Effective Conflict the Gottman Way
It becomes so discouraging to have repeated arguments where nothing gets resolved. It is no wonder that many people try to just shut up, keep the peace or avoid the issue. But it has become more difficult to avoid issues during the enforced restrictions of COVID 19. Those annoying habits and thoughtless comments are so much more in your face if you both have to work from home.
Fortunately, John Gottman’s research on relationships tells us which behaviours need to be ditched if we want to do conflict productively! Gottman poetically names 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse which can damage even the happiest of relationships. Criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling can ruin the romance and friendship. His research found them to be strong predictors of separation and even divorce.
In my last blog, I described how to use a softened startup instead of criticism. Now let’s focus on how to respond to your partner’s complaint. Do not get defensive. Do not argue back. Do not leap to your defence explaining why you were totally within your rights to have done such a thing and anyone who truly cared or had half a brain would have understood that!
The complaint may appear totally unreasonable. You may be feeling unfairly criticized but responding with defensiveness and counter-attacks will not help the relationship. “But, but”, my clients say, “what if it is just not true?” Well, it is true for your partner’s experience of the situation. They are seeing it as their truth and will not respond well to being told they are wrong.
The secret is to find some part of what your partner is saying and validate that. Is there one tiny part of the complaint which makes sense to you if you were to imagine yourself in their shoes?
This is so much easier said than done, even if you are both a clinical psychologist and a Gottman Method Couples Therapist! I clearly remember in the early, (pre-COVID) days when my partner said,
“It is interesting that you seem to always make us late”. (That was his attempt at a softened start-up)!
I wanted to say, “WHAT? No, I don’t! You don’t give me enough notice and suddenly expect me to drop everything and be in the car without time to check the dog, go to the bathroom, or anything”!
Instead, I took a deep breath and gave him “the look” which implied that you might want to re-phrase that. Fortunately, he smiled at me and that helped. Then I said,
“Yeah, I guess it is annoying when we are late for appointments. It must seem like I am holding us up.” (I could say that without compromising my integrity. I could agree with him on that point and it worked).
He admitted he was also part of the problem too and we started to work out a plan to make it better. I also warned that I would be putting this in my blog so we had better keep on communicating nicely. So far so good as we both found it amusing.
These skills in relationships can be learnt with practice and a large dose of goodwill. This week, I hope you enjoy writing down possible responses which are non-defensive and validating to your partner’s concerns.
If these techniques are too difficult to implement you might need more help.
Call 0423 617 735 to schedule your free 15-minute telephone consultation about how I could help you and your relationship.