Welcome to the sixth lesson in Relationship 101! Today we’re going to talk about How To Fight Well. In other words, how to have effective conflicts with your spouse!
The first step to Fighting Well is identifying your type of problem. Dr. John Gottman, esteemed Relationship Researcher, suggests that conflicts in marriage can fall generally into two categories: Perpetual and Solvable.
A Perpetual Problem is a frequent conflict in which you can’t seem to make headway. When you address Perpetual Problems, you and your spouse may end up feeling rejected by each other, entrenched in your positions, and ultimately more distant.
Perpetual Problems aren’t just about one singular event: they are tied to deeply held beliefs or values (e.g, gender roles, parenting responsibilities, work ethic). Perpetual Problems are not unsolvable, but they require more in-depth communication to resolve, ideally with the help of a Marriage Therapist.
A Solvable Problem, on the other hand, tends to be less emotionally intense. Solvable Problems are situational: they are about a particular or event or action, rather than beliefs, values, or personality.
Today’s lesson in How To Fight Well will focus on Solvable Problems in your relationship. Start by thinking about a simple, only mildly-emotional conflict in your marriage. According to Dr. Gottman, there are four skills which you must develop to fight well when you engage this conflict:
#1. Begin With A “Soft Start-Up”.
Your tone should be non-judgmental and neutral when you begin communicating about conflict. According to Gottman’s research, the first 3 minutes of this conversation will determine whether or not it can be successful or detrimental, so make sure to be non-aggressive from the start: use “I feel..” language and avoid accusations.
#2. Accept Feedback.
You don’t necessarily have to agree with your partner, but you must listen with humility and respect. Consider your partner’s point of view. If this is challenging for you, use Lesson 5 as a resource: The Benefit of the Doubt.
#3. Remain Calm.
When couples enter into psychotherapy with Dr. Gottman he hooks them up to heart rate monitors. Why? His research demonstrates that if your heartbeat is above 95 beats per minute, it becomes impossible to empathize and listen. To remain calm, attempt to breathe evenly and relax your muscles. If you or your spouse feel your blood boiling, take a break for at least 20 minutes before re-engaging the conflict. Otherwise, progress cannot occur.
Compromise is both a skill and a sign of success – you have fought well! When both spouses are heard and have accepted each other’s feedback, compromise becomes possible. Are you ready for this week’s Relationship 101 challenge? Check out today’s Vlog to find out your homework with your spouse for this week!
Thriving couples neither avoid conflict altogether, nor do they constantly fight. Rather, thriving marriages have effective conflicts. In Marriage Therapy, couples not only learn and practice these skills for How To Fight – they also receive support and guidance as they address their Perpetual Problems. If you and your partner are ready to participate in Marriage Therapy, schedule your session with me today. I’m here to support you.
Megan Lundgren, LMFT
P.S. Which skill is the most challenging? Write your thoughts in the Comments – I’d love to know what you think!
P.P.S. If you find Gottman’s relationship findings as fascinating as I do, I highly recommend his book. Enjoy!