Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work: Chapter 8

Chapter 8: Principle 5: Solve your solvable problems!

If a given disagreement is deemed solvable, then a couple has to try something different than unresolved arguments, screaming, yelling or angry silences. The classical advice of improving communication or suggestions of “try to put yourself in the others’ shoes” does not work, because some people cannot. Nevertheless, those are not the essential components of happy and loving marriages. Instead, 5 principle of problem resolution were found to key to happy marriages:

  1. Soften your startup- arguments tend to end up in the same tonality that they start! Also, couples tend to divorce more because of distancing to avoid the fights then the actual fights. Women tend to be the ones with more harsh start-ups as they tend to be the ones who try to bring up and resolve issues, while men tend to avoid the arguments as their body reacts stronger than women to stress. Therefore, it is important to phrase the way you start your disagreement in a soft way. i.e. instead of saying “what’s wrong with you? You never take the garbage out!”, you can say “I am sometimes so tired when I get home from work, can you please help me with the garbage?”. There is a questionnaire on page 162 in Gottman’s book which tries to assess whether harsh startups is an issue for a couple. This questionnaire based on how the partner hears the requests of the other partner. Exercise 1: soften startup: gives a harsh startup and the person is supposed to give a softer alternative. Suggestions on how to have soft-startups:
    1. Complain – but don’t blame
    2. Make statements which start with “I” instead of “you” – i.e. speak of what the situation does to you, not what the other does. i.e. “you are reckless with money” sounds worse and more blaming than “I would like to save more”. “I think you are a bitch” does not count, as the sentence starts with an “I” but defeats the purpose of getting to the underlying point in a palpable way.
    3. Describe what is happening, do not judge or evaluate
    4. Be clear – your partner is not a mind-reader – i.e. “please change the baby’s bottle and diaper” instead of “would you care for the baby for once”.
    5. Be appreciative- i.e. ground request in previously successful/correct action of the partner.
    6. Don’t store things [negative emotions] up! – it will escalate in your mind.
  2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts: good for when noticing that the discussion will end up the wrong way. The essence is that the repair attempts gets through to the other partner – not that the repair attempt is “elegant” repair attempts questionnaire: on page 170 – tries to assess the effectiveness of repair attempts in your own relationship. Repair attempts could be missed if not sugarcoated. One should focus on “brake” attempts at the negativity-escalating situation. Humor is helpful as well as “announcing an upcoming repair attempt. Identifying potent repair statements is like megaphones to the repair attempts. Repair statements could be:
    1. I feel:
      1. I am getting scared
      2. Please say that more gently
      3. Did I do something wrong?
      4. That hurt my feelings
      5. I am feeling sad
      6. That felt like an insult
      7. I am feeling defensive– can you rephrase that?
      8. I feel criticized – can you rephrase that?
      9. Etc.
    2. I need to calm down
      1. Can you make things safer for me?
      2. I need things to be calmer right now
      3. Tell me you love me\can I take that back?
      4. I need your support
      5. Just try to listen to me and try to understand
      6. Please be gentler with me
      7. Please help me calm down
      8. This is important to me, please listen
      9. Can we take a break
      10. I am starting to feel flooded
      11. I need to finish what I was saying
      12. Etc.
    3. Sorry
      1. My reaction was too extreme. Sorry.
      2. I really blew that one
      3. Let me try again
      4. I want to be gentler to you right now but do not know how.
      5. Tell me what you hear me saying
      6. I can see my part in all of this
      7. How can I make things better
      8. Let me try this over again
      9. What you are saying is….
      10. Let me try again in a softer way
      11. I am sorry. Please forgive me
    4. Get to
      1. You are starting to convince me
      2. I agree with part of what you are saying
      3. Let’s compromise here
      4. Let’s find our common ground
      5. The problem is not very serious in the big picture
      6. Lets agree to include both of our view in a solution
      7. I think your point of view makes sense
      8. I never thought of it this way
      9. I see what you are talking about
      10. One thing I admire you about is:
      11. I am thankful for…
    5. Stop action
      1. I might be wrong here
      2. Please, let’s stop for a while
      3. Let’s take a break
      4. Give me a moment here. I’ll be back
      5. Please stop.
      6. I feel flooded
      7. Let’s start over again
      8. Hang in there –don’t withdraw
    6. I appreciate
      1. I know it is not your fault
      2. My part of the problem is
      3. I see your point
      4. Thank you for
      5. I am thankful for
      6. That’s a good point
      7. We’re both saying
      8. I understand
      9. I love you
      10. One thing I admire about you is
      11. This is not your problem – it is our problem
  3. Soothe yourself and each other –some couples can self-soothe as part of a discussion. Others cannot as they flood fast, and thus repair attempts are missed. A flooding questionnaire is offered on page 177. Self-soothing exercise is found on page 178. i.e. take some time to unwind after a workday or within a couple conflict –i.e. calming activities, such as lying down, slow breathing, yoga, etc… when a person is flooded, discussion has to stop, before he stonewalls! When a person’s heart-rate reaches 100bpm, he’ll be unable to hear anything the other says – give him a break then (i.e. 20 minutes)! Taking a break in a fight will help the people calm down enough to now withdraw completely. Exercise on soothing each other is found on p. 180: i.e. reverse the conditioning of seeing the partner as a source of flooding agency. To this end, the couple need to first discuss:
    1. What floods each person
    2. How issues or irritability are brought up
    3. Does anyone store up things
    4. Is there anything I can do to soothe you
    5. Is there anything that you can do to soothe me
    6. What signals can we use to let other know that we’re flooded? Can we take a break?
  4. Compromise: negotiation is nice. But it only workers if there is a softening startup, repairing your discussion and staying calm (the above three steps). Also, one cannot be closed to, or disagree with everything that the spouse says. Men tend to have a harder time accepting influence of their partners than vice-versa. Exercise (182) finding common grounds (i.e. making circle inside another one – putting non-negotiable things inside, and negotiable things outside, and then starting to negotiate using this info. Exercise (p.184) make a paper tower together –but work on agreeing to each others’ plans and ideas). In the first exercise, the the couple must ask:
    1. What do we agree about
    2. What are our common feelings or the most important feelings here
    3. What common goal scan we have here
    4. How do we think that these goals should be accomplished.

==> Be tolerant of each others’ faults - you cannot change your partner. If if you think so, then compromise cannot happen! <==

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