4 Things to Do to Prevent Conflict in Romantic Relationships
John Gottman defines a gridlock issue as a conflict where a couple argues about the same issue frequently. For Gottman, these are the conversations where maintaining a dialogue is often challenging and a conversation can easily turn into an argument. Negative emotions such as anger, resentment or betrayal can easily be escalated, and the couple may feel stuck in proving who is right or wrong.
In every dialogue, there is a speaker and a listener. The speaker’s role is to represent their own point of view about a gridlock issue without describing their partner’s point of view. The listener’s role is to postpone speaking about their own position on the issue until it is their turn to be a speaker. The listener’s job is to ask the speaker particular questions, such as “Why is this so important to you?”, or “Is there any story behind this for you?”.
- Do Not Try to Solve the Issue
You may want to solve the issue or fix the problem immediately after the speaker shares a problem. We all have a “righting reflex”, and this reflex automatically puts you in a problem-solving mood during a conversation. When you hear your partner is bringing up an issue, the first thought that comes to your mind is probably “What can I do?” or, “What do you want from me?”. But understanding must precede solving anything. Try to understand each other’s world regarding the issue. Listen to the speaker empathetically and try not to offer solutions unless your partner is asking you. Postpone the problem solving until you listen to your partner and understand their inner world. When you are not sure what to say without offering a suggestion, try to ask these questions: “What are you worried about?”, or “How does it make you feel?”.
- Listen the Speaker with Curiosity
Curiosity does not kill the cat. It keeps it alive. It is easier to listen to your partner when you are in a mood for what we call, “what-is-this”. If you can manage to keep yourself in this what-is-this mode, the conversation will not escalate and there will not be any blaming or attacking. However, the opposite of this mode is “what-the-hell-is-this”. Once you are in a what-the-hell-is-this mode, you are no longer curious about learning the speaker’s inner world. You are criticizing, judging, and possibly blaming your partner.
- Express a Positive Need
Try to tell your partner what you need from them, as opposed to what you do not need from them. Keep in mind that expressing a need is never being needy. Sharing your expectations from your partner will provide clarity for both of you. One way of stating your positive need is using I-statements: “I feel (an emotion word), and I need you to (do/say ___), would you please ___ ?”
What to say: “I feel anxious when I’m in the car, and I need you to do drive slower, would you please do this?”
What not to say: “You always drive fast. I need you to not to be so careless. Can you do that?”
- Self-Soothe When You are Flooded.
Your heartbeat is not constant. When you feel threatened, it will escalate. An escalated heartbeat may lead to an escalated conversation and eventually a conflict. When a dialogue turns into a gridlock, your heartbeat will speed up. You may want to leave the conversation or the room. When the escape is not possible, you may be physically and emotionally shot down and withdraw yourself from having a conversation. This is called flooding. When you are flooded, I suggest you engage in self-soothing activities, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. It is your responsibility to calm yourself down, not your partners. And the good news is that the tools are available to you to learn how to self-soothe.
If you and your partner are finding it challenging to move from a gridlock to a dialogue, I am here to give you the tools that you need to engage in effective communication. Contact us today.
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