Sometimes we can feel in a perpetual conflict cycle in our relationships and lives, continuously reinforced when we turn on the news or open up social media. We are constantly presented with polar opposite perspectives and asked to take a side. This polarity creates deeper chasms in views and does very little to help build understanding of difference or encourage a curiosity of exploration and tolerance. We miss out on the depth and rich complexity when we narrow down our perspectives and actively exclude other views and opinions.
In relationship and in life there are fewer absolutes than what we imagine.
Most interactions, differences and opinions are nuisance exchanges that warrant and deserve consideration, thought and reflection. Our want for simple black and white, yes, no, good, bad answers, whilst understandable, does not necessarily lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of other perspectives and the potential adjustment or refinement of our own views.
Relationship conflict when polarised can turn into awful battles; arguing your position, feeling you are right, and they are wrong, feeling misunderstood, unheard, unseen and unappreciated. The more this type of negative conflict occurs, the stauncher one becomes in the positions held, the more right one feels and the more wrong one thinks the other is. You think that if you just repeat the same point over and over and increase the tone and volume your partner will simply change their perspective and see the issue through your eyes. Of course, this is not the outcome that occurs, more likely these types of arguments end in a stony retreat were both partners feel frustrated and hurt.
John Gottman in his relationship research was influenced by the work of Anatol Rapoport. Rapoport was a prominent mathematician and psychologist known for his work in game theory and conflict resolution. His contributions to conflict resolution theory are influential in various fields, including both international relations and interpersonal conflict.
John Gottman has used some of Rapoport’s assumptions in his work with couples. An important assumption of this intervention is the concept of two valid subjective realities, not just one; that both positions are valid, that there is no absolute right and wrong, simply that each person has a different perceptive on the same issue. This allows the couple to focus not on facts but on perceptions. We need to slow down a conversation, reducing physiological arousal levels and ensuring the listener is able to reflect understanding and validate at least part of their partner’s perspective. It is helpful to suspend problem-solving until both partners understand each other’s perspective and each other’s positive needs on the issue are fully understood. The speaker talks to their partner using a gentle start-up such as an ‘I-statement’, expressing emotions and avoiding blame and criticism, exploring their perspective with the articulation of a positive need on this issue. The listener takes brief notes about what the speaker is saying, assisting in promoting listening and reducing the tendency to form rebuttals in their mind that interrupt listening capacity. Once the speaker is finished, the listener reflects back and validates what the speaker said, including the speaker’s emotional experience. The Gottman Rapoport intervention enables the couple to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other’s perspective and an opportunity to feel more understood and validated by one another, thereby creating a corrective emotional experience that enables flexibility and possible compromise on the topic.