Friendship is based on the idea that we should truly know our partner just like two best friends would know one another. The Gottman's coined the extent to which we know our partner as the love map. Every single one of us possesses a love map. Knowing our partner means knowing their love map. Knowing our partner means understanding their likes and dislikes, knowing their background and their life goals, and knowing how they might react to a given situation. Understanding your partner is also about knowing their hobbies and interests, such as their favorite television shows, foods, or books. In this course, we will also take advantage of other tools that allow us to gain a better understanding of our partners. These include a personality test, such as the Myers-Briggs, which will allow each partner to gain insight and perspective on how their partner perceives the world.
You might be wondering how else you can work to build a love map with your partner. The first step to gaining a deeper understanding of your partner is to know and understand your partner as described in the above paragraph. You need to take extra steps to challenge yourself and ask if you are fully admiring your partner and expressing your gratitude for them. Do you do simple gestures like turning towards them when talking? Do you talk to them? Do you spend time together? Do you express a keen interest in their understanding and perspective on specific situations? Do you share similar values and beliefs with your partner, and do you treat them as if they are your best friend? If you can answer yes to these questions without hesitation, then you are on a very solid footing to continue building a strong love map with one another.
A Positive Lens
Just as a positive mindset on life can improve an individual's reactions to life, so can having an overall positive perspective. Research findings suggest that those who possess a positive perspective toward their spouse experienced a tremendous difference in the quality and satisfaction within their relationship. When one has a positive perspective toward their partner, they are a lot more likely to give their partner the benefit of the doubt and be more likely to attribute their partner's mistake to something caused by the environment. Likewise, when their spouse does something positive for them, they let this behavior serve as a confirmation that their spouse is an overall great partner. On the other hand, if couples are constantly amid emotional turmoil, frustration, anger, resentment, and personal attacks, then they are more likely to develop a pessimistic outlook on the state of the relationship and the other. A pessimistic outlook on a relationship can only send it into a downward spiral. When someone develops a pessimistic outlook and one spouse acts inappropriately, the spouse with the pessimistic outlook will view this as confirmation that their partner is not right for them.
When couples gain the ability to manage their emotions and understand how their spouse responds to different situations, they have a better functioning relationship. When one can manage their own emotions and gain an understanding of the emotions of others, they are demonstrating Emotional Intelligence. The Gottman's found that couples that work together, rather than against each other, come to a resolution during times of conflict and do significantly better than couples that do not work together to manage conflict. The Gottman's have identified four dangerous behaviors that are unveiled during times of high conflict that either sustain conflict or lead to a greater amount of conflict among couples. I will illustrate these behaviors below. They are referred to as the Four Horsemen, and I will provide antidotes for each category below as well.
The first of the four dangerous horsemen. According to John Gottman, many relationships deal with criticism to a certain extent. For the sake of the relationship, it is essential that couples work together to keep the level of criticism that they give to their partner at a minimum. When a relationship is in the midst of high amounts of conflict or negativity, most feedback is perceived as negative. Even statements of constructive criticism are perceived as negative. Research findings suggest that for every time that one criticism is given, five positive statements are needed to counteract the negative impact of one negative statement. This can create more of an ordeal when a relationship is already in a negative state because it can make it even more challenging to give your partner positive affirmations and especially five of them.
Antidotes to Criticism: The main goal is to find ways around being critical with your partner. As stated above, positive framing or verbal positive reinforcement from you toward your partner when they do something that you like is essential instead of criticizing that they did not do something right. Wait for them to get it right and then praise them.
The second of the four horsemen is a significant problem within relationships. In my vast experience in couples therapy, defensiveness is one of the most frequent behaviors that I observe. Defensiveness is an instinctive action to something that is perceived as criticism. A spouse gives the other spouse feedback, and this can sometimes be perceived as criticism. The individual that receives the perceived criticism responds by blaming their spouse for doing the same thing and fails to take responsibility and justifies their behavior. This scenario tends to cause the original speaker to feel invalidated and alone due to the defensiveness of their partner. In turn, the couple will start to feel more distant.
Antidotes to Defensiveness: The following are antidotes to defensiveness: (1) Try to remember that your relationship is the two of you working together (not against each other). (2) Instead of viewing your partner's words as criticism or attacks, see them as feeling strongly about the topic at hand. (3) Keep in mind that you both are imperfect. (4) Remember your partner's many positive attributes. (5) Most importantly, be able to swallow your pride and take responsibility for the parts of feedback your partner is expressing to you. Apologize for what you have done and do not apologize for what you have not done. Possessing the ability to accept an ounce of responsibility when due, will ensure that the tension de-escalates, that communication improves, and trust builds between both of you.
The third of the four horsemen. Stonewalling is as harsh as it sounds. Stonewalling is the tendency to avoid speaking or communication regarding an important matter. The receiving partner tends to feel as if they are speaking to a brick wall. Dr. Gottman found that a majority of men used stonewalling as a means of dealing with conflict. The 85 percent of men that engaged in this tendency did not know that it was detrimental to the state of their relationship. Men tend to emotionally detach themselves amid conflict. It is important to acknowledge that detaching from the emotionality of an argument does not solve it. "Parallel living" is a consequence of this behavior over the longer term. Parallel living can result in a spouse pulling away from their relationship. When a spouse pulls away, that spouse can become vulnerable to outer forces. Stonewalling reaps no benefits for the couple and can lead to a dramatic increase in conflict and meltdowns, especially when the non-stonewaller starts to chase the stonewaller about a specific issue. After conflict mounts beneath the surface, the stonewaller eventually explodes and reacts with rage which often leads to a regrettable incident.
Antidotes to Stonewalling: Remember that it is not healthy to withdraw from your partner emotionally. Look for the positive in your partner. Make time for positive interactions. Never ignore your partner, even if it is a nod or a small gesture to show that you are listening. It is also important to practice good self-care to avoid stonewalling. The tendency to stonewall stems from anxiety about a conflict. Conflict causes many of us feelings of anxiousness. It is important to remember that practicing good self-care is imperative to avoid the anxiety of dealing with difficult issues. Good self-care can be getting a good night's sleep, exercising frequently and keeping a healthy diet.
This is identified as the fourth of the four horsemen (belligerence is a term used by Gottman to describe a stronger form of contempt. Belligerence is also known as the relative to the four horsemen). Research findings suggest that contempt can be detrimental to the state of a relationship and is the predictor for 86 percent of divorce cases. "Contempt" is described as a behavior that makes one partner feel demeaned or "put down". For example, this can take form as judgment, disdain, eye-rolling, snarking, imitating or mocking, insulting, and cynicism. Several warning signs can help you identify if contempt is manifesting in your relationship: You no longer have feelings of admiration and appreciation for your partner. It is hard for you to remember what you deem positive about your partner. You start to feel as if your partner is significantly lacking important qualities. Contempt can be as simple as expressing disgust with your partner in the small things they do like chewing their gum, eating, snoring, or cleaning.
Antidotes for Contempt: Focus on your partner's redeeming qualities and what you love about them. When things start to become heated use "time out". Be wary of your body language and tone. Focus on the behavior of your spouse that you do not like, and not them as a person. It is important to gain an understanding and a sense of empathy for where your partner is coming from. We gain a greater appreciation for the causes of our partner's behavior when we make an effort to put it into context. When one starts to gain an understanding of these underlying causes, You start to see that your partner's behavior is more about your partner and less about you.
Additional Tools to Resolve Conflict
Allowing Joint Influence: To be a successful couple both partners have to allow the "influence" of the other. The typical structure of a relationship consists of a top and bottom, and the top of the relationship usually possesses the ultimate power. Relationships have higher success rates when each party has equal veto power with most of the conflict within a relationship. Dr. Gottman's findings suggest that in the most effective, happiest of marriages, both partners accepted and acknowledged the "influence" of their partners. Examples of allowing influence are learning a new belief from your partner or acknowledging their opinions and believing that your partner can come up with good solutions without you.
Resolutions Before the Argument is Over: Partners that work together to make the appropriate repairs turn out to have the happiest and most functional relationships. A functional relationship makes a significant effort to come to a resolution with their partner during the argument. The goal of functional couples is not to be fighting against each other, but to work together so that problems can be resolved and not resurfaced and exacerbated during the next conflict.
Apologize: Both partners must be equipped with the ability to express when they are sorry. Possessing the ability to take responsibility and admit your wrongs is effective in reducing conflict and promoting a loving relationship.
Using Humor and Affection: Fostering a healthy environment where negativity is occurring can be very helpful. It can be as simple as offering humor to your partner when they are frustrated or offering their partner a cup of their favorite tea. Asking their partner for a hug can help make light of a previous argument and allow the couple to move on from it. Make-up intimacy is also effective in making peace and facilitating the partners to reconnect. It is significant to have a sense that your partner will accept your sweet gestures to improve the situation.
Ensuring Security and Safety: Another key to relationship success is building a foundation of trust and commitment and ensuring safety. When you know that your partner will give way and will not be obstinate during a conflict ensures safety in a relationship.
Compromising: "Black and white thinking" is problematic. For example, "I am right so you are wrong" is a dangerous way to think. Couples have to learn to give and take in an argument and share power.
Argue with the End in Mind: Couples need to confront conflict with an end goal in mind. The end goal should be to resolve the conflict and ensure the other partner feels satisfied with how the conflict ended and feels safe. Stubbornness has to be limited in a relationship.
Avoid Fight or Flight (Flooding): There are a variety of calming techniques that couples should utilize, meaning they should be mindful of their heart rates. When we get a heart rate at least 90 to 95 beats per minute, we are overflowing emotionally and are not good at being rational. With a heart rate above 90 or 95 beats per minute, we are constantly in a state of fight, flight, or freeze. When we realize that we are experiencing an overflow of emotions, a 20-30 time out is necessary. Once calmer after a short break, resume the discussion so the conflict can be resolved. In the same way that we should not spank our children during emotionally taxing times. We should not speak to our partner about matters we feel passionate about when we are angry, or we will inevitably engage in behavior that we regret. Most importantly, if you feel like you need a break from conflict, take a break; however, you must try to resolve the issue at hand immediately after your break.
Keep an eye out for flooding or feeling overwhelmed, like feeling the inability to keep calm during the conflict, longing for distance, and having small issues turn into bigger issues.
Markman and Stanley Technique
I have demonstrated, safe and effective talking techniques that have been adapted by Markman and Stanley in "Fighting for your Marriage." The techniques enable each partner to speak and feel heard.
- Use an item that is valued by both of you as a talking tool (for example, a family photo or a wedding ring).
- Each person waits their turn to hold the item and the person that has the item in their hand also has the floor to speak.
- The person that is listening has to repeat back their understanding of what their partner said and verify that it is correct.
- The other person then takes the talking object and talks while their partner summarizes.
Gottman Five-Step Tool
Dr. Gottman has invented a five-step tool that helps any couple discuss an area of concern within their relationship that needs to be resolved. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is to gain a deep understanding of where your partner is coming from rather than to win the argument and always be "right". In my experience of working with couples, I want each one of them to feel that they have been listened to, empathized with, and accepted for their position on an issue. When the above is achieved, the couple can finally find a resolution. Highly effective couples find ways to easily agree to disagree. Couples with high conflict relationships are easily threatened by disagreements.
By using the five steps below, couples should work through each step together.
- Feelings: Explain to them how you were feeling in the situation. Do not explain why you felt that way. Do not comment on your partner's feelings.
- Realities: Give an account of your "reality" of the situation. Make sure to take turns. When you both are done explaining, summarize and affirm your partner's feelings. During times of conflict, we tend to have selective attention and remember the same situation in two different ways.
- Triggers: Elaborate on the experiences from your past that might have increased the intensity of the situation and the stories of why these are triggers for you. Own what you consider your triggers. Do not blame, criticize or minimize your partner's triggers.
- Responsibility: Recognize the role you played in contributing to the conflict. Responsibility is the opposite of defensiveness. When we acquire the ability to take responsibility, this can tremendously deescalate a conflict.
- Constructive Plans: Be proactive and plan a way that each of you can make it better next time. Now that you possess more empathy for your partner's take on an issue, and you have been heard, and each of you can take a little bit of responsibility for the outburst, you are better equipped to come to a resolution with your partner.
Providing support for each other's goals and aspirations and having a deeper understanding of that meaning leads us to the last chapter of the Sound Relationship House. When we have achieved friendship with our partner, view our partner optimistically, and gain conflict resolution skills, then we are prepared for this last section. This last section emphasizes the importance of acquiring shared rituals, goals, roles, and symbols with one another.
Exploring shared rituals is essential. Rituals are activities that have the means to bond us together, provide us a sense of security, and provide us with an activity that we look forward to partaking in. Try to ask yourself what kind of rituals you can see yourself creating with your partner. You might already partake in specific rituals with your family that you can think of. Do you eat dinner together after a long day, are there specific holiday traditions that you all value, or are there certain values that you share regarding issues like education or where and how you will live?
Rituals and goals are equally important within a successful relationship. A functional and effective relationship supports both partners in achieving their individual life goals and their joint goals. Challenge yourself and your partner. Ask you and your partner these questions. Am I honoring my partner's goals, do we have similar financial goals, do we have life dreams that could work effectively together, do we value each other's accomplishments?
In a successful relationship, each person has a role or roles that the other partner supports. Make sure to challenge yourself and ask yourself the following. Do you support each other's role within the family, and does one of you have an expectation that you hold a role that is not shared by the other spouse? Think about how often this might impact the dynamics of your relationship.
In an effective relationship, one is aware and understands their partner's symbols within their daily life. It is not imperative to have the same understanding of these symbols, but we must appreciate the symbols meaning for our partners. We should honor our partner's meaning and reality of these symbols. The following are some key symbols:
- The home
- The meaning of family
- The role of sex
- Fun and play
- Personal freedom
- Sharing power
GEORGIA PREMARITAL EDUCATION PROGRAM EXERCISE 1
Spend 30 minutes as a couple and complete the following exercises.
- Share something with your partner that they don't know about you.
- Each of you shares something that you admire or find amazing about the other.
- Commit to each other that for today you will practice moving toward each other and be open to the other's expressions of affection and desire to communicate.
- Explore together how the balance of power may be improved in the relationship. Do you both share equal power related to spending, children, plans, and domestic responsibilities?
- Use one of the techniques above to discuss an issue that has created conflict (Gottman or Markman and Stanley).
- Together discuss a personal goal that you would like the other to help you accomplish, create a new ritual that will define you as a couple, and discuss personal values that you each have that you would like to follow as a couple.