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.
Couples who want to rescue their relationship from this painful slide into divorce need to understand first the hurtful impact their negative behaviours have on their partner. This means the first step is for individual partners to learn to say something like “Hey that hurt my feelings, I heard that as criticism, can you say that in a gentler way please?”
They can also learn to talk about how feelings get hurt by being curious, “Really, I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, can you help me understand how you heard that?”
It feels awkward and clunky at first but if couples persevere with it they will form new healthy relationship habits (by the way, new research suggests it takes 66 days to establish a new habit, not 3 weeks).
The second step which builds on this growing awareness of self and other is to learn how to use a gentle start-up, a gentle collaborative invitation to your partner to engage in a conversation with you about a problem you share. “Honey I am worried about our budget, can we find some time to review it?”
The third step is to learn how to turn towards and attune to your partner and their needs using non-defensive responding. Gottman suggests saying something like “Help me understand your concerns” instead of going into automatic defensiveness and saying something like “Don’t blame me, I’ve only been buying necessities.”
The fourth step is to listen carefully, being curious and really working to understand your partner’s position/concern before communicating your own perspective.
The fifth step is to ensure you take a “I’m on your side” attitude to the discussion.
The sixth step is to brainstorm together and collaborate on a temporary solution which you can both agree to review after a month, 3 months, a year, whatever feels right to you both.
This process will eradicate the 4 horsemen and will reverse the negative direction an ailing relationship had been going in. These are the steps Gottman trained therapists can teach couples to assist them to develop some better relationship skills.
So NEVER give up on a relationship. Learn to reverse the predictors of divorce instead.
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