The next series of lessons relate to conflicts in marriage. All couples have conflicts. The way we handle them will make all the difference in the damage or strength they bring to our marriage.
The goal we should have for our marriage is to decrease the frequency, the intensity, and the duration of conflicts. That means we fight less often. When we argue, we don’t get so angry and hostile. And we settle our disagreements more quickly.
In this series of lessons we will be covering 5 parts of Constructive Problem Solving. They are:
- Gentle Start-up
- Take a Break
- Accepting Influence
- Solvable and Perpetual Problems
- Repair and Compromise
We realize that during an argument, you are not going to reach for these lessons to go through these steps. But it is our goal to help you develop attitudes that will help you find good solutions. There will be exercises to help you learn some good techniques for making your arguments less stressful and more conducive of positive change.
So that conflicts do not tear your relationship apart, it is important that you are aware of the most dangerous threats to your marriage. There are four negative communication behaviors that are toxic to a relationship. If any of these are present in your relationship, now is the time to stop them and take positive steps to save your marriage. These behaviors are guaranteed to decrease your marital satisfaction and if they continue are the greatest predictors of divorce. So, what are they?
- Criticism is judging and blaming the other. It frequently includes “always” or “never” statements and negative labels or name-calling,
- Defensiveness is self-protective behavior. It often includes counter-attacks, whining, and denying our responsibility.
- Contempt is taking a superior attitude. It includes sarcasm, mockery, and/or character assassination.
- Stonewalling is withdrawing from interaction. This is done with silence, turning away, refusing eye contact, or leaving the scene.
When there are some or all of these toxic behaviors along with more negative than positive relationship connections the stage is set for marital breakdown.
We want to avoid this at all cost. You have already invested so much time, energy, and money into your relationship. It is valuable to you. Anything that is valuable is worth taking the time and effort to keep in good repair.
The Gentle Start-Up
At the Gottman Institute they have studied thousands of couples and have sorted them into the Masters and the Disasters. The Masters have learned and practiced healthy relationship skills. They still argue, but they have learned ways to deal with the real issues, explain their needs and desires, and hear their mates so they can come to good, workable compromises. Their first step in an argument is a gentle start-up.
The first 3 minutes of when a problem is raised usually determines how well the conflict will be resolved. Gottman says, ”Conversations invariably end on the same note that they begin.” So, the gentle start-up has the best chance of finding a good resolution.
In order to have a gentle start-up you must think before exploding. This is much more possible if you deal with disagreements one at a time and have not stockpiled them. Plan a good time to discuss what is bothering you, a time that works well for both of you. Don’t start an argument on an empty stomach or when you’re too tired to think.
The initial statement may be a complaint, but it should not include any blame. It should focus on a specific problem you want to discuss. It may address the other person’s behavior, but not his or her perceived character flaws.
Use statements that start with “I” instead of “you.” When we use “you” statements we put our mate on the defensive. When we use “I” statements we are more likely to voice our need or desire in a way they can hear and respond to. Using “we” statements are even better as they show how we can work together to solve the problem. Be sure to include appreciation and gratitude. This keeps the discussion on a positive track. Remembering ways our spouse has helped or behaved well in the past, is a great way to ask for more.
Be prepared to tell your spouse clearly what you want or don’t want. No one is good at reading minds. If you cannot state what you desire clearly, you are not ready to talk about the issue.
Bathe the whole start-up with kindness. Keep to one issue and use polite words and tone for the best results.
For example: “I miss the little gifts you used to bring me. They made me feel special, even when they didn’t cost much money. Lately, I feel like you don’t remember me when you are away from home.”
Time for Some Practice
Get some practice wording complains without accusation or character assassination. Gentle Start-ups lead to much better resolutions. The Gentle Start-Up Exercise.