Positive Relationship Ground Rules



Assert what it is that you want without attacking the other person.

When negative feelings arise, it is a sign that your needs are not met. It’s an alarm that calls for attention.

Try to

  • identify what triggers you (best if you can put words to how you feel)
  • wait for calm (meaning you feel in control of your own expression)
  • express your needs to your partner in a clear and non-accusatory way

Here is an example–

Communication Dos and Don’ts

Don’t say: “You are selfish for always leaving dirty dishes in the sink. You have no regards for my feelings.”Do Say: “When you leave dirty dishes in the sink, I get upset because either I have to clean up after you, or they stay unwashed. It will help me if you can wash them after you use them.”

Show appreciation

Notice when your partner starts making changes, and show appreciation. Showing appreciation means you will see more of what you want to see, because your appreciation makes your partner feel good, and we do more of what makes us feel good!

Is something bigger going on?

Now, here, you need to be honest with yourself. Is your complaint about your partner being “selfish” (or any such descriptive) really just about the dishes, or about a bigger problem, such as that you feel that s/he often overlooks or ignore your needs, or s/he takes you for granted, or s/he doesn’t care about you? If there are larger issues at play, having a clean sink might bring minimal relief towards your underlying frustration.

Focus on the process, not results!

Gottman’s research shows that differences and conflicts don’t destroy relationships. 69% of a couple’s problems are perpetual, meaning they won’t go away, regardless of how much you argue about them. What determines whether your relationship survives is how you two deal with these conflicts. In other words, instead of focusing on changing your partner, pay attention to how you two approach conflicts and appreciate your partner’s effort in reaching a compromise.

Reality Check

Dan Wile said: “When choosing a long-term partner… you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.”