wise love words: successful conflict is possible

Below is a reprint of an article with some exceptionally wise love words about engaging in effective conflict interactions with your significant other by Marty Babits, LCSW, BCD. Enjoy!


Seven Guidelines for Middle-Ground Communication
By Marty Babits, LCSW, BCD,
Author of The Power of Middle Ground: A Couple's Guide to Renewing Your Relationship

If you need help regulating and resolving conflict, these guidelines are for you. They can help you make difficult conversations productive, steer you and your partner away from destructive talk, and help you nurture an atmosphere of emotional safety. Adopting these guidelines, whenever pertinent, will safeguard the middle ground within your relationship:

  1. Avoid generalizing and stereotyping. Do not generalize about your partner's moods. When you think you know how your partner feels, but don't stop to ask or listen, they'll often feel neglected and misunderstood. Rule of thumb: there is often a difference between how your partner feels and how you think they feel. Your partner's sense of emotional safety, as a result of generalizing, can become depleted.

  1. Do not blurt responses. Do you identify with the following statement: "I didn't even know what I was going to say until I heard myself saying it." If so, this is an especially important guideline for you. Monitor your thoughts while speaking with your partner. There is always more than one way to say something, choose according to the effect you want your remark to have. Do not blurt the first thing that comes to mind at your partner.

  1. No name calling. If you are disgusted with something that is going on and call your mate something mean, the communication flow stops. And turning it back on becomes more and more difficult, in proportion to the amount of name-calling that goes on. When thinking before speaking, edit out the put-downs. Basic as the guidelines may seem, under stress, sticking to them is a challenge for us all.

  1. Speak honestly and judiciously. The abiding ways that you feel -- positive and negative -- need to be represented in your dialogue with your partner. Keeping dominant thoughts and feelings buried will not further the relationship. But pay close attention to how you share information. Notice for signs that your partner is getting flooded. Do not keep talking if they are feeling overwhelmed! Conveying your messages with finesse and forethought will payoff big time in trust and emotional safety dividends.

  1. Develop patience. Sustain it. Patience within a specific talk and in the pacing of your dialogue overall can make a critical difference to relationship healing. Patience and humility blended together compose emotional stamina, which is fundamental to the creation of a secure long-term love relationship. Healing your relationship without patience? It's impossible. So work on this one!

  1. Think about what your partner says in terms of who your partner is. You need to develop a "relationship" perspective that features a good grasp of how the situation is understood by your partner as well as by yourself. Remember -- understanding how your partner feels from within his or her purview does not mean you are acknowledging that their perspective is correct. You are not surrendering your point of view. You are simply acknowledging that yours is not the only legitimate point of view.

  1. Time-out signal -- have it in place; use it as needed. Using time-outs can allow you a sense of control in the pacing of your dialogue. In the case of complex and/or difficult emotional issues this can make the difference between whether you can or can't discuss an issue productively. Without a pre-arranged signal to allow a safe method for temporarily suspending the dialogue, restarting it will be more difficult. Using time-outs does not mean that difficult issues go unaddressed. It does mean that partners have to work as a team to keep the flow of conversation going -- not simply within a single talk but between talks as well. Carve a niche in your relationship that honors this dimension of awareness and sensitivity.

Can these seven guidelines help save a floundering relationship? The short answer is yes. Yes, they can. If you follow them consistently, you will see results. Putting these into practice with your partner will help you both learn to understand each other better, and come to find your middle ground.

© 2010 Marty Babits, LCSW, BCD, author of The Power of the Middle Ground: A Couple's Guide to Renewing Your Relationship

Author Bio for Marty Babits, LCSW, BCD (New York, NY), author of The Power of the Middle Ground: A Couple's Guide to Renewing Your Relationship, is a psychotherapist in private practice and a member of the Executive Supervisory Committee of FACTS (the Family and Couples Treatment Service) of the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy.

For more information, please visit www.PowerOfTheMiddleGround.com.

giveaway: divorce sucks book!


There's no question . . . Divorce Sucks. And perhaps no one knows that better than author Mary Jo Eustace, whose ex-husband Dean McDermott married Tori Spelling a mere thirty days after their divorce was finalized. One part tell-all and one part guide to get readers on their feet after a bitter breakup, this hilarious addition to the bestselling Sucks series tells everything readers don’t want to know about divorce - from what a phone call with a lawyer will cost; to how to handle your newer, younger replacement; to what Hollywood divorcees are actually thinking when they watch their ex walk the red carpet with a millionairess. Sometimes horrifying, sometimes gratifying, and never merciful, this book will give readers an inside look at one of today’s most public divorces while reminding them - hey, it could always be worse.

And to think, YOU could win this book! Want to know more?

  • To read the previous post I wrote about this book, click HERE.
  • To read a review about this book, click HERE.
  • To see this book on amazon, click HERE.
  • To learn more about Mary Jo Eustace, click HERE.

Want to win? Here's how to enter:
  1. Become a fan of Jen's Love Lessons on Facebook (Already a fan? Great! Not a member of Facebook? Skip to step #3.)
  2. Find the link to THIS GIVEAWAY on my Facebook fan page and make a comment.
  3. Go back to this giveaway on Jen's Love Lessons and make another comment (anything will do).

All entries (comments on Facebook and on Jen's Love Lessons) will be combined based on time of entry (so technically, if you comment on both, you're increasing your odds of winning). Then, the winner will be chosen using random.org.

You have until SUNDAY March 14, 2010 @ 5:00 p.m. EST to enter. The winner will be posted on the Jen's Love Lessons homepage that night. The winner will then have until 5:00 p.m. EST on March 17 to email me at jenslovelessons@gmail.com with their contact information.

*All entries received after the cutoff time will be deleted prior to choosing a winner.

Good Luck!

"what's with this weather?": 3 ways to effectively initiate conversations

Have you ever been standing at a bus stop, in an elevator, or at a party and a stranger starts up a conversation with you? Sometimes these chats go well and relationships (either platonic or romantic) are able to develop. Other times, however, something goes terribly wrong and these interactions can end in embarrassment, awkwardness, or confusion. Initiating a conversation with a stranger is a difficult task that many of us do poorly or even avoid altogether. Below are three strategies to keep in mind when you're trying to get a conversation up and running (Garner, 1981; Ratliffe & Hudson, 1988).

1. Find a Topic
Whenever you start a conversation with someone new, you should have an idea about what you're planning to say. Choosing a relevant topic is the first step. Generally, there are three main areas that people use to find a topic: themselves, the other person, and the situation. In my opinion (and in the opinion of my references below), looking at the situation is your best bet when it comes to choosing a topic. For instance, you may decide to talk about the reading load if you're in a classroom setting, the fitness classes available if you're at a gym, the weather if you're standing at a bus stop, or the food if you're at a restaurant or party. Talking about something relevant to the situation that you are in is a great place to start. You're both at the same place for a reason; use this to your advantage. Second, opening a conversation by talking about the other person is another good tactic. This is where complimenting by way of a little harmless flirting could be useful. But remember, whenever you're complimenting someone, especially a stranger, you want to follow three guidelines: make specific and unique compliments, compliment things the person has chosen, and consider compliments that lead into conversation. Last, but not least, is talking about yourself. I would only use this as a last resort. Sometimes, you can come off as arrogant and egotistical if you talk about yourself too much. And anyways, people really like talking about themselves in initial interactions.

2. Ask Questions
Once you've delivered your opening line, asking open-ended (instead of closed-ended questions) will help keep the conversation going. To clarify, closed-ended questions are any inquiries where a 1 or 2 word answer would be appropriate as a response. For example, "Do you like ice cream?" is a closed-ended question. A response to that question would simply be "yes" or "no" without much elaboration. Open-ended questions, on the other hand, require that your conversation partner offer up more information, which can keep your conversation up and running. For example, "Why do you like ice cream?" is considered open-ended because it requires a person to give more than a 1 or 2 word answer. Obviously, the larger an individual's answer is, the more likely you will be able to continue the conversation. In the end, you want to choose an open-ended question that is interesting and engaging. The hope is that your conversation partner will offer up some free information that you can use to continue talking.

3. Use Free Information
"Free information is extra information contained in a response, information that can suggest additional topics" (Trenholm & Jensen, 2008, p. 107). Going back to the previous example, if someone were to ask me why I liked ice cream, I could say, "Well, I love ice cream because it tastes so damn good, but I think I really love ice cream because when I was little, my sister and I would eat ice cream in these rocking chairs on our front porch every summer." In my response, I provided some free information (for example, I let my interaction partner know that I have a sister). If my interaction partner was paying attention, he or she would pick up on this free information that I offered and maybe say something like, "I have a sister too, is your sister older or younger?" Or, he or she could say, "I loved sitting on my front porch in the summer when I was growing up too. Where are you from?" Whenever you're in a conversation with someone, listen for free information so that you can keep the conversation going strong. Also, make sure that you offer some free information of your own so that your interaction partner can also find new things to talk about.

While you may think that starting up a conversation by talking about the crazy weather or commenting on a recent sporting event is cheesy, your opening line is not what determines the success of your interaction. Instead, most people just want to have a conversation that is interesting and progresses from topic to topic. Discussions that drag on and don't seem to go anywhere are boring and usually end in some kind of awkward closing statement like, "Uh... (pause) okay... (pause) well, bye."

The next time you work up the courage to talk to someone new, make sure that you have a clear topic (or two or three) to discuss, ask questions to show interest, and use all of the free information that's thrown your way to keep the conversation going. You never know, you could be starting up a conversation with your future BFF or soul mate!

  • Garner, A. (1981). Conversationally speaking: Testing new ways to increase your personal and social effectiveness. New York: McGraw Hill.
  • Ratliffe, S. A., & Hudson, D. D. (1988). Skill-building for interpersonal competence. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
  • Trenholm, S., & Jensen, A. (2008). Interpersonal communication (6th edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

wise love words: renew your relationship this valentine's day

Below is a reprint of an article describing 8 tips for renewing your relationship this Valentine's Day. The author of this article, Marty Babits LCSW, BCD, is also the author of the book entitled The Power of Middle Ground: A Couple's Guide to Renewing Your Relationship. Marty is a psychotherapist in private practice and a member of the Executive Supervisory Committee of FACTS (the Family and Couples Treatment Service) of the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. For more information about Marty and her book, please visit: www.PowerOfTheMiddleGround.com


8 Tips for Renewing Your Relationship This Valentine's Day
By Marty Babits, LCSW, BCD,

Author of

The Power of Middle Ground:

A Couple's Guide to Renewing Your Relationship

1) How many ways do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Pick at least three qualities about your partner that you love. Gift each one of these with something special. For example, give her a CD by her favorite recording artist in celebration of whatever you consider to be her (or his) most appealing facial feature. Choose a clothing accessory that includes the color that you think best flatters your partner and celebrate the way they look in that color. Come up with a quality that you have always valued, from the start of your relationship onward and feature that in a message written in a blank card by you with a tender sign-off. De-emphasize the gifts and emphasize the qualities that you want to call attention to and celebrate.

2) Surprise! Believe it or not some psychoanalysts evaluate the psychic well-being of their clients by determining the degree to which they are capable of surprise! A person who is not responsive to surprise elements in their life is unable to respond spontaneously. Their capacity for joy -- and feeling in general -- is impaired. Give your partner a reason to light up the surprise center in their mid-brain! Think of something that they would like but will not suspect. Have you written them a poem lately? Have you recorded the opening strains of "You are the Sunshine of My Life" on a hand-held tape recorder lately and handed it to them with a post-it instruction to hit the play button? When was the last time you brought your sweetheart a passion fruit chocolate truffle from one of the finest chocolatiers in your community? Whatever it is, make it pleasant and surprising. By the way, the residual benefit of surprising your partner is that you activate your own surprise center. No pun intended, it will be surprisingly beneficial for you.

3) Hand your partner a prerogative pass. (Print it out on an index card if you like.) With this pass he or she will be able to exercise their prerogative in a situation where there is usually a conflict over who gets their way. The one limit to the pass is that they are not allowed to exercise a prerogative if it forces you to do something that you feel uncomfortable doing. Next time you have a conflict over which restaurant to go to your partner can flash the prerogative pass and you'll go Italian if that's their choice rather than whatever else you might have felt in the mood for. Again, this presupposes that you like Italian -- whether or not it would have been your pick that evening or not.

4) Look your partner in the eye and tell them three things that you love about them. They can be big ticket items, like the way you feel together when you are making love. They can be smaller fare, like the way you love it when they wrinkle their nose and close their eyes when they are hysterical with laughter. They can be somewhere in between like when they listen to you explain something in a way that you yourself realize is quite impossible to follow without complaining that they got lost four times in the telling. Write down what you are going to say before beginning this one. Then read it with feeling as if you were auditioning for a part in a movie starring opposite whoever your greatest heart-throb might be. By the way, you can fantasize about a star from any era in this exercise. Living or dead, domestic or foreign -- anything goes. Only make sure you deliver your lines with feeling.

5) Think about something that you and your partner have had trouble coming to terms with in the past year -- like speaking civilly to each other when either of you is angry; or perhaps, discussing a conflict in your financial situation. Without referencing your partner, give a commitment to improve your own ability to speak about the topic without blaming. Tell your partner that you are going to accentuate understanding the issue from their point of view and that you are hoping to have fewer hurtful arguments this coming year. Tell them that you want to conduct your relationship in the middle ground as much as you possibly can; this means that you want to work together, acknowledge and appreciate each other's hopes and dreams and make all plans with these understandings in mind.

6) Is your partner an exercise enthusiast? If so, did you happen to catch Marisa Tomei doing hula hoop exercises on The Ellen DeGeneres Show? The exercise looks like fun -- read about comments on this product on Amazon -- and if you think your partner would enjoy a novel kind of exercise, purchase the item and attach a note pledging, "I hope you enjoy going through this hoop. I look forward to going through all sorts of hoops with you! And I'm lovin' it." Note: Only take this suggestion if you and your partner have a similar sense of humor and you think this would tickle them.

7) Do you prepare a food dish that your partner loves? If the answer is yes, put an announcement inside your Valentine's Day card saying that on such-and-such a date you will be cooking a blankety-blank dinner for them to continue on with the celebration of the love you share. Ask them to contribute on that night by bringing along whatever will enhance the meal for you -- a favorite beverage or dessert that they can purchase or make.

8) Take a minute to think about a trait of yours that your partner has communicated having a problem with -- for example, a hot temper or messiness. Think about any constructive suggestions that your partner has made that you think, when you are considering this calmly and not when you are in the heat of a disagreement, is reasonable and possibly something that you might be able to put into practice. This tip works best if you feel that the trait is something that you actually would like to change within yourself. Research self-help either on the internet or in the self-help section of your favorite book store and find out what authors suggest may be helpful in your particular situation. Jot down the best helpful tip you can find and write your partner a note stating that you have heard their complaint, take it seriously and are poised to work on it. Outline the plan that you have read about that makes sense and feel you can realistically implement. Describe it to your partner. Sit back and let the communication magic do its work. You will have just demonstrated acknowledgment of their feelings; appreciation of their communications on a difficult topic; acceptance of their concerns. You well may have instilled hope and mutuality into your dialogue.

More originality in your renewal message signals desire to take things higher. Chocolate and flowers have their appeal, but can become real humdrum. So take some time, do some prep work and put these tips into action -- as many as you can. Maximize connection with a fresh plan. Pick up a book that speaks to you on improving your relationship! And get busy because timing is everything and it's almost Valentine's Day!

© 2010 Marty Babits, LCSW, BCD, author of The Power of the Middle Ground: A Couple's Guide to Renewing Your Relationship

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