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Solve Your Solvable Problems

“It stands to reason that when a husband and wife respect each other and are open to each other’s point of view, they have a good basis for resolving any differences that arise”, according to Gottman.  If this sounds like you and your partner, you have the foundation necessary to begin approaching conflict in a different way.  In my last post, we explored the two types of problems in relationships: perpetual problems and solvable problems.  This week, we will focus on ways to solve your solvable problems within marital conflict.

Learn More About Solving Your Solvable Problems

There are 5 key points to remember when approaching conflict to solve your solvable problems.

  1. Soften your start-up
  2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts
  3. Soothe yourself and each other
  4. Compromise
  5. Process any grievances so that they don’t linger.

Let’s take a look at each point to better understand Gottman’s proven model for solving conflict.

As you begin to practice these 5 strategies, you will start to recognize that you and your partner can find solutions to problems.  Barriers that have prevented communication in the past no longer create difficulties.  If you and your partner are still finding it hard to compromise, then your problem is likely perpetual.  My next post will focus on the perpetual problems in your relationship and how to overcome gridlock.

In heterosexual couples, more often than not, it is the wife that brings up issues within a marriage.  How the wife decides to bring up the conflict sets the stage for the discussion.  Does the conversation start out with criticism, blame, or contempt?  Or does the conversation start softly with expression of feelings, wants, and needs?  Take a look at the two conversation start-ups below.  Which one is the soft-startup?

“You never help me with the dinner prep, and I am sick of it!  You need to contribute more.  I can’t do everything around the house.”

 “Can we talk for a minute?  I’m feeling a little worn out from the amount of chores around the house.  I would like us to figure out a better plan going forward to divide the housework.”

Did you guess correctly?  The second start-up is soft, while the first is full of the four horsemen.  The best soft-start-up has four parts: (1) “I share some responsibility for this…. (2) Here’s how I feel… (3) about a specific situation and… (4) here’s what I need…(positive need, not what you don’t need).

“When you take driving lessons, the first thing you’re taught is how to stop the car.  Putting on the brakes is an important skill in a marriage, too.”  Have you ever been having a discussion with your partner and all of a sudden it starts going downhill fast?  And maybe instead of hitting the breaks, you push down on the gas?  Recognizing when a conversation is starting to go downhill can help prevent the four horsemen from showing up.  Once you recognize the four horsemen may be present, take a minute to pause and attempt to repair the conversation.  This can look like taking breaks during the conversation, telling a joke to defuse the conflict, listening to your partner when they say to talk differently to each other, or soothing your partner if they become flooded.  No matter the state of your marriage, you can start to notice repair attempts right away to help stop a negative cycle.  With more practice, you and your partner will begin to learn each other’s attempts to repair the relationship.

Flooding is a physiological state of distress.  Your heart may be pounding, you may be sweating, and you could be holding your breath.  During flooding, you may say something you regret, you may start yelling, and you may not be thinking logically.  Even more, when you are flooded, you are not able to hear your partner’s repair attempts.  This is because when your body is flooded, your heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, and you are physically unable to hear what your partner is saying.  The best remedy is to pause the conversation and self-soothe.

In every partnership, both partners are unique individuals, with unique backgrounds and unique experiences.  No matter how compatible you might be with your partner, there will be times when you both view the situation within conflict differently.  The only way to solve the problem then is to compromise.  Relationships require give and take.  Even if you think you are right, relationships will not work if one partner always needs to get their way.  “Compromise isn’t about one person changing.  It’s about negotiating and finding ways to accommodate each other.”  What’s better than win-lose?  Win-win.  Keep an open mind when listening to your partner and remember you are on the same team.

Arguments can leave scars.  William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead.  In fact, it’s not even past.”  The past lives in our bodies, and if not addressed, can be a constant reminder in our present.  When conflict is not addressed, partners tend to ruminate about past incidents, which can create emotional distance.  The remedy is to process the previous emotional injury where both partners can express how they felt, can share their subjective reality, state what they needed, identify triggers, and acknowledge each partner’s role in what happened.

As you begin to practice these 5 strategies, you will start to recognize that you and your partner can find solutions to problems.  Barriers that have prevented communication in the past no longer create difficulties.  If you and your partner are still finding it hard to compromise, then your problem is likely perpetual.  My next post will focus on the perpetual problems in your relationship and how to overcome gridlock.

Alison Bellows Cearlock is a Graduate Student Intern with the Mindly Group studying Mental Health Counseling.

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2021-11-23T16:31:54-05:00

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