to deal with all sorts of tiny pebbles that weigh down the lightness of love, from a lack of appreciation, to feelings of neglect to disrespect, all small pebbles that can irritate a relationship in a big way.

Rude comments are just one type of pebble that’s thrown in our face, leaving a small mark. When your partner says to friends, “Well I had to go out with her again, she wouldn’t stop calling me!” you might think it’s funny for a second, and then it feels embarrassing and wrong. But are you crazy or is your mate being mean? Or have you ever said jokingly, “I have two children, my baby and my husband,” that’s another insult that pokes a hole in the warmth of the relationship.

Sometimes the subtle insult is a cover-up for deeper animosity, but other times, it is the only problem the couple faces. Unfortunately, if you let those pebbles grow in force and frequency, they can create other problems like a need for retaliation.

Here’s how to get a few of those pebbles out of your relationship by choosing the right words at the right time:

1) Counter a put-down. When your mate says something that feels like a subtle insult, don’t push it under the rug. Wait until you’re in private and then say, “That hurts my feelings. Please don’t say that again.” Don’t assume your partner has any idea that he insulted you. You have to speak up to get what you want.

2) Criticize with Influence. The best way to give criticism is to say what you do want, not what you don’t want. If you don’t like the way your mate leaves crumbs on the kitchen counter, focus on the positive, not the negative. Say, “It would be great if you could use the dishrag and run it over the counter just once when you finish cleaning up.” That’s much more persuasive then saying, “You always leave crumbs. Can’t you see them there or are you blind?”

3) Disagree without being Disagreeable. In the moment you disagree with your mate, ask a wise question, “Why do you think that?” Listen to the answer and then, feel free to speak your mind. By listening first and talking second, you show respect for your mate’s opinions, no matter what you think of them. The result: your mate is more willing to listen to you.

Just a small change in words can remove those pebbles before you have a blister, and certainly before you have to change your shoe.

Laurie Puhn is a Harvard-educated lawyer/couples mediator, author of the new book, “Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship without Blowing Up or Giving In” (Rodale, Oct. 12, 2010) and advice blogger at

She is a recognized expert in the field of couples mediation and conflict resolution with a private practice in Manhattan. She also authored the best-selling book, “Instant Persuasion: How to Change Your Words to Change Your Life.” Puhn's mission is to change the way people communicate with each other so they experience less conflict and greater understanding, appreciation and respect in their relationships.

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