No marriage is conflict free. We deal with our problems in different ways depending on our personalities, backgrounds, and the dynamics of our relationship. But as Mike Constantine says, “Our goal should be to decrease the frequency, decrease the emotional intensity, and decrease the duration of our fights.” The way a disagreement gets started has a huge influence on the outcome.
The first step in securing cooperation in solving conflict is what is called The Gentle Startup. Gentle does not mean weak. It does not mean artificially sweet. It means purposefully dialing down our angst and not assassinating the character of our partner.
Read: The Gentle Start-up. Please take time to do the Gentle Start-up exercise. You may discover it is much harder to do than it sounds like it should be. Work together to find ways that would work in your relationship to begin a discussion about something you disagree about. Don’t start an argument in the process!
Watch this 3 minute video by Dr. Julie Gottman on How to Complain Without Hurting Your Partner
After a gentle start-up, the other one has to respond. This is where the attitudes and skills you’ve been learning get to be practiced in earnest. Asking open-ended questions, listening and responding to our mate’s expressions of needs and desires, and being willing to accept influence all play a part in how we respond when our spouse makes a gentle start-up to a discussion.
Read: Ways to Stop an Argument These are some common sense, but often forgotten ways to end a fight and begin a discussion.
But there will be many times when one or both of you begin to heat up and the discussion is headed toward a fight. The next step is the Repair Attempt. We’ll begin dialing down the emotions with Taking a Break.
Read: Take a Break
After the Break, you may need to take the next step of the Repair Attempt. The Repair Attempt can begin with a simple statement of how you feel. This is a way to turn the discussion from accusations to an appeal for understanding. Another Repair attempt is to say, “Sorry. . .” This is not an angry sorry, but a genuine recognition that you had a part to play in the disagreement.
The Repair Happens when one recognizes some common ground or the other’s point of view. Also being able to say what you appreciate about the other can give you an opportunity to make progress in solving your issue.
See the Gottman Repair Checklist to help you make Repair Attempts. Discuss with your spouse how you think these statements could help you hear what the other is saying so that you may find a way to solution.
Use the Repair Attempts Questionnaire to evaluate how good you are at repairing arguments
Kyle Benson writes for The Gottman Institute. His article, 4 Typical Solvable Problems in Relationships, is worth taking the time to read. This will give you examples of ways solvable problems can be solved.
Finally, read: Moms and Dads Play Differently. This may be an issue that you need to talk about. It is solvable. Actually, you must agree to allow the other to play with your children differently. This is important for your child, not just for your relationship.
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