By Dean Wisdom
Over the next four weeks we will be looking at what couples can do to move past gridlock. The series includes:
Part 1 Listening and Validating
Part 2 Essential Skills to Work Through Conflict
Part 3 Your Dreams and Their Dreams
Part 4 After a Hurtful Experience
(This information was adapted from Dr. John M. Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman, Bridging the Couple Chasm, 2000-2011).
Part 1: Listening and Validating
Stuck in a conflict with your spouse or significant other? Try this instead: “I feel ____________” (About what). “I need ___________. ”
If you find yourself saying something like “I feel like you ____” Turn it around from your partner and focus on your feelings. For example, “I feel lonely in the evening when we both just do our own thing.” This puts the attention on your feelings and prevents your partner from feeling attacked. This is more helpful than saying, “I hate that you just watch football all the time,” which can make the other person defensive. Follow up with a specific need like, “I feel lonely in the evening when we both just do our own thing, I need…
“…to hang out together – is there something we can watch together tonight?”
“…to have some down time with you. Let’s snuggle after we put the kids to bed.”
“…to know how things are going for you at work, tell me about it tonight at dinner.”
Are you listening to each other? You’ll know if you can re-state what they said about how they feel about something. Can your partner do the same? Validating is another important step – listening is commenting on the fact that you heard the facts. Validating is giving credit to the other person about their experience. It doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with the problem.
Listening and validating is hard at times especially when you feel like the other person is not doing it. Make it simple and start with yourself. Asking for their accountability will be easier once you are accountable first. But what if you tell your partner what you feel, about what, and what you need and you get rejected? What are the signs that you and your partner may need help in moving past gridlock?
The opposites of the listening, validating, and accountability may be signs you need to consider couples therapy. Rather than listening there is interruption, talking over each other, and heightened emotions. In place of validation is a lack of empathy and understanding for each other. The tender vulnerability is absent. Instead of personal accountability there is blame, minimization of each other’s feelings, or denial. These behaviors not only affect each person in the couple relationship but if the couple has children it affects them as well. Even when parents try to protect their children from these conflicts it is difficult to hide the emotionally tense climate this creates in the home. Couples who are able to listen to each other, validate one another, share their feelings, ask directly for what they need, and take accountability for their own actions put themselves in a better place to dialogue about the problems and conflicts in their relationship.
Next week, the essential skills needed to work through conflict. Please click here for more information about couples therapy.