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Fighting Part II

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<%BLOG|Fighting Part II%>

A very warm welcome from Carmen Sutra:  

Last month I published a letter from a male reader whose
wife would predictably become angry and combative at one
particular time of the month. He strongly felt like he 
helped tremendously with the household, considered her feel-
ings on a regular basis, and that therefore, she was not
appreciative of him. On top of all that, he is a night owl, 
and she retires to the bedroom early and becomes upset that
he does not go to sleep with her. What to do? 

According to acclaimed marriage and family therapist Dr.
John Gottman, all arguments in relationships will fall into
two categories: solvable and unsolvable. The latter are
repeated arguments you have that are essentially personal
beliefs, personality traits and other aspects that cannot
be changed. Gottman explains that while you cannot change
these differences, you can learn to live with him. Those
ideas and more are explored in his incredible book "The
Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work." Today we will
discuss the steps he outlines for dealing with solvable
problems. In the above example, the fact that the wife is
upset that her husband does not join her at bedtime is
considered a solvable problem. Let's discuss.

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Today's Topic: Fighting Part II

Dr. Gottman discusses what makes relationships work while
others prove unsuccessful. All couples will fight, but HOW
they fight is crucial to their overall success. He describes
the "Four Horses of the Apocalypse" that will doom a relation-
ship if not nipped in the bud: contempt, criticism, defensive-
ness, and stonewalling. If you repeatedly practice the four
horses, loneliness inevitably will set in and the union is 
almost beyond saving. 

He describes that a critical part of nipping this in the bud
is having fruitful "repair attempts." These are any attempts
either of you might make during an argument that act to 
deescalate the tension. This might mean you spontaneously hug,
make a funny face, bring up a fond memory, etc.: anything to
calm the moment and keep it from escalating. Gottman can
predict with 90% accuracy if a couple will stand the test of
time by watching their repair attempts and fighting style.
I say all that to emphasize how important the nuts and bolts
are of a relationship: genuine respect and friendship. This
must serve as the foundation from which to draw. Having a 
strong foundation (friendship) will help you "hear" the 
repair attempts and give your partner the benefit of the

Let's refer to the initial reader's issue. His wife is upset
that he does not go to bed early with her. This is a solvable
problem, one that is not perpetual. In the aforementioned
book, Gottman outlines five steps to handling a solvable
problem. The first step, "Soften Your Startup" is all about
the presentation. If you approach your partner in a blame-
ful manner, he/she will likely react in a defensive manner.
Approach your partner with "I" statements about how YOU feel,
not a criticism of his or her actions. Try using humor 
instead of sarcasm and try discussing instead of yelling.
If you are yelling, you will not hear the other person's
repair attempt to calm the situation. And if you don't calm
the situation, your partner is likely to criticize you back,
stonewall, etc., and before you know it, the four horses are
all in your front room. You get the picture.

The second step is to "Learn to make and receive repair
attempts." Again, this is very much in how you word things.
If your partner is yelling, it's natural that you would want
to yell back. If you are flooded and your heart rate is going
100 beats per minute, you won't be able to give, let alone
receive, a repair attempt. Take a minute to cool yourself off
or acknowledge what your partner has said in a nonblaming way
that communicates how you are seeing the situation. PLEASE
read the section in Gottman's book because he provides many
examples, and I have to oversimplify the concepts due to 

As I mentioned, you might want to calm yourself down, which
is actually step three "Soothe Yourself and Each Other." Take
five minutes to stretch, leave the room, do breathing exer-
cises together, anything that will remove the tension from
the situation so you can then turn toward one another in an
open, positive manner. 

Step four is "Compromise." We hear all the time how important
this is in relationships, and Gottman illustrates this very
point. Ask yourself what's more important - the overall 
success of your relationship or proving you are right and 
getting your way? In the reader's example, he should approach
hie wife with a soft approach and explain how he feels. As
many readers responded that week, the couple should be able
to compromise. Maybe his wife has abandonment issues and needs
her husband to be in bed with her. Maybe he works tirelessly
and needs an hour to himself at night. Regardless of the 
background, they need to compromise before this turns into
a perpetual/unsolvable problem. Readers suggested that he
tuck her in and then go do his thing, lie with her in bed
until she falls asleep then enjoy his own time, or even alter-
nate nights. 


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The last step, "Be Tolerant of Each Other's Faults" is a 
HUGE relationship mandate. Gottman reiterates throughout 
the book that an essential ingredient of a successful,
long-term relationship is that the couple is able to accept
each other's flaws. Everyone has flaws, but in successful
relationships, the couple can accept the bad with the good.
Ask yourself, do you want his/her foibles to outweigh their
positives? Would you want your partner to hold your foibles
against YOU?

I only have space to highlight main points, which is why I
STRONGLY suggest Dr. Gottman's book. Check it out from the
library and you won't be disappointed! He explains everything
more thoroughly, provides quizzes, and client stories to
illustrate each point. What have you learned today? Do you
have anything to add? How do YOU handle fighting? Share your
advice, and I will print some of your missives on Friday.
Get ready for more sexual positions next week! As always, I 

Devotedly yours,   

Carmen Sutra   

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Questions? Comments? email us at: 
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