Soul-Care Articles: Christ-centered, Spirit-led, Biblically-based, Clinically-sound, Truth-oriented

Archive for the ‘Conflict’ Category

The Marriage Map

from The Divorce Remedy, Michele Weiner-Davis, M.S.W

The marriage map is meant to give you a broad overview of the experiences most couples have when they negotiate the marital terrain. As you read through these stages and developmental passages, don’t get too hung up on the timetable. Some couples move through these stages more quickly than others, and some bypass certain stages entirely. See if any of this sounds familiar to you as you think about your own marriage and that of friends and family.

Stage One- Passion prevails
Head over heels in love, you can’t believe how lucky you are to have met your one and only star-crossed lover. Everything other than the relationship quickly fades into the background. Much to your amazement, you have so much in common: you enjoy the same hobbies, music, restaurants and movies. You even like each other’s friends. You can finish each other’s sentences. When you pick up the phone to call your partner, he or she is already on the line calling you. You are completely in sync. Everything is perfect, just the way you imagined it would be. When little, annoying things pop up, they’re dismissed and overlooked.

At no other time in your relationship is your feeling of well-being and physical desire for each other as intense as it is during this romantic period. The newness and excitement of the relationship stimulates the production of chemicals in your bodies that increase energy, positive attitudes and heighten sexuality and sensuality. You feel good in your partner’s presence and start to believe that he or she is bringing out the best in you. Depression sets in when you’re apart. There aren’t enough hours in the day to be together. You never run out of things to say. Never, never, have you felt this way before. “It must be love,” you tell yourself. While in this naturally produced state of euphoria, you decide to commit to spending the rest of their lives together. “And why not,” you reason, “we’re perfect together.” And marry, you do.

Unless you elope or opt for a simple, judge’s chambers-style wedding, your euphoria takes a temporary nosedive as you plan and execute your wedding. Once you get past the superhuman challenges dealing with family politics and hosting a modern-day wedding, your starry-eyed obsession with each other re-emerges and takes you through the honeymoon period. At last, you are one. You have committed your lives to each other forever- soul mates in the eyes of God and the world. And for a period of time, nothing could be more glorious. But soon, your joy gives way to an inevitable earth-shattering awakening; marriage isn’t at all what you expected it to be.

Stage Two- What was I thinking?
In some ways, stage two is the most difficult because it is here that you experience the biggest fall. After all, how many miles is it from bliss to disillusionment? Millions. What accounts for this drastic change in perspective? For starters, reality sets in. The little things start to bother you. You realize that your spouse has stinky breath in the morning, spends way too long on the toilet, leaves magazines and letters strewn on the kitchen counter, never wraps food properly before it’s put in the refrigerator and, to top things off, snoring has become a way of life. There are big things too.

Although you once thought you and your spouse were kindred spirits, you now realize that there are many, many differences between you. Although you share interests in hobbies, you disagree about how often you want to participate in them. You like the same kinds of restaurants, but you enjoy eating out often while your partner prefers staying home and saving money. Your tastes in music are compatible, but you prefer quiet time in the evening while your mate enjoys blasting the stereo. You have many common friends, but you can’t agree on which nights to see them.

You’re confused about what’s going on. You wonder if an alien abducted your partner and left you with this strange and complicated being, a person with whom you can’t agree on a single thing. You argue about everything. “Who is this obstinate person I married?” you ask yourself. “What was I thinking?” You knew life wouldn’t always be a bed of roses, but you never thought all you’d get was a bed of thorns. You figured that love would carry you through the rough spots, but you didn’t imagine there’d be times you didn’t feel love. You feel so disillusioned and you wonder if you made a mistake. When you remind yourself you made a life-long commitment, you start to understand the real meaning of eternity.

Ironically, it is in the midst of feeling at odds with your once kindred spirit that you are faced with making all sorts of life-altering decisions. For example, it is now that you decide whether and when to have children, where to live, who will support the family, who will handle the bills, how your free time will be spent, how in-laws fit in to your lives, and who will do the cooking. Just at the time when a team spirit would have come in mighty handy, spouses often start to feel like opponents. So they spend the next decade or so trying to “win” and get their partners to change, which tr

Stage Three- Everything would be great if you changed
In this stage of marriage, most people believe that there are two ways of looking at things, your spouse’s way and your way, also known as the Right Way. Even if couples begin marriage with the enlightened view that there are many valid perspectives on any given situation, they tend to develop severe amnesia quickly. And rather than brainstorm creative solutions, couples often battle tenaciously to get their partners to admit they are wrong. That’s because every point of disagreement is an opportunity to define the marriage. Do it my way, and the marriage will work, do it yours and it won’t.

When people are in this state of mind, they have a hard time understanding why their spouses are so glued to their way of seeing things. They assume it must be out of stubbornness, spitefulness or a need to control. What they don’t realize is that their spouses are thinking the same thing about them! Over time, both partners dig in their heels deeper and deeper. Anger, hurt and frustration fill the air. Little or no attempt is made to see the other person’s point of view for fear of losing face or worse yet, losing a sense of self.

Now is the time when many people face a fork in the marital road. They’re hurt and frustrated because their lives seem like an endless confrontation. They don’t want to go on this way. Three choices become apparent. Convinced they’ve tried everything, some people give up. They tell themselves they’ve fallen out of love or married the wrong person. Divorce seems like the only logical solution. Other people resign themselves to the status quo and decide to lead separate lives. Ultimately, they live unhappily ever after. But there are still others who decide that it’s time to end the cold war and begin to investigate healthier and more satisfying ways of interacting. Although the latter option requires a major leap of faith, those who take this leap are the fortunate ones because the best of marriage is yet to come.

Stage Four- That’s just way s/he is
In stage four, we finally come to terms with the fact that we are never going to see eye-to-eye with our partners about everything and we have to figure out what we must do to live more peaceably. We slowly accept that no amount of reasoning, begging, nagging, yelling, or threatening changes our partners’ minds. We look to others for suggestions; we seek religious counsel, talk to close friends and family, attend marital therapy, read self-help books, or take a relationship seminar. Those of us who are more private look inward and seek solutions there.

We more readily forgive our spouses for their hardheadedness, and recognize that we aren’t exactly easy to live with either. We dare to ask ourselves whether there’s something about our own behavior that could use shaping up. When disagreements occur, we make more of an effort to put ourselves in our partner’s shoes and, much to our surprise, we have a bit more compassion and understanding. We recognize that, as with everything in life, we have to accept the good with the bad. Fights happen less frequently and when they occur, they’re not as intense or as emotional as in the earlier years of marriage. We know how to push our partner’s buttons and we consciously decide not to. When we slip, we get better at making up because we remind ourselves that life is short and very little is worth the pain of disharmony. We learn that when you’ve wronged your spouse, love means always having to say you’re sorry. We mellow. We let things roll off our back that might have caused us to go to battle before. We stop being opponents. We’re teammates again. And because we’re smart enough to have reached this stage, we reap the benefits of the fifth, and final stage.

Stage Five- Together, at last
It is really a tragedy that half of all couples who wed never get to stage five, when all the pain and hard work of the earlier stages really begins to pay off. Since you are no longer in a struggle to define who you are and what the marriage should be, there is more peace and harmony. Even if you always have loved your spouse, you start to notice how much you are really liking him or her again. And then the strangest thing starts to happen. You realize that the alien who abducted your spouse in stage two has been kind enough to return him or her to you. You are pleased to discover that the qualities you saw in your partner so very long ago never really vanished. They were just camouflaged. This renews your feelings of connection.

By the time you reach stage five, you have a shared history. And although you’d both agree that marriage hasn’t been easy, you can feel proud that you’ve weathered the storms. You appreciate your partner’s sense of commitment and dedication to making your marriage last. You also look back and feel good about your accomplishments as a couple, a family and as individuals. You feel more secure about yourself as a person and you begin to appreciate the differences between you and your spouse. And what you don’t appreciate, you find greater acceptance for. You feel closer and more connected. If you have children, they’re older and more independent, allowing you to focus on your marriage again, like in the old days. And you start having “old day feelings” again. You have come full circle. The feeling you were longing for during those stormy periods is back, at last. You’re home again.

About the marriage map
I’m certain that if more couples realized that there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they’d be more willing to tough it out through the downpour. The problem is, most people fool themselves into thinking that whatever stage they are in at the moment, is where they will be forever. That can be a depressing thought when you’re in the midst of hard times. And in marriage, there are lots hard times- unexpected problems with infertility, the births of children (marital satisfaction goes down with the birth of each child), the challenges of raising a family, children leaving home, infidelity, illnesses, deaths of close friends and family members. Even if there is lots of joy accompanying these transitional stages, it’s stressful nonetheless. But it’s important to remember that nothing lasts forever. There are seasons to everything in life, including marriage.

Also, it’s important to remember that people generally don’t go through these stages sequentially. It’s three steps forward and two steps back. Just when you begin to feel more at peace with each other in stage four, a crisis occurs and you find yourselves slipping back to stage three- change your partner or bust! But if you’ve been fortunate enough to have visited stage four, sanity sets in eventually, and you get back on track. The quality and quantity of love you feel for each other is never stagnant. Love is dynamic. So is marriage. The wiser and more mature you become, the more you realize this. The more you realize this, the more time you and your spouse spend hanging out in stage five. Together again, at last.

Michele Weiner-Davis, Author of Divorce Busting

Advertisements

Marriage: ‘I Stayed’

There’s power in knowing you and your spouse are in it for the long haul.

Source:  Christy Scannell

One of the advantages of living in San Diego, aside from the fantastic weather, is that we have two theaters that stage Broadway-bound shows, both to test how they fare with audiences and to get out the kinks before hitting the Great White Way.  In the last few years I’ve seen several of these big productions, some winners (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and others not (The Full Monty).

A few years ago, my husband, Rich, and I zipped over to the Old Globe Theatre to take in A Catered Affair.  We agreed the musical had its plusses and minuses, but one of the standouts was Tom Wopat (yes, that guy from the Dukes of Hazzard) singing a lump-in-the-throat-inducing number, “I Stayed.”

To understand the impact of this song, you have to know that Wopat plays a 1950s middle-aged husband whose wife, among other issues, is accusing Wopat’s character of having never really loved her.  They married because she was pregnant, so she always suspected he rather would have been anywhere but with her.  Now that their daughter is marrying and moving out of their home, she frets over what kind of life she will have with this man who only tolerates her.

In response to her anxiety, Wopat angrily belts out, “I stayed.”   The song goes on to explain how perhaps she wasn’t his first choice, but he is confident he did the right thing by marrying her.  And most importantly—he stayed.  In other words, his loyalty to her, he felt, was his way of showing he loved her.  It might not have been a storybook romance, but theirs was a solid, faithful marriage that produced two children and, one would assume, a lot of family memories.

Needless to say, Wopat’s powerful song produced many tears in the audience (even from Faith Prince, who plays his wife).  I think that is because most of us know the value of “staying.”  Regardless of how a marriage comes about—from love at first sight to a shotgun ceremony—it’s more than anything a decision to say, “No matter what happens, I’m sticking with you—I’ll stay.”  And to say it over and over again.

I’m reminded of this commitment’s influence every week when I read in our Sunday newspaper the feature on a local couple celebrating a notable anniversary.  Somewhere in the piece the couple is asked some form of, “How on earth did you stay married for 50 (or more) years?”  Without fail, the couple responds in the fashion of, “We stuck out the bad times and celebrated the good ones.”  In other words, they stayed.

When Rich and I married, we agreed it was for life.  Regardless of what the church teaches, we all know Christians get divorced at the same rate as the rest of the American population.  We knew we couldn’t go into a marriage with that as a looming option.  So we looked each other in the eye weeks before our wedding and made a pact that we would work out whatever problems came our way.  There would be no “growing apart,” no “irreconcilable differences,” no “dissolution.”  While we agreed to the same things in our marriage vows a few months later, I’ll never forget the muscle of our plain language that day when we said, in essence, “Whatever happens, we will stay.”

Lest you think this understanding moves us beyond the occasional squabble, may I point out that he is Irish and I am Scottish?  Yes, we fight.  We accuse.  We toss a few barbs.  I slam doors and he raises his voice.  Sometimes we go a whole day without talking.

But it’s all for naught.  Even when we’re at the height of an argument, eyes narrowed and faces flushed, deep down we know it all will end peacefully.  There won’t be any moving out or filing papers.  Within hours, or sometimes minutes, there are tears and hugs and “sorrys” and weak smiles.  Later, it’s almost as if the disagreement never happened. Life goes on.

Someday when our fiftieth anniversary approaches, I hope the newspaper (if such a thing still exists!) interviews us.  When the reporter asks the requisite “How did you do it?”  I’ll reach my wrinkled hand over to clasp Rich’s and say, “Because—we stayed.”

 

 

 

 

Conflict is a Normal and Natural Part of Your “Happily Ever After”

SOURCE:  Aaron & April Jacob/Gottman Institute

When Sara and Ryan were newly married, they experienced a handful of frustrating conversations that evolved into emotionally-charged disputes.

Sara was devastated.

She thought that their relationship was in a bad place and that they were, perhaps even worse, doomed for divorce.

That’s because Sara loathes conflict. Like, really, really loathes it. And so, whenever things aren’t going perfectly well in her relationship, she’s a total mess.

Her husband, Ryan, has always been okay with conflict and doesn’t feel a need for things to be resolved immediately. While Sara is the type of person who never wants to go to bed angry, Ryan is a firm believer that going to bed angry is sometimes the best option.

You see for Sara, conflict breeds stress and the false assumption that her marriage is terrible, irreparable, and that it might end in divorce even though she and her husband are both deeply committed to making it work and staying together through thick and thin.

What Sara didn’t realize as a young love-struck newlywed is an important lesson for all married couples: conflict in marriage is inevitable.

One more time: conflict in marriage is inevitable.

In fact, not only is conflict in marriage inevitable, but it’s also perfectly normal. It’s a part of life. Why do you think wedding vows include phrases like “for better for worse,” “for richer for poorer,” “in sickness and health,” and “through thick and thin?”

They include those phrases because a) the people who wrote those vows are pretty smart and have experienced this thing we call “marriage” and b) conflict is an unavoidable part of life, and therefore, an unavoidable, and even important part of your “happily ever after” — even though it’s not something you see in the movies!

In reality, Sara was in error over the years by believing that if there was conflict in her marriage, she couldn’t be truly happy since conflict was a clear sign that her marriage was doomed to fail. Sara was in error by thinking that a happy marriage was synonymous with the absolute extinguishment of all conflict. So. Not. True.

Sara was wrong. Way wrong! And perhaps that’s because Sara and Ryan had limited conflict-management skills and sometimes even used The Four Horsemen. Gasp!

To Sara, and others like her, it’s time to realize this truth taught by Dr. Gottman:

“It’s a myth that if you solve your problems you’ll automatically be happy. We need to teach couples that they’ll never solve most of their problems.”

Really? Sara and Ryan will never solve most of their problems? Yup, that’s right.

Thankfully, the key to a happy marriage isn’t to eliminate all conflict. Mind-blowing!

Dr. Gottman says, “Although we tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness, a lasting relationship results from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.”

Did you catch that? Being happy now and living happily ever after comes “from a couple’s ability to manage the conflicts that are INEVITABLE in any relationship.”

Conflict is inevitable — no matter who you marry. Please don’t fall for the fallacy that you wouldn’t be dealing with X conflict if you had married Bob, because Bob would have come with his own set of problems. You know it’s true.

Because of this, gaining the skills and developing the ability to successfully navigate conflict becomes critical in creating happiness and harmony in your marriage.

So, what are those specific skills that will lead to happiness now and to your “happily ever after” in the future?

Dr. Gottman has provided the following six skills to help couples learn how to manage conflict and live happily ever after:

  1. Practice physiological self-soothing

Take a timeout when conflict arises. Go for a walk, take a bath, read a book, do whatever it takes to breathe, calm down, and return to a better frame of mind. How long is the perfect amount of time for a break? According to Dr. Gottman, it’s 20 minutes.

  1. Use a softened startup

It’s true that conversations usually end on the same note they began, so start softly. Don’t blame. Use “I” statements. Describe what is happening. And be polite.

  1. Repair and de-escalate

Use scripted phrases like “Let me try again,” “I don’t feel like you are understanding me right now,” and “I’m sorry” to help de-escalate and begin making repair attempts.

  1. Listen to your partner’s underlying feelings and dreams

Perpetual gridlocked problems between you and your partner often conceal underlying feelings and dreams that aren’t getting communicated. So, start by contemplating what your dreams are and how you can communicate them more clearly to your partner. Second, become a better listener and seek to discover your partner’s deepest feelings and dreams. The purpose of this skill is to truly understand who your partner is deep down inside in order to accept influence and compromise together.

  1. Accept influence

Recognize that your partner has good ideas and important opinions (shocker — your way isn’t always the best way or the right way). Show respect for those opinions and find something you can learn from your partner. Take this quiz to see where you most need to improve when it comes to accepting influence.

  1. Compromise

Compromise is an art. What’s Dr. Gottman’s advice? “Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something… the important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored in your dreams.” So work together with your partner to find common ground and compromise that will leave you both feeling valued, respected, and supported.

If you practice these six skills from Dr. Gottman and learn to manage conflict in positive and healthy ways, then happily ever after can be yours today and everyday as you recognize conflict for what it is — an opportunity to learn, grow, progress, and live a full and meaningful life now.

 

Four Lies About Anger

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Anger is a normal part of being a human being, but it can be a dangerous emotion and has the potential to wreck our relationships and our lives.

Here are the four most common lies about anger.

1.   When I feel angry, I must let it all out.

Too much damage has been done to people we love by blurting out angry feelings in the moment of their greatest intensity. Doing this might provide some sort of relief but it is never beneficial to the hearer or the relationship.  I liken it to vomiting.  You do feel better getting it out, but vomit belongs in the toilet, not on another person.

Proverbs 12:18 says, Reckless words pierce like a sword and Proverbs 29:11 warns us that, “Only a fool gives full vent to his anger.”

Better ways to get some relief from intense anger is to journal or pray your honest emotions to God.  In the process, you might find some perspective on what to do with them and how to express them constructively.

2.    Other people or provoking situations make me angry. 

We all believe this lie at times. We say things like, “You make me so mad!” or “If you wouldn’t have done that, then I wouldn’t have reacted that way.”

Difficult people or situations don’t MAKE us angry, although they do tempt us. What really happens when we encounter these kinds of people is that they expose us.   Jesus tells us, “It is out of the overflow of your heart, your mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45).

What comes up and out of your mouth when you are angry exposes what’s in your heart. Often our heart is filled with self-centered lies or desires.

Start to listen to your internal self-talk when you feel angry. For example, “I can’t believe this is happening to me” or “it’s not fair, why me?” or “I need to teach him/her a lesson” or “they can’t get away with this.”

Instead of blaming others or the situation we’re in, we can start to understand what the real problem is that’s causing our anger to escalate. Our own thought life.

Then we can work to calm ourselves down (with different self-talk and God’s Word) instead of demanding that life always go our way or that everyone do what we want or make us feel better.

 3.    I’m entitled to use my anger to get what I want if what I want is a good thing.

Anger motivates us and helps us to speak up against wrong, as well as take action to fight against injustice and evil in our world. Because it is such a powerful force, however, the apostle Paul warns us not to sin in our anger (Ephesians 4:26).

Most of the time what we want is permeated with self-centered desires. We WANT our way. We want to be right. We want to be first or catered to. We want our needs met. And we’re angry because we’re not getting what we want.

James 4:1 asks us what is the source of quarrels and conflicts among us?  He says it comes because we’re not getting what we want.

Part of spiritual maturity is to learn to accept that we don’t always get what we want, even if what we want is a good thing.  Living peaceably with other people involves realizing that what I want and what someone else might want may be very different. The Bible tells us not to merely look out for our own interests (what we want), but also the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4).

The truth is anger is a powerful emotion that deceives us into using it to demand our own way.

4.    I have always had a bad temper and this is just the way I am. I can’t change.

The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that he not only redeems us but he restores us. He changes us.

If you want to get a handle on your anger, anger is not the problem you must address. Your temper is a symptom of what’s going on in your heart. If you gain self-control over your temper that’s great, but the deeper problem that causes your anger is what needs to change.

Romans 8:5 says, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

How we act and live flows from what is in our heart – what we desire or want the most. God wants to rearrange the desires of our heart so that we no longer want our own way the MOST, but rather we want to please him and love him and others.

When God changes our heart it’s not that we never get angry, but we no longer want to use our anger as a weapon to demand our own way, prove our point or make sure everyone knows we’re right. We don’t want to hold onto grudges, nurse resentment or harbor bitterness in our heart. Instead, we want to forgive and reconcile.

When Jesus changes our heart, instead of only wanting MY way, I want to look out for the interests of others because I care about them and therefore I hold my anger in check when I’m not getting what I want and weigh that with what other’s might want or need.

How?  I’ve had a change of heart and I no longer see myself as the most important person. I am no longer at the center of my life, Jesus is.

Becoming more and more like Jesus is not just trying to do the right thing, but wanting to do the right thing and then learning how.

James tells us to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for a man’s anger (or a woman’s anger) does not produce the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19,20)

10 Marriage & Relationship Busters

SOURCE:   /PsychCentral

No relationship is perfect and problem-free.

It’s clear that all marriages take work, commitment, and effective communication of needs, expectations and desires. Marriage isn’t hard necessarily, but it becomes harder when people “go stupid.” Essentially, when one or both partners behave out of anger, anxiety, hurt, defensiveness, or maliciousness, the problems escalate quickly.

Overall, there are common issues in most marriages where conflict is higher:

  • One partner is trying to change the other. The more one partner tries to “perfect” the other, the less perfect that person will become as the struggles grow. The truth is that the best you can do is change who you are, your approach to the relationship, and how you respond to your partner. After all, you married them for who they are, right?
  • Talking at – as opposed to talking with – your partner. Simply talking does not translate into effective communication. Constant complaints, repeated criticisms, playing the victim, trying to create guilt, yelling, telling your partner what to do, etc., are not communication openers. At best, they are communication roadblocks and barriers. Listening (i.e., being present to the other) and speaking with intent are two of the deepest forms of intimacy in any relationship.
  • Loss or decrease in emotional and sexual intimacy. A partner who is emotionally absent, disengaged, and not caring or concerned can lead to a drop in emotional and sexual intimacy.
  • Loss of focus and awareness or being mindful of your partner due to issues with finances, in-laws, a newborn, work pressures, and a mental health condition or addiction can lead to emotional distancing and loss of connection.
  • Emotional or physical affair. Even a micro-affair (when one partner behaves in secrecy and deception with someone outside the relationship) can lead to damage and long-term strain on a relationship. Most affairs begin harmlessly, but soon escalate.
  • Difficulty letting go of the past or not forgiving past behaviors. Many marital and relationship problems stem from one or both partners refusing (even if subconsciously) to let go of the past. Letting go does not mean ignoring or sweeping issues under the rug; it does mean not carrying these issues into future arguments.
  • Finances. Different values and spending habits occur in 10-20% of relationships. One partner wants to save, the other feels compelled to spend. One partner wants to spend the annual bonus on a new car, the other on the kitchen or living room.
  • Ignoring the little things that make the relationship special. Not appreciating each other, focusing on work or money or the kids, not attending to the romantic part of the relationship, not listening, and not acknowledging how much you value the other person.
  • Spending too much time and emotional energy plugged in to social media and technology in general, at the expense of spending time with your partner.
  • Constantly looking for the negative or for what is not working. This is similar to high criticism, but more generalized in that the partner approaches the relationship with a negative attitude, is emotionally dry and vacant, and through this lens sees mostly what is wrong in the relationship.

Don’t Get Caught in the Triangulation Trap

SOURCE:  Dr. Henry Cloud

You’re probably familiar with the term “triangulation” as it relates to issues in communication. Let’s break down what it really does and how it affects our relationships.

Triangulation sets up something called the “Victim-Persecutor-Rescuer Triad.”  It works like this.

Let’s say you have some issue with me, maybe even for a good reason. So, you give me some feedback, or disagree with me, or do something that I either don’t like or don’t want to hear. In any case, I feel like an innocent “Victim” and feel like you are somehow hurting me unfairly, in my mind seeing you as the “Persecutor.” Then, instead of talking through the slight, or the issue, directly with you, I take my hurt feelings and go to a sympathetic third person, and I gripe about you. I do not say to them, “He mentioned this to me, I am sure to help me, and I would like to get your perspective on it as well to see what you think … whether there might be something to learn that I am not seeing ….or maybe not.” If that were the motivation to talk to the third person, that would be a different story.

But in the VPR (victim-persecutor-rescue) scenario, I am not looking for truth or growth in my conversation with them. I am instead looking for that person to “rescue” me from this mean person (you) or what you said or did, and talk about you, saying “he was so mean … can you believe he treated me that way? What right does he have to tell me that, judge me like that?” or whatever else I might say to them about you. I am using that person to join me (agree with me and rescue me) in my hurt and anger about what you did or said. Said another way, I am getting that person to be “on my side” against you. I am looking for validation for my position, not resolution or growth.

Ever seen this happen? Say there is a meeting, topics are discussed, talked about, perspectives or feedback is given. Then, instead of saying what someone should say right there in the room to whomever they disagree with, the person waits and discusses it after the meeting, in what is referred to as “the meeting after the meeting.” They say what they would not say directly to someone, to their face, but say it to someone else “after the meeting.” So, they get the third person on their side, and never take the issue back to the room, with everyone there.

This is destructive for several reasons. First and foremost, as we said is the obvious point, the issue does not get addressed and is allowed to remain unsaid and thus unresolved. If I am mad at you, or hurt by you, or disagree with you, I (and you) really need me to talk directly to you in order to resolve it. That is the only way we are going to get to some resolution of the matter, hear each other out, gain understanding, receive the feedback or at least discuss it, or whatever is needed. Instead, it just festers, and goes into the darkness.

Second, I have now created division between you and the person I went to for rescuing. Now they have a very one-sided perspective about you and what you said or did, and I have biased them and did not properly represent you or your intent, or even whatever truth might have been in what you said. I might not tell them accurately the part I played in the problem as well. In essence, I have now turned them against you for my benefit.

Third, the original person might have actually been wrong, or hurtful, but because the “victim” did not talk to them directly, they never had a chance to own their behavior, use the feedback and change. Telling them directly might be the best thing that ever happened to them, but the “victim” went to the “rescuer” instead, and never gave them a chance.

Fourth, and maybe the worst, I now feel absolutely zero inclination or motivation to look at my part in the conflict, or the idea, or issue and ask how I might be wrong or could do better. The third person has “rescued” me from that possibility by agreeing with me about how bad you are instead. I am totally innocent, according to the rescuer, and have no impetus to examine myself. I am now “fixed” in my position, and even feeling more morally superior in the meantime.

This is so destructive. Not only do things not get resolved, but division happens. Divisiveness is probably the most destructive force in teams, companies, families, marriages, friendships and any other relational system. It not only prevents resolution, growth and forward movement, but worse, it makes problems worse by using one person against another and creating further splits throughout the team, family, organization or whatever.

This is how boards, teams, companies, marriages, circles of friends, extended families and other relational systems get sideways with each other, and ultimately often split or divide. The victim and the rescuer leave to form another company, or church, or organization. The spouse who feels they are not being treated well in the marriage, “victimized,” finds a listening, agreeable ear at the office or marketplace or social circle. Then that person makes them feel listened to and understood and agreed with in a way the “persecuting” spouse did not, and an affair begins. Or they are supported in thinking the other spouse is a bad person, and the divorce ensues. It happens all the time.

Then, predictably, sometime later the love dyad between the victim and the rescuer goes bad as well, as soon as one of them feels “victimized” by the other, and finds another rescuer. Because neither one of them has developed any more conflict resolution skills, they jump from relationship to relationship, job to job, business partner to business partner, church to church, community to community and so forth and so on. So, with one simple pattern, triangulation, they have managed to keep issues from getting resolved, turn people against each other, prevent individual growth and change, divide organizations and then infect other situations with that same pattern.

Relational Conflict: The Four Horsemen — The Antidotes

SOURCE:  Ellie Lisitsa/The Gottman Institute

All relationships, even the most successful ones, have conflict. It is unavoidable. Fortunately, our research shows that it’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship. We say “manage” conflict rather than “resolve,” because relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects that provide opportunities for growth and understanding.

And there are problems that you just won’t solve due to natural personality differences between you and your partner, but if you can learn to manage those problems in a healthy way, then your relationship will succeed.

The first step in effectively managing conflict is to identify and counteract The Four Horsemen when they arrive in your conflict discussions. If you don’t, you risk serious problems in the future of your relationship. But, like Newton’s Third Law, for every horseman there is an antidote, and you can learn how and when to use them below.

You can download a free PDF version of the The Four Horsemen and Their Antidotes here.

The Antidote to Criticism: Gentle Start-Up

A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but criticism attacks a person’s very character. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame by using a soft or gentle start-up. Avoid saying “you,” which can indicate blame, and instead talk about your feelings using “I” statements and express what you need in a positive way.

To put it simply, think of these two things to formulate your soft start-up: What do I feel? What do I need?

Criticism: “You always talk about yourself. Why are you always so selfish?”

Antidote: “I’m feeling left out of our talk tonight and I need to vent. Can we please talk about my day?”

Notice that the antidote starts with “I feel,” leads into “I need,” and then respectfully asks to fulfill that need. There’s no blame or criticism, which prevents the discussion from escalating into an argument.

The Antidote to Contempt: Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect

Contempt shows up in statements that come from a position of moral superiority. Some examples of contempt include sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor. Contempt is destructive and defeating. It is the greatest predictor of divorce, and it must be avoided at all costs.

The antidote to contempt is to build a culture of appreciation and respect in your relationship, and there are a few ways to do that. One of our mottos is Small Things Often: if you regularly express appreciation, gratitude, affection, and respect for your partner, you’ll create a positive perspective in your relationship that acts as a buffer for negative feelings. The more positive you feel, the less likely that you’ll feel or express contempt!

Another way that we explain this is our discovery of the 5:1 “magic ratio” of positive to negative interactions that a relationship must have to succeed. If you have five or more positive interactions for every one negative interaction, then you’re making regular deposits into your emotional bank account, which keeps your relationship in the green.

Contempt: “You forgot to load the dishwasher again? Ugh. You are so incredibly lazy.” (Rolls eyes.)

Antidote: “I understand that you’ve been busy lately, but could you please remember to load the dishwasher when I work late? I’d appreciate it.”

The antidote here works so well because it expresses understanding right off the bat. This partner shows how they know that the lack of cleanliness isn’t out of laziness or malice, and so they do not make a contemptuous statement about their partner or take any position of moral superiority.

Instead, this antidote is a respectful request, and it ends with a statement of appreciation.

The Antidote to Defensiveness: Take Responsibility

Defensiveness is defined as self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victimhood in an attempt to ward off a perceived attack. Many people become defensive when they are being criticized, but the problem is that being defensive never helps to solve the problem at hand.

Defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner. You’re saying that the problem isn’t me, it’s you. As a result, the problem is not resolved and the conflict escalates further. The antidote is to accept responsibility, even if only for part of the conflict.

Defensiveness: “It’s not my fault that we’re going to be late. It’s your fault since you always get dressed at the last second.”

Antidote: “I don’t like being late, but you’re right. We don’t always have to leave so early. I can be a little more flexible.”

By taking responsibility for part of the conflict (trying to leave too early), even while asserting that they don’t like to be late, this partner prevents the conflict from escalating by admitting their role in the conflict. From here, this couple can work towards a compromise.

The Antidote to Stonewalling: Physiological Self-Soothing

Stonewalling is when someone completely withdraws from a conflict discussion and no longer responds to their partner. It usually happens when you’re feeling flooded or emotionally overwhelmed, so your reaction is to shut down, stop talking, and disengage. And when couples stonewall, they’re under a lot of emotional pressure, which increases heart rates, releases stress hormones into the bloodstream, and can even trigger a fight-or-flight response.

In one of our longitudinal research studies, we interrupted couples after fifteen minutes of an argument and told them we needed to adjust the equipment. We asked them not to talk about their issue, but just to read magazines for half an hour. When they started talking again, their heart rates were significantly lower and their interaction was more positive and productive.

What happened during that half hour? Each partner, without even knowing it, physiologically soothed themselves by reading and avoiding discussion. They calmed down, and once they felt calm, they were able to return to the discussion in a respectful and rational way.

Therefore, the antidote to stonewalling is to practice physiological self-soothing, and the first step of self-soothing is to stop the conflict discussion and call a timeout:

“Look, we’ve been through this over and over again. I’m tired of reminding you—”

“Honey, I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m feeling overwhelmed and I need to take a break. Can you give me twenty minutes and then we can talk?”

If you don’t take a break, you’ll find yourself either stonewalling and bottling up your emotions, or you’ll end up exploding at your partner, or both, and neither will get you anywhere good.

So, when you take a break, it should last at least twenty minutes because it will take that long before your body physiologically calms down. It’s crucial that during this time you avoid thoughts of righteous indignation (“I don’t have to take this anymore”) and innocent victimhood (“Why is he always picking on me?”). Spend your time doing something soothing and distracting, like listening to music, reading, or exercising. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as it helps you to calm down.

You’ve got the skills. Use them!

Now that you know what the Four Horsemen are and how to counteract them with their proven antidotes, you’ve got the essential tools to manage conflict in a healthy way. As soon as you see criticism or contempt galloping in, remember their antidotes. Be vigilant. The more you can keep the Four Horsemen at bay, the more likely you are to have a stable and happy relationship.

Tag Cloud