Psychological Self-Help

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Shain, 1974; Smith and Phillips, 1973; Viscott, 1976; Wilson & Wilson,
1976). Communication skills are very important. 
Learning to communicate differently requires awareness and practice
Notarius and Markman (1993) have trained couples to talk more
positively to each other. But first the partners must learn to recognize
their negative communications (the table above is a good summary of
the common hurtful habits). Often we don't even know we are being
nasty and hurtful. Also, some couples disagree so often that they just
come to expect almost every interaction to become a disagreement;
therefore, they hardly listen to the other person's opinions and start
attacking right away. If your discussions almost always end in
unresolved irritating disagreements, then why talk except to vent
some of the vile resentment festering in your gut? Obviously, such
couples must learn to talk differently. Notarius and Markman suggest
the following procedure. 
First, since negative communication may have become an
unconscious habit, we have to be confronted with our comments and
gestures that spew out negativity. One way is to audio or video tape
one of your arguments and then review it together. Carefully observe
every statement and movement, stopping the tape frequently and
discussing openly the critical, hurtful, counter-attacking comments and
looks. Another way is to have only one person talk at a time and have
the listener give immediate feedback to the talker about how they (the
listener) is feeling about each comment. Do this by using +, -, and 0
signs, meaning "that is positive and makes me feel good," "that is
negative and upsets me," and "that is neutral and I feel okay." This
feedback is an interesting, often eye-opening experience. 
Second, both partners must study and practice "I" statements and
good listening with empathy responding (methods 2 and 4 in chapter
13). It is helpful to have some discussions using these rules: each
partner must carefully listen and accurately give empathic feedback to
the person who has just spoken before he/she can express an opinion
or reaction to what was said. This forces each person to hear what the
partner is really saying and feeling... and it prevents the machine-gun
like exchange of angry, critical comments. (Also, look for the attacked
person's denial of responsibility responses and his/her avoidant,
stonewalling reactions.) 
Third, each partner needs to attend to his/her physiological
reactions that signal being upset or mad or hurt. It isn't easy to do,
but it is important to be able to stop a destructive, out-of-control
exchange. So when either partner gets beyond the point of being civil
and rational, you must learn to ask for a "time-out," taking some time
to calm down. Don't just drop the discussion, however. Be sure to
agree on continuing the discussion when you have had time to think
about it more reasonably and less hostilely. A long string of negative
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