Every single relationship has conflict. “Although you may feel your situation is unique, we have found that all marital conflicts, ranging from mundane annoyances to all out wars, really fall into one of two categories: either they can be resolved or they are perpetual, which means they will be a part of your lives forever in some form or another.”-Gottman
Keys to Managing conflict:
- Negative emotions are important: The key is expressing them in ways that allows each other to listen without feeling attacked. “When you are in pain, the world stops and I listen.”
- No one is right:There is no absolute reality in marital conflict, only two subjective ones.
- Acceptance is crucial: It is virtually impossible for people to heed advice unless they believe the other person understands, respects, and accepts them for who they are. When people feel criticized, disliked or unappreciated, they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege, and they dig in.
- Focus on fondness and admiration:A robust fondness-and-admiration system is central to remaining happily married.
There is so much good information from Gottman on marriage conflict, but I want to focus on solvable conflict because I was drawn to it this week. I will be sharing the five steps to solve solvable conflict.
Step 1: Soften your start-up
“The best soft start-up has four parts: (1) “I share some responsibility for this..” (2) Here’s how I feel… (3) about a specific situation and… (4) Here’s what I need … (positive need, not what you don’t need). Instead of pointing your finger at your partner, you are pointing you finger at yourself. To convert a negative need to a positive one, focus on your negative emotions and look for the longing behind those feelings. If you could wave a magic wand, what would you wish for what is your recipe for your partner to be successful with you right now?”
Ensure a soft startup:
- Complain but don’t blame. Remember: “I feel…”; about what?…; and ‘I need…”
- Make statements that start with “I” instead of “you.”
- Describe what is happening. Don’t evaluate or judge.
- Be clear about your positive need.
- Be polite
- Be appreciative
- Don’t store things up.
Step 2: Learn to make and receive repair attempts
“…prevent plenty of disasters by terminating discussions that get off on the wrong foot and by shutting down those seemingly endless cycles of recriminations. How do you do this? By using repair attempts”
My favorite example of this technique comes from “How I Met Your Mother”. I love how Marshall and Lilly use this this tool to stop the conversation before it goes too far. (Sorry for the terrible quality. I am loooking for a better one for the actual blog)
Having your own “Pause” can get the message across that you need a break.
Step 3: Soothe yourself and each other
When a conflict discussion causes flooding it is important to stop the discussion and have time to calm down. Take time to do something to clear your mind, do not focus on comebacks for later, use this time. Some ideas to calm down are going for a walk, meditating, working out, ect. After you have calmed down it would be a good idea to calm your spouse down. Try something like massage or leading a meditation.
“Compromise is the only way to solve marital problems. . . Often when couples don’t succeed at compromising, it isn’t through lack of trying but because they’ve gone about it the wrong way. Negotiation is possible only after you’ve followed the steps above.”
A great compromise tool is Finding Common Ground. Gottman suggests drawing two circles one big one, and one small one inside it. In the small one write down only what you can not compromise on. The bigger circle is for issues that could be swayed a little. Each partner should fill out the circles on their own and later come together to work through a compromise.
Step 5: Dealing with emotional injuries
“If emotional injuries aren’t addressed, they tend to become constant irritants…People tend to ruminate about these incidents, and emotional distance can build up over time. It is perfectly normal to have past emotional injuries that need talking about, or “processing”.”
This step spoke to me. I feel like I have a lot of emotional baggage that I haven’t processed enough and it affects how I interpret Preston’s reactions, sometimes even before I give him the chance to react.
Challenge for this week:
Self-soothing exercise! Try meditation. Find your own or try this is a five minute guided meditation video.