Conflict, from mild disagreements to awful battles, from conversations about different perspectives to vilifying one other, from stony silence to screaming matches. The term conflict can mean many different things; from a pathway to understanding and accepting one another more to a way to build negative affect and sentiment. Your perspective on conflict is just so important in shaping the future of your relationship. Do you view conflict and the expression of negative emotions such as hurt and frustration as a sign of an ailing relationship, as something that should be avoided, retreated from or indeed rallied against or do you view relationship conflicts as inevitable and simply part of the couple’s landscape that needs to be understood and worked with? It is the latter view that John Gottman found in his many years of research that promotes relationship satisfaction and stability.
A harsh startup is when one partner brings up an issue and uses criticism and contempt to get their point across. Using Harsh Startups are one of the indicators of a failing relationship, the more often you use them the more damaging they are and the higher your probability of relationship demise.
Many studies have shown that whilst having a baby is often viewed as one to the most joyful events in a couple’s lifetime, the very act of becoming a family can also be the beginning of their relationship unhappiness.
According to Gottman research, a staggering 67% of couples become discontent with each other during the first 3 years of baby’s life, leaving only 33% that remain satisfied during the transition to parenthood and beyond. Exhaustion, hormonal changes, anxiety about baby, a loss of libido and added family pressures are all challenges that can confuse and overwhelm even the strongest of relationships. So here are 5 simple tips to help every new parent stay connected as a couple, instead of just becoming a ‘couple of parents’
Do you feel like your arguments come out of nowhere?
And sometimes you can’t remember what you were fighting about - but it gets nasty and hurtful!
Communication break-down happens when you allow the four horsemen - criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling to enter your relationship.
DR John Gottman found through his research - these four things were the most reliable predictors a divorce was inevitable.
Gottman’s research indicated strong predictors of divorce included high levels of contempt, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, all contributing to the development of negative sentiment override and resentment. Does this mean a relationship has absolutely no hope if these things are present?
The answer is categorically NO! Gottman’s research relates to couples who did not enter therapy, did not get any help and who just continued to dig deeper and deeper holes for themselves.
One of the most common complaints I hear from couples is that one or both of the partners feels that they are not important, or that the relationship itself is not important – it’s pushed aside by work or childcare or housework or FaceBook or family or friends or…..
Active listening in couples therapy has generally been proposed as a formulaic approach to having couples talk about issues. It generally takes the form of the speaker saying an I statement that includes a description of a behavior or situation, a feeling they have about the behavior or situation and a request. For example it might be “When you don’t clean up the kitchen after you have eaten I feel angry, I want you to clean up the mess you make.”
The listener is then encouraged to repeat this back so it sounds something like “I hear you saying when I leave mess in the kitchen after I have eaten you feel angry and you want me to clean the kitchen up.”
Very often when couples present for couples therapy they are in a heightened state of conflict and this may have been the over-riding state of their relationship for years. They have experienced a lot of hurt and pain over this time and are scared to show vulnerability in any way. In other words they have on their protective chain mail protecting and hiding their softness and gentleness from each other.
In this model of couples therapy it is not the therapists decision as to whether the couple should continue to work on their relationship or not, this is entirely the couple’s decision.
I recently asked my 3 grown-up children what they enjoyed most when they were growing up. Son No 1 said “I really liked how we would have those family days on the weekend. We always did fun stuff together.”
Son No 2 said, “I always liked the times we sat around the dinner table and just talked about all sorts of things. In fact I still really enjoy that.”
Baby Daughter said, “I have always loved our family vacations. It’s always so exciting to go somewhere new together. I like the excitement of knowing we are going and then talking about it for months and planning how we are going to have fun together. Those vacations felt like the lasted for months because of how much we talked about it before we went.”
During our training workshops and during supervision with other therapists we often get asked a lot of the same questions. We will begin looking at these questions in our blog/news posts over the next several months. Here is the first one: "How do you respond when you’re going through the Oral History Interview and there isn’t much positive affect? How much do you validate or speak back that this is really troubling for you?"
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