Gottman believes that a relationship is only as strong as how well the two can deal with their weakest moments: conflict.
Gottman believes avoidance/stonewalling is the numero uno contributor to the end of love because it says to your partner:
Ouch. Basically, stonewalling conveys a lack of respect.
“Yo! I’ve checked out of this discussion because I don’t find you important enough to continue to talk to anymore.”
Admittedly, handling the inevitable stresses of a relationship is not an easy task.
As my favorite philosopher buddy Aristotle says:
“Anybody can become angry—that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
When problems arise, it takes what Aristotle calls “the virtue of discipline” to do the right thing and to be a good person.
For the most part, human beings aren’t bad. Human beings are simply weak.
Human beings just don’t want to put in the “virtue of discipline” to be good and behave with high integrity during stressful times with their partners.
When your partner is in a bad mood and/or feeling upset about something going on in their life and/or wants your opinion on something, you must put in the effort to turn toward your partner’s “bids for connection.“
Take the time to show interest in what is on your partner’s mind.
If you turn away from your partner when they need your support and attention – then you will be making a very large withdrawal from your “Emotional Bank Account.”
Important: Similarly to what happens with a real bank account, the lower the balance in your Emotional Bank Account, the more trouble you are in as a couple.
If you feel a fight coming on with your partner, make sure the conflict doesn’t empty your “Emotional Bank Account.”
How? Avoid harsh start-ups. Gottman says he can predict 96 percent of the time how a conversation will end based on its first three minutes.
So, do not start out blaming or calling your partner bad names. Your partner will spend more time defending himself than attending to your needs and feelings.Try beginning with a compliment about what you appreciate about your partner. (aka: Make some good deposits into your Emotional Bank Account right up front.)
Also, include a reminder about how you really want to work on your relationship, so it succeeds and you both can grow together. (aka: This is another good deposit into your Emotional Bank Account.)
Calmly explain how the conflict affects you—your feelings, values, dreams and goals.
Recognize that eventually most fights do not stay about the fight’s topic, but rather the “way” people choose to fight.
Try to stay open to your partner’s perspectives – and try not to insult or disrespect your partner’s feelings.(aka: Try to limit the withdrawals you make from your Emotional Bank Account)
Try talking in “I” sentences instead of “you” sentences—speak more about how you feel. (And “I feel you are a jerk!” is not an example of an “I” statement!)
Your goal is to get your partner to empathize, so forget about details and facts.
Keep staying with your feelings, values, dreams and goals.
From this place of empathy, your partner will better hear you and, therefore, want to find a way to take care of your needs and feelings.
If the conversation escalates, be sure to tell your partner that you recognize your truth is not necessarily the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
As Stephen Covey brilliantly stated in his fabulous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand—then to be understood!”
Always be sure to close any and all difficult conversation on a good note. Share memories of good times and/or let your partner know you appreciate their good qualities. Jump-start loving memories, and defuse bad ones. (aka: End the conflict by making some loving deposits into your emotional bank account!)
He discovered in his research that the difference between happy and unhappy couples is this particular balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict.
How do you create that magic 5 to 1 ratio in your relationship? Make sure that for every negative interaction you have with your partner, you put in the effort to experience 5 or more positive, loving interactions with your partner.
These can be small, loving moments – like hugging your partner, getting them flowers or their favorite Caramel Frapuccino, holding their hand, kissing them, complimenting them, doing a chore you know they love you to do etc..
Interesting Research: A study found that, “Couples who have a great sex life kiss one another passionately for no reason whatsoever, they cuddle, and they are mindful about turning toward each other’s bids for attention and support.”
Although studies show that yelling is better than stonewalling, yelling has its share of problems.
When people yell, they get themselves even angrier.
Interesting factoid: If you and/or your partner’s heartbeat gets higher than 100 beats per minute during an argument, you will not be able to fully understand or process what the other person is saying.
When you’re angry, your brain’s processing becomes blocked, and it’s literally more difficult to solve problems and express yourself clearly.
Plus—duh—you’re more likely to foolishly inflame the situation with insults and petty meanness.
As Marcus Aurelius said, “How much more grievous are the consequences of anger, than the causes of it?”
Need further support to think happier?
Hi I’m Karen Salmansohn, founder of NotSalmon. My mission is to offer you easy-to-understand insights and tools to empower you to bloom into your happiest, highest potential self. I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas – going as far back as ancient wisdom from Aristotle, Buddhism and Darwin to the latest research studies from Cognitive Therapy, Neuro Linquistic Programming, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Quantum Physics, Nutritional Studies – and then some.
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