The Sound Relationship House is a theory developed by Drs John and Julie Gottman, the world’s leading relationship psychologists.
The Sound Relationship House Theory is the Gottman Method’s foundation, which uses a practical approach to help couples break through barriers to achieve greater understanding, connection, and intimacy in their relationships. The Gottman Couples Method is at the core of Luxdates’ philosophy of a successful relationship.
In a series of articles, we introduce this concept to build a better relationship with your partner.
The article today is about the fifth floor of the Sound Relationship House: Managing Conflict
The article today is about the fifth floor of the Sound Relationship House: Managing Conflict.
In my line of work as a matchmaker, I talk to a lot of divorcees. I am interested in the reason for their divorce, so I walk with them through the relationship. From the first encounter, falling in love, highlights/lowlights of the relationship, and finally, the divorce.
How a couple manages conflict is decisive for the success and longevity of the relationship. Many people fear conflict and avoid it – yet avoiding conflict only breeds resentment, which results in stonewalling, the fourth of the Four Horsemen. Conflict is our chance to learn more about the other person and ourselves.
In their research, Dr Gottman and his team found out that there are two types possible result:
- Resolvable issues (31%)
- Unresolvable issues (69%)
You read that right. A whopping 69% of issues that couples are dealing with are unresolvable. While we cannot resolve them, we can manage them.
“…there is value, when choosing a long-term partner, in realizing that you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years.” Dan Wile, After the Honeymoon
So what can you do?
First, resolve your resolvable conflicts. “Resolvable Conflicts” are usually situational and specific (who takes out the trash, who walks the dog, how to spend the holidays with your in-laws, how to spend more quality time together, etc.) The fact that we can resolve them doesn’t mean that they’re easy. Later in the series, I shall go into detail about how to resolve resolvable conflicts. The first four levels of the Sound Relationship House help build a Positive Sentiment Override, which is the solid basis for conflict resolution.
Having “money” in the “relationship bank” helps, as it improves the relationship and builds trust and commitment (the two pillars of the Sound Relationship House). During non-conflict times, the couple is working on the previous levels of the house:
- Knowing each other’s inside worlds
- Showing fondness and admiration
- Turning toward each other instead of away
- Accepting influence from your spouse
Second, accept the fact that a lot of issues are perpetual. These issues usually have to do with the character, personality, values, and differences the couple experiences. They are things that are hard or almost impossible to change. They are simply the way people are.
To give you an example: I am a clumsy person; I often drop things, which makes a loud and sudden noise – this drives my husband crazy. I am also sometimes absent-minded and forget what he said, which makes him feel unheard. The absent-mindedness I can work on: I make an effort to close my laptop, put down my phone, etc. and give my husband my undivided attention (not always, but often), instead of saying “uh-uh”, I am putting together a complete sentence; the clumsiness I can control to some extent, but not always. It will never change; I have been like this since I was a child. So, instead of arguing about it, we have learned to live with it.
“In every good marriage, it helps to be a little deaf” Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Couples mustn’t get into “gridlock” on unresolvable issues: a state of painful impasse that usually involves the Four Horsemen. The three strategies below help the couple manage their unresolvable issues:
Accepting your partner’s influence
Value your partner’s feedback and consider their opinions when making a decision. Research shows that when men reject the woman’s influence, it’s a predictor for the relationship’s longitudinal course. There appears to be a correlation between a man accepting his wife’s influence and actively seeking common ground for agreement. “Actively seeking common ground” does not mean “compliance”. It means that a man stands firm on the things he cannot yield and yields on the other aspects of the problem – the ability to give and take.
If a woman rejects her husband’s influence, research has shown no predictive qualities on the relationship. Women accept their husband’s influence already at a fairly high level.
In emotionally intelligent relationships, couples can manage conflict if women use a soft start-up and men accept their influence.
Dialoguing about problems
Since we cannot resolve perpetual problems, a couple must establish a dialogue with their perpetual problem. The couple needs to make peace with their situation to a certain degree to feel good about this dialogue. They can view the problem at different angles and change their level of frustration with the problem to some degree. What’s important is that through this dialogue, the couple expresses acceptance of each other and the desire to improve this perpetual problem somewhat. They communicate amusement and affection. Without this dialogue, they will reach a state of gridlock, which leads to emotional disengagement.
Practice to self-soothe
Self-soothing means emotion regulation. It’s a skill that we learn very early in life; for instance, babies can self-soothe themselves (for example, sucking their thumbs) without their parents’ intervention. Of course, as adults, we don’t suck our thumbs any longer. Still, during our lifetimes, we may have developed different techniques to deal with stress. Focusing on breathing, going for a walk, listening to a specific song, or simply having a good cry: self-soothing diminishes our stress level and allows us to regain clarity.
During an argument, both partners experience stress. Depending on how the conflict develops, one or both can feel being “flooded”. Flooding is a psychological and physiological state in which the fight-or-flight mechanism kicks, and we can no longer think clearly.
Anger is okay, but once it reaches a certain point, we stop being able to have a productive discussion.
Learning to recognize the signs (raised heartbeat, tunnel vision, either/or thinking, tensed muscles, etc.) in yourself and your partner and calling for/accepting a time out (minimum 30 minutes) is essential. Calming ourselves down and allowing our partner to calm down is crucial to not reach a painful point in the argument. Otherwise, minor disagreements can quickly become screaming matches that leave both people feeling hurt instead of opportunities to improve the relationship.
A couple’s ability to manage conflict is one of the factors that separates relationship masters from disasters. Like any skill, it can be learned, practiced, and – with time – perfected. Adding a little humor (not at your partner’s expense!) always helps.