You’ve made the plunge to pick up the phone, call a few therapy offices and attempt to determine why your relationship feels distant and conflictual. Often times, couples become trapped in what Drs John and Julie Gottman of Gottman Method Couples Therapy (GMCT) refer to as, the attack-defend cycle. Preemptive to that, you may experience defensiveness, blame, and one or the other of you shutting down and emotionally withdrawing. She wants to know why you are late coming home (again) and he despises that she only notices late days and not when he is timely, therefore the couple finds themselves placing blame, attempting to find fault, and with no solution.
Evidenced-based research has shown that 69% of conflict in relationships are perpetual and 31% are solvable. In other words, if we focus on solutions, it is likely we’ll feel as if we are up against a brick wall. There is a better way and it is referred to as conflict management. Instead of thinking, “how do we solve_______” think, “how do we find a better way to talk about our differences.” We are in fact two different people attempting to live in each other’s inner worlds. How do we honor, respect and see those differences without being in agreement?
Here are a few tips based on GMCT:
1. Designate a listener and a speaker.
2. As the speaker, avoid blame and criticism by using “I” statements & subjectively giving your version of reality (think t.v. news reporter stating the facts).
3. Listeners, take notes. Ask questions for clarification. Summarize, empathize, and validate. And remember, validation does not equate to agreement. It simply means you can understand why they would feel as they do
4. Switch roles and repeat!
See if this helps create clarification, increased intimacy through understanding, and a better way to talk about it.
Donisa J Hammond, LCMHC