Whether you are in a good relationship or a dysfunctional one, there will always be conflict. What matters most is how you manage the conflict. In the Gottman’s research, they found that 69% of problems in a relationship weren’t solvable. What this means is you need to work on understanding one another in your relationship.
When couples come in for counseling, they want to solve their problems and move on. They aren’t usually that happy when they find out most of their problems aren’t solvable. Going for a solution now can actually hurt the relationship. This also means you don’t have to fix everything. Which I find as a relief. When I was younger I was a strong problem solver and now I’m not. This has changed my attitude on life tremendously, and in a good way.
Don’t worry if you are trying to solve your relationship problems, you aren’t alone. Many of us have done it and may still try to in the future. Couples tend to get stuck in their problems. This leads to a lot of conflict and misunderstanding. We have found at the Gottman Institute, that these are the four ways to ruin a perfectly good relationship:
- Criticize (Attack) – Using “you” statements.
- Defensive – You attacked, so I will defend myself. (We’ve heard Donald Trump use this one) This is also known as, righteous indignation.
- Contempt – Feeling superior in the relationship. This happens when you have attack and defend. In a relationship you need to be on equal ground.
- Stonewalling – This is when you shut down. Also known as the flight in fight or flight. You do this because you just can’t take it anymore. Your partner interprets this as the silent treatment, and feels emotionally isolated in the relationship.
These are also known as The Four Horsemen. You can’t have one without the other. They are a family. They will destroy a perfectly good relationship and they will destroy you. Stop criticizing your partner. Use a softer tone when talking to your partner, and tell them how you are feeling. For example, that hurt my feelings, I’m feeling unappreciated or I’m getting worried.
Stop being defensive, learn to take responsibility for your behavior. For example, I really blew that one; I can see my part in this or let’s try that one over again. Stop holding contempt for your partner and learn to appreciate one another. For example, I am thankful you’re in my life, I really admire your drive and sense of humor, or I love you. Also, state what you need from your partner.
And, last but not least, stop stonewalling. Learn to do physiological self-soothing. For example, stop for 20 minutes and listen to some relaxing music while focusing on your breath. Go for a walk or go to a yoga class. Watch a comedy or read an interesting book. Just don’t see or think about your partner during this time.
Yes, I am asking you to change the dialogue you use towards one another. After a while this will feel like the natural way to communicate with your partner and you will start to enjoy one another’s company again. Learn to ride the waves in your relationship. The more you practice the easier it will get.
Lianne Avila is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with a practice in San Mateo, CA. For more information please call (650) 892-0357.