Chapter 5 -Principle 3: Turn towards each other and not away.
This principle is based on the idea of staying connected, and positively so.
Turning towards each other in small interactions builds romance and connection beyond the cushioning of stresses - it is the small and regular interactions of turning towards each other. It adds to the “emotional bank account” and allows for greater leeway during conflict.
Exercises for this principle:
- “Is your marriage primed for romance?” – Take this self-assessment to see the levels of romance/turning towards the partner.
- The emotional bank account: keeping track of what you did to improve your connectedness, and subtract things you did not do (not to be done in a tit-for-tat way!). A discussion between the partners can take place as to which tasks will help better the couple’s connectedness. A list of potential connectedness-oriented tasks is offered in this exercise.
- The stress reducing conversation: i.e. to ensure that other stressors do not spill over to the relationship. Active listening is done here, and only if you are not the target of the stress. The conversation is supposed to increase calm and not conflict. Scenarios are given in this exercise to practice for the couple’s real life situations. Elements of stress reducing conversations include:
- Take turns
- No unsolicited advice
- Show genuine interest
- Communicate your understanding
- Take your spouse’s side
- Take the ‘we against others’ attitude
- Express affection
- Validate emotions
- What to do when your spouse does not turn to you: When one is feeling rebuffed by the other, Your Last Argument questionnaire is filled out by both, as a basis for discussion. Questions include: what did you feel? What triggered it? Those recent feelings about marriage came from? What was my contribution to it? What can I do to make it better? One thing which my partner can do differently? Step 2 is to discuss where those feelings came from: “these recent feelings about my marriage came from (i.e. a previous relationship, the way I was treated in my family growing up, my basic fears and insecurities, unresolved things, unrealized hopes, old nightmares, etc). It is easy forget that the above things are not “hard facts” but rather subjective things. So too, it is easy to assume that distance/loneliness is your partner’s fault. One can only do this exercise once calmed/soothed (see exercise on p. 176 in the book). Then turn to the exercise of identifying your own state (p. 96: questions include: I have been depressed, stressed and irritable, not expressed enough appreciation to my spouse, not been affectionate enough, feeling like a martyr, etc…), and then answer the questions of : “overall, my contribution to this mess was:…, how can I make it better?.... what one thing could make my partner do next time to avoid this problem?
Those exercises will not forestall every argument, but will foster turning towards each other, and thus a deeper friendship, therefore shielding against conflict.