Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Create Shared Meaning: Rituals for the Family

Creating shared meaning by establishing traditions and  rituals of connection is not just for couples – you can bring your whole family together in much the same way! Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to share some examples of ways in which you can do this. Of course, these examples are just that. They are a jumping off point to inspire you and your family to create your own rituals and traditions based on your family's goals, values, and interests!

Rituals symbolize cultural identity and values we share with our families:

Take the Lawrence family for example:
  • Perhaps the Lawrence family goes out to breakfast at the Magpie CafĂ© every Saturday morning to recap their week and talk about important events in their lives. If the weather is nice, they head out to the park afterwards. By upholding this weekly tradition, the children will know, “We’re the Lawrences – we love the Magpie, and we like to go to the park together!”
  • Maybe the Lawrence family invites Grandma and Grandpa to dinner on Saturday nights. The children may say, “We’re the Lawrences, and we love Grandma and Grandpa. It’s really fun hearing their stories about the past.”
  • If the Lawrence family goes to the library every week to search for books, the kids may feel, “We are the Lawrences and we love to read. Mom always finds us the funniest books, and if we ask her to, she buys us our favorites on the holidays!”

Without rituals, if the family does not come together in a regular way, both parents and children may miss out on the feeling of being emotionally connected.

Rituals ensure that people take time for emotional connection:

It’s hard to find time for new rituals and routines in the ridiculously busy schedules most of us have to navigate – especially those of us with kids. But that’s okay! Routines can actually save time and allow you to connect with your whole family – anything can be made into a ritual. This may remind some of you of Mary Poppins: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun! You find the fun – and snap! The job’s a game!” Here are some examples of simple ways to connect with your family every day, taken again from the Lawrence family:

  • Mr. Lawrence makes Mrs. Lawrence coffee every morning. Mrs. Lawrence makes Mr. Lawrence his favorite scrambled eggs and English muffins. They take an extra fifteen minutes to eat together before rushing to the office.
  •  Mrs. Lawrence has to drive her son Danny to swim team practice every Monday and Wednesday. Because it is a 45-minute drive to the pool, Mrs. Lawrence takes this opportunity twice a week to learn about Danny's life. How is school going? What was the best part? What was the worst? What’s going on with his band? His friends? On longer drives when there's traffic, they play word games and make up stories together. Instead of dreading these car trips, both mother and son look forward to their time together. 
  •  Mr. Lawrence works late every night, and sometimes doesn’t get to see his youngest child, Winnie, all day. They miss each other, so he takes her out to the movies every Sunday afternoon – she gets to pick the movie, he gets to pick the place they get ice cream afterwards (to discuss the movie’s relative merit and her elementary school’s social scene). When they want to save money, they rent a movie and watch it together in the living room. 

Rituals can help us to process our feelings as we move through life’s transitions, and to stay connected despite our conflicts:

When you have a fight with your partner or your child, do you walk away from each other and stew in separate corners of the house? Remember to Turn Towards each other. Rituals of affection begin a repair process. A hug and a kiss before bed or before leaving each other for work leaves the two of you feeling that your relationship is much more important to you than the issue at hand. Additionally, as your children grow older, having lasting rituals and traditions are essential for maintaining emotional connection and closeness. 

We hope that these examples, along with our last post, have helped to give you insight and inspiration to create shared meaning in your family. Talk these ideas over with your partner, and decide how to develop and maintain rituals of connection with your children. Look forward to Friday’s Weekend Homework Assignment in Creating Shared Meaning!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Create Shared Meaning: Examining Your Rituals

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we are excited to introduce the final level in The Sound Relationship House Series: Create Shared Meaning.

If you and your partner adhere to the first six principles, there's a good chance that your relationship is stable and happy. But if you find yourself asking, "Is that all there is," what may be missing is a deeper sense of shared meaning. Relationships aren't just about date nights, weekend getaways, and making love. They can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together - a culture rich with symbols and rituals and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you. It is then that you will begin to understand what it means to be part of the union you have become. 

By their nature, Make Life Dreams Come True and Create Shared Meaning are inextricably linked. In fact, one of the best ways to create shared meaning is to talk about each other’s dreams which, as we discussed last week, are often deeply connected to your pasts. Another way to create shared meaning is to create traditions and rituals for your life together as a couple. Start by talking to each other about the kinds of traditions and rituals that you each had when you were growing up. What are your best and worst memories? What would have made them better? What are these rituals like for you today? What do they mean or symbolize to you? How would you like them to be now? Share each of your past experiences with these traditions and create special ones of your own - for this year, and for the many years to come!

Take the time to do the exercise below together, and talk about the rituals that are most important to you. Discovering what kinds of rituals the two of you would like to introduce or continue in your relationship will help you in many ways: to feel the comfort and trust that comes from relying on regular routines, on turning towards each other, building stronger bonds, and inevitably deepening your emotional connection! The more shared meaning you can find, the deeper, richer, and more rewarding your relationship will be.

Exercise: Examining Your Rituals
  • Waking up, waking one another up
  • Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, &/or coffee together
  • Bedtime
  • Leaving one another
  • Reuniting
  • Handling finances
  • Hosting others at home
  • Athletics, exercise
  • Celebrations (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.)
  • Taking care of each other when sick
  • Renewing your spirit
  • Taking vacations, getaways, traveling
  • Recreation, games, play
  • Dates and romantic evenings
  • Attending or participating in sporting events
  • Watching television
  • Going out to the movies
  • Going to concerts, plays, cultural events
  • Going dancing
  • Running errands, doing chores
  • Participating in community events
  • Doing charity work
  • Doing schoolwork
  • Soothing other people’s feelings
  • Apologizing or repairing feelings after an argument
  • Religious services, festivals, holidays
  • Common hobbies
  • Making art

When you discuss the rituals of connection in your relationship, make sure that you and your partner both have the time and energy for it. Remember that this exercise is meant to be an ongoing conversation and not to be completed all at once! Look forward to Wednesday’s posting on creating rituals for your whole family to enjoy.

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, January 25, 2013

Make Life Dreams Come True: Trusting Each Other

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to end our discussion of Dreams Within Conflict by sharing Dr. Gottman’s words on trusting our process and offering support to each other:

“This strategy of discussing dreams when you encounter conflict does not come easily to many people. Perhaps that’s because we’re taught to stick to a narrow field of absolute facts when faced with opposition. If you believe there’s got to be a winner and a loser in every conflict, then you try to make your argument as objective and highly accurate as possible: otherwise you’ll be proven wrong. We lose a lot with this narrow approach –
namely our ability to find shared meaning and connect emotionally. But once we broaden the landscape of our discussion to include dreams and hopes, we can see where our visions merge! We can find room for compromise.” 

We share these words because discussing dreams within conflict is really very difficult. To talk about such deeply felt, meaningful, and personal things is to make oneself vulnerable. That’s scary. We know that’s scary. But though the proposition may feel high risk, it can also offer high gain… and you won’t have to take the chances alone, or depend on your wits! Today we offer you a few suggestions for showing honor, support, and respect for each other’s dreams when you have a conversation:

  • Ask questions about the dream. One of our favorites is “What’s the story behind that?” Dreams usually have a history or a narrative behind them – they often come from your partner’s past.
  • Offer empathy. You don’t have to be ecstatic about this dream, but it may be helpful to express: “I understand why that is important to you.”
  • Offer emotional support and validation. Even if you can’t directly help them to achieve their dreams, communicate: “I am behind you 100%”
  • Participate in the other’s dream – read about the issue, help to make plans, offer advice if it is desired.
  • Give support – child-care, transportation, whatever you feel able to offer.
  • Join the dream on a trial basis – if it works well, consider joining it entirely – make it a part of your own vision

Understanding the basis of each other’s dreams, each other’s most deeply felt hopes and desires for the future is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have in a relationship. But it can’t happen overnight: to open up to each other requires trust, real trust. Building trust, and feeling your partner begin to trust you, will bring you to a place in which this kind of connection is possible. And when you find this connection, your bond will naturally become stronger. The two of you will grow closer than ever, building your friendship, your intimacy, and your romance. Keep these things in mind as you encounter opportunities to try this approach with your partner.

Have a great weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Make Life Dreams Come True: Self-Discovery

Perpetual gridlocked problems between you and your partner often conceal underlying feelings and dreams that aren’t getting communicated. Your initial focus when discussing these conflicts shouldn’t be in solving the problem right away, but rather first to move from gridlock to dialogue by understanding your partner’s position in depth. Expanding on Monday's discussion of dreams within conflict, today we want you and your partner to discuss a perpetual gridlocked problem that exists in your relationship while following our guidelines to find the dreams behind it.

One person will be the Speaker and the other the Listener for 15 minutes, then you will change roles.

Speaker’s Job:

Your task as the speaker is to honestly talk about your feelings and beliefs about your position on this problem. Explore what this position means to you and what dream might be behind your position. Tell the story of the source of this dream or belief, including where it comes from and what it symbolizes to you. You must be clear and honest. What do you really want here? Why is it important to you? Try to make your partner understand what you feel, rather than persuade your partner to feel the same way. 

Sample Dreams for the Speaker:
  • A sense of freedom
  • Building something important
  • Ending a chapter of my life
  • Unity with my past
  • Knowing my family
  • Becoming all I can be
  • Having a sense of power
  • Dealing with my aging
  • Getting over past hurts
  • Exploring who I am
  • Travel
  • Getting my priorities in order

Listener’s Job:

Your job as the listener is to make your partner feel safe enough to tell you what’s behind their position on the problem. Listen in the way that a friend would listen, and ask questions that draw out your partner and their point of view. Suspend judgment and let your partner know that you just want to hear their story and their dream behind it.

Sample Questions for the Listener:
  • What do you believe about this problem? 
  • What do you feel about it? 
  • Does this relate to your history or childhood in some way? 
  • Tell me why this is so important to you. 
  • What do you need? 
  • What would be your ideal dream here? 
  • What are you afraid would happen if this dream was not honored? 
  • Is there a deeper purpose or goal in this for you? 

It is important to listen and remember your partner’s dreams and life goals, because if you don't reach a mutual understanding, you could very easily crush your partner's dreams in the process of pursuing your own. Your relationship should be about supporting one another’s dreams and aspirations. When it comes to conflict, and the motivations behind them, most importantly you want to be your partner’s friend and the biggest supporter of their life goals - even if it means making a few personal sacrifies along the way. 

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, January 21, 2013

Make Life Dreams Come True: Dreams Within Conflict

The last two levels of The Sound Relationship House (which we will be covering this week and next!) are inextricably linked. In the interest of avoiding great confusion, we want to clarify that Make Life Dreams Come True and Create Shared Meaning often overlap. Working together to make each other’s life dreams come true often involves creating shared meaning, and creating shared meaning can be achieved through identifying and pursuing your and your partner’s dreams.  Today, we will begin by discussing how to uncover dreams that are hidden within conflict in your relationship.

Dr. Gottman’s research has helped him to discover something counter-intuitive: many of the seemingly pointless and frustrating issues that you find yourself constantly arguing about with your partner are anything but insignificant. In truth, they are rooted in your deepest and most meaningful dreams, hopes, and desires for your own life, as well as the life that you share together.

If the two of you feel that one another’s positions on these recurring problems are irrational, unreasonable, unnecessarily inflexible, or completely incomprehensible, you are likely to feel betrayed, disrespected, hurt, isolated, or generally detached from each other.  According to Dr. Gottman, getting trapped in gridlock often forces your experience of a conflict discussion through the following five stages:

1. Your dreams stand in opposition
2. Entrenchment of your opposing positions
3. Increased fears of accepting influence from your partner
4. Vilification ( Four Horsemen)
5. Emotional disengagement from each other

All couples have areas in which they are faced with perpetual conflict. Understanding what lies beneath it will help you to end what has likely felt like an endlessly mystifying and increasingly painful and negative series of conversations. It will also help you to understand your partner. In Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman goes into far more depth on this topic (as well as many others!), sharing a number of examples that you can use in your own relationship conflicts to identify both your own and your partner’s dreams and avoid the confusion and misery that gridlocked conversations bring into your life. Here is one such example:

Potential Conflict:

Husband: My wife is constantly trying to persuade me to accompany her to parties, to go out dancing, try new restaurants and bars, travel, go camping, hike. She’s driving me nuts. It’s crazy. I can’t live this way.

Wife: My husband’s lifestyle is stifling me. He just wants to stay in and watch movies. I can barely get him off the couch. He doesn’t understand life. He doesn’t know how to live! I’m living in a cage! I want to be free.

Possible dreams within the conflict:

Husband: My parents were in the military and we moved around a lot. I’ve never been able to have any sense of stability. I’ve never been able to relax. I’ve always been whisked about, from one town to another, living in what I guess must have been a permanent state of anxiety. Now that we’ve settled down in the city, and have steady jobs and a really good life, I feel so lucky… all I want to do is cuddle up in the living room with a book, make breakfast together, walk around our beautiful neighborhood, talk about anything and everything deep into the night with the woman I love.

Wife: I was raised in an incredibly stifling home. My parents worked all the time, and my siblings and I had to invent games to keep ourselves from drowning in boredom. We were lonely and isolated, and not allowed to go out and see our friends or play with the neighbors very often. When I got into high school, I finally had an escape. I got a car, had a boyfriend, we would go out to the one club in our small town at night and camp in the woods with our friends. It was wonderful. Now that I live in a big city, I want to live life the way I’ve always wanted.

Once you have identified the dreams that underlie the areas of conflict for each of you, your previously gridlocked conversation about the subject of disagreement can change radically. We hope that this example illustrates the idea of becoming a "Dream Detective," a skill that is incredibly powerful for resolving gridlock with your partner. 

For more examples and exercises of this nature, check out Dr. Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work! On Wednesday, we will share an exercise that will help you and your partner to identify your own dreams within conflict, and give you some tools for sharing these dreams with each other – we hope that our posts this week will help you and your partner to understand your conflicts better, and to learn about each other in the process.
All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, January 18, 2013

Manage Conflict: Moving Forward

All couples face times of conflict in their relationship. With that said, it may come as a relief to hear the following: our research shows that the existence of conflict is not an omen portending the end of your relationship! Some negativity is necessary for a stable relationship, but positivity is what nourishes your love (see the 5:1 ratio). The real predictor of a relationship’s failure in times of conflict is a couple’s inability to manage conflict in a healthy manner, and to move forward from conflict having addressed the source of their gridlock.

In sum, couples need to understand the fights that they’ve just had. To move forward following an argument, begin by asking yourself the following questions:

How did I get into this muddle in the first place?
Why didn’t our conversation go well?
What is the meaning of the issue between my partner and I?
What are the sources of our gridlock on this subject?

Most importantly, ask yourself: “What was the conversation we needed to have, but didn’t?”

The ultimate goal in the aftermath of a fight is to have dialogue about the underlying issues that started it. Miscommunication, or a lack thereof, can cause further unnecessary conflict. Relationship conflict should be seen as an opportunity to work together and grow as a couple.

As you work to understand the dreams, hopes, and aspirations that lie beneath your conflict, you deepen your understanding of each other, and grow closer than ever. Practicing Turning Towards, investing in your Emotional Bank Account, and building your Love Maps are not only tools that you can use to strengthen your relationship, but utilizing these skills to manage conflict is critical to maintaining a healthy, happy, and loving relationship.

Here is Dr. Gottman on Anderson Cooper, summarizing “How to Fight Right”:

Next week, we bring you the next level of The Sound Relationship House, Make Life Dreams Come True.

Have a wonderful weekend!
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Manage Conflict: Triggers

Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue Monday’s discussion of processing fights and regrettable incidents with some tips on how to identify and understand what triggers you and your partner. Working on understanding each other’s triggers is one of the most important things that you can do to avoid hurting one another. Next time you are processing a fight or a regrettable incident, try the following:

Identify the triggers for each of you: What escalated the interaction?

Put in your own words what escalated the interaction for you. These are often old and familiar feelings. Here are some common examples:

What triggered me?

I felt excluded
I felt powerless
I felt not listened to
I felt scolded
I felt judged
I felt blamed
I felt disrespected
I felt no affection
I felt unsafe
I felt uncared for
I felt lonely
You weren’t there for me when I was vulnerable and needed you
I couldn’t just talk about my feelings without you going ballistic
Once again I was the bad guy and you were innocent
I was not getting taken care of very well
This felt so unfair to me
I had trouble with your anger or yelling
I had trouble with your sadness or despair
I felt trapped
I felt like you had no passion for me
I couldn’t ask you for what I needed
I felt unloved
I felt controlled
I felt manipulated

Understand Why These Are Triggers.

  • Rewind the story of your life in your mind. Stop at an incident you remember from your childhood or your past in general (not in this relationship) in which you got triggered in the same way or had some of these very same feelings.
  • Tell the story of that incident, how it happened, what you felt. Listen to your partner’s story with empathy.

Overall, What Was Your Contribution to the Fight?

Figure Out How To Make It Better Next Time.
  • What is one way that your partner can make it better next time this kind of incident happens?
  • What is one way that you can make it better next time.

We fully understand that these questions are not easy to answer. They require a great deal of introspection and emotional energy. To figure out what is happening within yourself is difficult, and explaining what may be deeply personal experiences to your partner may make you feel scared and vulnerable. We all experience these emotions. But keep in mind that the preceding exercise can be of great benefit to your relationship.

When you and your partner consider these questions, when you connect the feelings that come up for you in the present with your experiences in the past, you gain insight. You start to understand what’s really going on in each other's mind. This understanding is invaluable as you grow in your relationship together. As you learn the stories behind your partner’s triggers, you begin to understand where they are coming from – their sudden attacking or defensive behaviors in conflict start to make complete sense! 

With this knowledge, you can identify which behaviors to avoid, so that the two of you don’t accidentally set each other off. If you use these tools to help you process fights, you will not only learn to have more constructive conversations when conflicts come up, but you will learn more about each other, and grow closer than ever. On Friday, look forward to a Weekend Homework Assignment on Moving Forward!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Manage Conflict: The Aftermath Of A Fight

Before we continue on with The Sound Relationship House Series and move to Make Life Dreams Come True, the level above Manage Conflict, we want to spend some time this week discussing what to do in the aftermath of a fight or regrettable incident. If you would like to recap our 6 Skills of Conflict Management mini-series, you can do so now:
  1. Soften Startup
  2. Accept Influence
  3. Make Effective Repairs During Conflict
  4. De-escalate
  5. Psychological Soothing of Self and Partner
  6. Compromise
When one or both partners are left feeling hurt, frustrated, or angry after a fight, wouldn’t it be nice if you could just hit a restart button? Unfortunately, you can’t erase an argument from your memory, but you can take steps to repair and move forward. Arguments happen, and often enough we say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing, and end up hurting one another. One of the most important tools for building a healthy relationship is knowing how to process a fight in a way that helps you learn from it. 

The key in processing a fight is to first talk about what happened to understand what went wrong, how you each were feeling, and what could have prevented the combative discussion from ending in such in a negative way. If these steps are taken, you may emerge from what was initially an incredibly stressful interaction with new knowledge of your partner, and a new understanding of how to make your relationship work better in the future!

In the aftermath of a fight or regrettable incident, you can use the following format to increase understanding between you and your partner. It is crucial for you to understand that in any given argument there is no absolute “reality” as to what happened. There are always two “subjective realities” or perspectives. It is never a matter of who is right and who is wrong, but how the two of you can come to understand each other, accept responsibility, and find your points of compromise so that you can move forward together.

Processing a fight means talking about what happened without jumping back into the argument. Focus on finding ways to understand why the conversation was so unproductive as well as how to make this type of interaction better in the future. Try to make it your job to understand your partner’s reality and not to argue for your own perspective.

Step 1: Each Partner has a Turn to Talk About What They Were Feeling
I Felt...

Not listened to
My feelings got hurt
Totally flooded
That my complaint was taken personally
Out of control
Righteously indignant
Unfairly picked on
Like leaving
Overwhelmed with emotion

Step 2: Discuss and Validate Both Subjective Realties
Take turns to talk about how you each saw the situation, remember that neither of your perspectives are “wrong!” Focus on each of your feelings and needs. It is crucial that you validate your partner’s experience and communicate that you understand at least some of his or her perspective. As we said in our blog entries last week, Dr. Gottman's research has demonstrated that you can only be influential if you accept influence.

Step 3: Accept Responsibility - What Role Did You Play in this Fight?

What Set Me Up...

I’ve been very stressed and irritable lately
I’ve taken you for granted
I’ve been overly sensitive lately
I’ve been overly critical lately
I haven't shared very much of my inner world
I haven't been emotionally available
I’ve been depressed lately
I haven't asked for what I needed
I haven’t felt very much confidence in myself
I’ve been running on empty
I’ve needed to be alone

We cannot always prevent ourselves from making mistakes or saying things that we shouldn't have, but we always have the ability to go back and make attempts to repair the situation. When couples make a habit of engaging in destructive arguments without processing or trying to understand their partner's side of things, the conflicts build on each other until they become unmanageable and overwhelming. Don't let a regrettable incident grow into an unnecessary catastrophe! When you make repair attempts early, you can salvage the point of the conversation and create a more productive and positive outcome. Look forward to Wednesday on The Gottman Relationship Blog - we will discuss triggers in processing fights and regrettable incidents.

Have a great week, 
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Friday, January 11, 2013

Weekend Homework Assignment: Compromise

Today marks the end of our mini-series on Dr. Gottman's 6 Skills of Conflict Management! We hope that our postings on the subject have proven helpful to you, and that you have had the chance to work through some of the activities that we have offered on each skill. In today's posting, we offer you a Weekend Homework Assignment on Compromise.

Many couples fail to compromise on issues because they go about trying to compromise in the wrong way. Negotiation is possible only when you use a softened startup, keep calm, and repair your conflict discussions effectively. 

For a compromise to work, you cannot have a closed mind to your spouse’s opinions and desires. You do not have to agree with everything your partner says or believes, but you have to be open to his or her position. That is what accepting your partner’s influence is all about. If you find yourself sitting with your arms folded and shaking your head when your partner is trying to talk about a problem with you, your discussion will never get anywhere.

Once you’re ready to accept influence, finding a solution you both can live with is not complicated. Often compromise is just a matter of talking out your differences and preferences in a systematic way. This is not difficult to do as long as you prevent your discussion from becoming overwhelmingly negative. 

The Gottman Island Survival Game:

Imagine that your cruise ship just sank in the Caribbean and you awaken to find yourselves on a tropical desert island. Gilligan and Ginger are nowhere in sight - the two of you are the only survivors. You have no idea where you are. A storm appears to be on the way. You decide that you need to prepare to survive on this island for some time and also to make sure you will be spotted by a rescue party. There are a lot of items from the ship on the beach that could help you, but you can only carry ten items.

STEP 1: Each of you writes down on a separate piece of paper what you consider to be the ten most important items to keep from the inventory list below. Then rank-order these items based on their importance to you. Give the most crucial item a 1, the next most important item a 2, and so on. 

Ship’s Inventory:
  • Two changes of clothing
  • AM-FM and short-wave radio receiver
  • Ten gallons of water 
  • Pots and pans
  • Matches
  • Shovel
  • Backpack
  • Toilet paper
  • Two tents
  • Two sleeping bags
  • Knife
  • Small life raft, with sail
  • Sunblock lotion
  • Cookstove and lantern
  • Long rope
  • Two walkie-talkie sender-receiver units
  • Freeze-dried food for seven days
  • One change of clothing
  • One fifth of whiskey
  • Flares
  • Compass
  • Regional aerial maps
  • Gun with six bullets
  • Fifty packages of condoms
  • First-aid kit with penicillin
  • Oxygen tanks

STEP 2: Share your list with your partner. Together come up with a consensus list of ten items. This means talking it over and working as a team to solve the problem. Both of you need to be influential in discussing your viewpoint and in making the final decisions.

STEP 3: Once you have compromised on a third list, it’s time to evaluate how the game went. Think about how effective you were at influencing your partner and how effective they were at influencing you. Did either of you try to dominate the other, or were you competitive with each other? Ask yourself if you had fun. Did you work well as a team and both felt included or did you sulk, withdrawal, express irritability, and anger? Acknowledge any problem areas and agree to work together on these issues with your partner. Changing bad habits does not happen overnight, but you can move forward if you take responsibility for the part you play in marital troubles caused by issues of compromise.

Look forward to next week on The Relationship Blog, as we continue The Sound Relationship House Series with a discussion of the Gottman Method as it applies to processing fights and overcoming regrettable incidents.

Have a great weekend,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Manage Conflict: The Art of Compromise

We’ve all been in the middle of an argument that we know we cannot win, understanding that our frustration has overwhelmed all sense of perspective. Spent and shattered, we would do well to remember the old saying: "It is better to bend than to break!" And this is just what Dr. Gottman’s countless research studies have shown.

When you are caught in the heat of an argument, you are in a state of crisis, which is defined as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger” from the Greek krisis. In times where you experience crisis, what you yearn for most of all is to feel safe. If you do not feel safe (emotionally or physically), there is no way for you to reach a state of compromise with your partner.
Dr. Gottman’s further findings may not seem so intuitive: If your goal is to reach a state of compromise, you must first focus on yourself. Define your core needs in the area of your problems, do not relinquish anything that you feel is absolutely essential, and understand that you must be willing to accept influence. His advice, based on years of research, is the following: Remember, you can only be influential if you accept influence. Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something… the important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored in your dreams.

If you feel like this is an incredibly tall order, you are not alone. Luckily, the following exercise may be of comfort. Featured in the Couples Workshop that Dr. Gottman leads with his wife and collaborator, Dr. Julie Gottman, this exercise will help you and your partner to make headway into the perpetually gridlocked problems you face in your relationship. We hope that it will provide welcome relief in this critical first step towards easing the many stresses of conflict:


Step 1: Consider an area of conflict in which you and your partner have been stuck in perpetual gridlock. Draw two ovals, one within the other. The one on the inside is your Inflexible Area, and the one on the outside is your Flexible Area.

Step 2: Think of the inside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values you absolutely cannot compromise on, and the outside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values that you feel more flexible with in this area. Make two lists.

Step 3: Discuss the following questions with your partner, in the way that feels most comfortable and natural for the two of you:

  • Can you help me to understand why your “inflexible” needs or values are so important to you? 
  • What are your guiding feelings here?
  • What feelings and goals do we have in common? How might these goals be accomplished?
  • Help me to understand your flexible areas. Let’s see which ones we have in common.
  • How can I help you to meet your core needs?
  • What temporary compromise can we reach on this problem?

Designed as an activity for the two of you, this exercise should not be approached in the midst of a stressful discussion. It will be most helpful if undertaken in peacetime, perhaps in the evening or on a weekend. It should take you and your partner approximately thirty minutes. Remember, this activity is not a magical pill that the two of you can pop, causing your problems to disappear forever! It is the beginning of a series of what will likely prove to be long, honest, fruitful, and fulfilling discussions. 

If this all still feels intimidating, don't be discouraged. It probably means that this is important to you. And that is your greatest power - motivation to overcome these very real difficulties. In the words of Virginia Woolf, “You cannot find peace by avoiding life.” The differences between us all are very real.

Remember, those of us who love someone have a real gift – having seen the unique beauty of the one we love, in all of its strengths and weaknesses, complexities and depths, we share the will to build bridges between our souls.

We hope that the exercises we have shown you in the last couple of weeks will help you and your partner in building these bridges. This Friday, look forward to our last entry in the 6 Skills of Managing Conflict!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Staff

Monday, January 7, 2013

Quiz: What Is the State of Compromise in your Relationship?

This week on the Gottman Relationship Blog, we will be wrapping up our coverage of Dr. Gottman's 6 Skills of Conflict Management with a discussion of the final skill: Compromise. To give you a sense of the state of compromise in your relationship, we would like to share the following questionnaire designed by Dr. Gottman. Review the following 20 statements, marking each one True or False:

  1. Our decisions often get made by both of us compromising (T/F)
  2. We are usually good at resolving our differences (T/F)
  3. I can give in when I need to, and often do. (T/F)
  4. I can be stubborn in an argument, but I’m not opposed to compromising (T/F)
  5. I think that sharing power in a relationship is very important (T/F)
  6. My partner is not a very stubborn person (T/F)
  7. I don’t believe that one person is right and the other wrong on most issues (T/F)
  8. We both believe in meeting each other half way when we disagree (T/F)
  9. I am able to yield somewhat even when I feel strongly on an issue (T/F)
  10. The two of us usually arrive at a better decision through give-and-take (T/F)
  11. It’s a good idea to give in somewhat, in my view (T/F)
  12. In discussing issues, we can usually find our common ground of agreement (T/F)
  13. Everyone gets some of what they want when there’s a compromise (T/F)
  14. My partner can give in, and often does (T/F)
  15. I don’t wait until my partner gives in before I do (T/F)
  16. When I give in first, my partner then gives in too (T/F)
  17. Yielding power is not very difficult for my partner (T/F)
  18. Yielding power is not very difficult for me (T/F)
  19. Give-and-take in making decisions is not a problem in this relationship (T/F)
  20. I will compromise even when I believe I am right (T/F)

Now, check your score! If more than half of your responses were False (10+), you’ve got some work to do on compromise in your relationship. If less than half of your responses were False, you’ve still got some work to do on compromise in your relationship! Trick question. You can always work on compromising with your partner. This questionnaire is simply meant to give you an idea of the state of affairs between yourself and your partner in this area at the present moment. 

Compromise is difficult for all of us, and it is something that we struggle with on a daily basis. In our relationships, our ability to compromise with the other is in constant flux. Compromise is further complicated by the beastly situations in which we must compromise with ourselves first! But building skills that improve your ability to be successful in compromise will put you ahead of the game, not only in your romantic relationships, but in all of the others you have throughout your life.

This week, we would like to teach you a few of these skills by taking you through a brief overview of Dr. Gottman’s research-based tips on the art of compromise. Look forward to a step-by-step lesson on our method for reaching compromise in our next blog on Wednesday, and an exercise that you can use to practice your new skills on Friday!

All for now,
Ellie Lisitsa
TGI Blog