From John Gottman “7 Principles that make marriage work”

First – what does not work:  Signs of a marriage in trouble

  • A harsh start up — leading off a discussion with criticism and/or sarcasm, a form of contempt.  If your discussion begins with a harsh start up it will inevitably end on a negative note.
  • The “four horsemen of the apocalypse” – criticism, contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling strongly predict divorce.
  • A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, but criticism ups the ante by throwing in blame and general character assassination — “what’s wrong with you?”
  • Contempt includes sarcasm, cynicism, name calling, eye rolling, sneering, mockery, and hostile humor.  It is poisonous to a relationship because it conveys disgust.  It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message you are disgusted with him or her.  Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict.
  • Defensiveness rarely has the desired effect.  The attacking spouse does not back down or apologize.  This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner.  You are saying in effect, “the problem is not me, it’s you”.  Defensiveness just escalates the conflict.
  • With stonewalling, eventually one partner tunes out.  Rather than confronting his wife, the husband disengages.  By turning away from her, he is avoiding a fight, but he is also avoiding his marriage.  This is far more common among men.  He tends to look away or down without uttering a sound.
  • Usually people stonewall as protection against feeling flooded.  You feel so defenseless against the sniper attack you learn to do anything to avoid a replay.
  • Recurring episodes of flooding lead to divorce for two reasons.  First they signal that at least one partner feels severe emotional distress.  Second, the sensations of feeling flooded make it almost impossible to have a productive, problem solving discussion.  Your ability to process information is reduced, meaning it’s harder to pay attention to what your partner is saying.  When either partner begins to feel flooded routinely, the relationship is in serious trouble.  Frequently feeling flooded leads almost inevitably to distancing yourself from your spouse.  This in turn leads you to feel lonely.
  • Failure of repair attempts (“let’s take a break”, “wait I need to calm down”) to put on the brakes so that flooding is prevented.  When the four Horsemen rule the couples communication, repair attempts often do not even get noticed.  In unhappy marriages, a feedback loop develops between the four Horsemen and the failure of repair attempt.  The more contemptuous and defensive the couple is with each other, the more flooding occurs and the harder it is to hear and respond to a repair attempt.
  • In a happy marriage couples tend to look back on the early days fondly.  When a marriage is not going well, history gets rewritten – for the worse.  Or the past is difficult to remember because it has become unimportant or painful.

What does work: the 7 principles Gottman discovered by observing successful couples

  • Principle one: enhance your love maps – awareness of your partner’s life and experieinces. Check in with each other often, share lots.
  • Principle two: nurture your fondness and admiration. Give messages of appreciation and affection. Focus on the good in your spouse.
  • Principle three: turn towards each other instead of away. Make a habit of helping each other cope, turn to each other in times of stress, connect lots.
  • Principle four: let your partner influence you. Yield in order to win. Accept influence. Choose “us” over “me”. Compromise.
  • Principle five: solve your solvable problems. Do this by raising problems gently and respectfully, make and receive efforts to moderate conflict, sooth self and each other,
    compromise and be tolerant of each other’s faults.
  • Principle six: overcome gridlock on unsolvable problems (70% of marital problems never really go away). move from gridlock to dialogue.  Learning to be able to talk about it without hurting each other.  You learn to live with the problem.  You first have to understand its cause.  It is a sign that you have dreams for your life that are not being addressed or respected by each other.
  • Principle seven: create shared meaning with shared goals, values, stories, symbols, rituals, and compatible roles in life.

Obviously there is much more to this than a checklist, and Gottman’s book includes many questionnaires for couples to use to study their relationship and identify problem areas along with practical exercises to increase the quality of the relationship using the 7 principles.

Summarized by Brian Grady PhD R.Psych.

I was going to write a post on this, but I came across this article on WikiHow and could hardly think how to improve it. So here it is in it’s entirety:

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How to Have a Great Conversation

The art of conversation takes practice, and is not as hard as you might think. It will take some knowledge, practice, and patience, and you can learn to relax and enjoy a great conversation.

Steps

1. Listen. This is the most important part of any conversation. Pay attention to what is being said. A conversation will not go anywhere if you are too busy thinking of anything else, including what you plan to say next. If you listen well, the other person’s statements will suggest questions for you to ask. Allow the other person to do most of the talking. They will often not realize that it was they who did most of the talking, and you get the credit for being a good conversationalist – which of course, you are!

2. Find out what the other person is interested in. You can even do some research in advance when you know you will have an opportunity to talk with a specific person. Complimenting them is a great place to start. Everyone likes sincere compliments, and that can be a great ice-breaker.

3. Ask questions. What do they like to do? What sort of things have they done in their lives? What is happening to them now? What did they do today or last weekend? Identify things about them that you might be interested in hearing about, and politely ask questions. Remember, there was a reason that you wanted to talk to them, so obviously there was something about them that you found interesting. However, try to space out your questions or they’ll feel like you’re interrogating them which is very bad and closes off friendships.

(more…)

Here’s something Rumi’s remarkable father had to say on the subject of conversation:

“Visitors come here when I’m ill or morose, and they don’t mention anything about disease or melancholy. They should be more generous. You can say anything here. Don’t mind my mood. Conversation breaks up the ground and allows vegetables to grow. Eggplant, radish, lettuce, peas, cabbage. Let talking find its way with no restrictions. Let the long pods sprout on their spontaneous stalks, so we can be fed the beans of conversation.”

Bahauddin

DESC Communication Tool
D – Describe the behavior
E – Explain the effect of the behavior
S – State the desired outcome
C – Consequence: say what will happen if the behavior continues

Some people prefer to memorize the key words that represent this model because it gives them a
consistent structure to follow:
D
When . . .
E
I feel . . . because . . .
S
Therefore, I want/need . . .
C
So that . .

“When you tell me I’m expected to be at the get-together without consulting me first [Describing the behaviour], I feel disrespected and unimportant [name the feeling] because I think that I am not getting to have a say in decisions that affect me. I need to be involved in these plans in future [state desired outcome] so that I can make sure that we both get what we want [consequence].

Using these kind of “I” statements gets one out of blaming, and taking positions. It opens the door to more genuine communication.

Healthy Boundaries

What are boundaries?

The word boundary in the American Heritage Dictionary is defined as “an indicated border or limit.” In relationships boundaries are often defined as the line that indicates where one person ends and the other begins. People with healthy boundaries have developed an identity separate and distinct from others and are not dependent upon others to nurture their personal and spiritual growth. Consider the following illustrations below:

boundaries1

Figure 1 illustrates healthy boundaries. In this relationship, the line between partners is easily identifiable. They are independent beings, yet they are close enough to be connected and to have an impact on each other’s life. In healthy relationships boundaries are flexible. They grow and change. Boundaries can be lowered to promote intimacy or extended to promote safety.

In Figure 2, it is difficult to distinguish one partner from the other. This is called enmeshment or collapsed boundaries. Partners in an enmeshed relationship generally try to merge with the other in order to avoid the emptiness they feel when alone. This is troublesome, because partners either seek to lose themselves in the other or expect their partner to become lost in them.

Figure 3 illustrates a relationship where each partner is completely self-contained, having very little impact on the other and very little emotional connection. This is called an emotionally detached relationship or rigid boundaries. The boundaries in this relationship tend to be more like walls and prevent intimacy.

What kind of boundaries do you have?

Look at the following characteristics to determine what kinds of boundaries you have:

HEALTHY BOUNDARIES

  • You can say no or yes, and you are ok when others say no to you.
  • You have a strong sense of identity. You respect yourself.
  • You expect reciprocity in a relationship-you share responsibility and power.
  • You know when the problem is yours and when it belongs to someone else.
  • You share personal information gradually in a mutually sharing/trusting relationship.
  • You don’t tolerate abuse or disrespect.
  • You know your own wants, needs and feelings. You communicate them clearly in your relationships.
  • You are committed to and responsible for exploring and nurturing your full potential.
  • You are responsible for your own happiness and fulfillment. You allow others to be responsible for their own happiness and fulfillment.
  • You value your opinions and feelings as much as others.
  • You know your limits. You allow others to define their limits.
  • You are able to ask for help when you need it.
  • You don’t compromise your values or integrity to avoid rejection.

COLLAPSED BOUNDARIES

  • You can’t say no, because you are afraid of rejection or abandonment.
  • Your identity consists of what you think others want you to be. You are a chameleon.
  • You have no balance of power or responsibility in your relationships. You tend to be either overly responsible and controlling or passive and dependent.
  • You take on other’s problems as your own.
  • You share personal information too soon. . .before establishing mutual trust/sharing.
  • You have a high tolerance for abuse or being treated with disrespect.
  • Your wants needs and feelings are secondary to others’ and are sometimes determined by others.
  • You ignore your inner voice and allow others expectations to define your potential.
  • You feel responsible for other’s happiness and fulfillment and sometimes rely on your relationships to create that for you.
  • You tend to absorb the feelings of others.
  • You rely on others opinions, feelings and ideas more than you do your own.
  • You allow others to define your limits or try to define limits for others.
  • You compromise your values and beliefs in order to please others or to avoid conflict.

RIGID BOUNDARIES

  • You are likely to say no if the request involves close interaction.
  • You avoid intimacy (pick fights, stay too busy, etc.)
  • You fear abandonment OR engulfment, so you avoid closeness.
  • You rarely share personal information.
  • You have difficulty identifying wants, needs, feelings.
  • You have few or no close relationships. If you have a partner, you have very separate lives and virtually no shared social life.
  • You rarely ask for help.
  • You do not allow yourself to connect with other people and their problems.

How do I change?

Understand that developing healthier boundaries (as with any life change) is a process, not an event. Thus, it will take time and practice. There are no quick fixes. However, healthy boundaries will lead to improved self-esteem and increased intimacy in your relationships. So the payoff is big, if you are persistent! Below are a few suggestions to help you stay on track in the process:

1. Identify the ways in which your boundaries are unhealthy. Make a list of how they express themselves in your life.

2. Write letters to yourself encouraging change and addressing the fears that work to prevent change. Nurture your right to have boundaries!

3. Make a list of personal rights (i. e. boundaries) in your relationships and paste it where you can read it often.

4. Keep a journal and record the pain associated with not maintaining healthy boundaries in your relationships. (Sometimes pain is a great motivator.)

5. Write an entry in your journal answering the question “Who Am I?” Do this periodically.

6. Look for role models of healthy boundaries in your life or in the media. When confronting a boundary challenging situation ask yourself “What would my role model do?” Better yet, if your role model is a part of your life, ask them!

7. Build in time for yourself away from your relationship on a regular basis. This will include alone time, time with your close friends, time for spiritual growth, and time to attend to life’s little responsibilities.

8. If you have difficulty saying ‘No,” look for opportunities to practice. If you have difficulty saying “Yes” to any activity that involves interacting with others, look for opportunities to practice.

9. Seek counseling to examine the roots of your unhealthy boundaries.

– author unknown at this time –

THE TIME OUT

The “Time-Out” is a simple yet effective tool for changing angry violent and abusive behavior. The intention of the time out is not to offer long term solutions to conflict and anger problems. This tool is simply intended to offer a short term alternative to behavior that is no longer desirable.

The “Time-Out” is a technique that requires practice and commitment. Initial obstacles to taking a “Time-Out” may not be foreseen and so it is sometimes recommended that a practice “Time-Out” should take place before a real one is necessary.

There are four steps to the “Time-Out”

l. Identify that you are escalating to the point where you need to get out of the situation. Use the “cues” or red flags to help you get in touch with physical, emotional and situational cues that may help you to know where you are at with your anger.

2. Decide to take the time out before you become intimidating, threatening or physically abusive. Indicate to the other person/s that you are leaving. Do not make any long speeches at this point; simply say that you are taking a “Time-Out”. (Make sure that you have informed others about the “Time-Out” in advance.

3. Leave where you are and go outside. Do not simply go to another room of the house or workplace. It is important that you physically leave the site of the conflict. Don’t get “hooked” into staying in the conflict. Take one hour to calm down before coming back. lf you need longer, let the other person know this. Don’t “stomp out”!

4. Return and decide together whether or not to return to the discussion or issue that took place before you left.

DO DO NOT
Think of other things Drink/use drugs
Walk, cycle, run, etc. Drive/ talk to unhealthy people
Talk to a positive support Hit or strike anything
Come back in one hour Rehearse the argument
Courtesy of Arla Sinclair Counselling

P. I. T. Communication Tool

P. I. T. can best be described as a check -in communication method or tool that can be used with anyone who is willing to use it with you – partner, spouse, co-workers, children, team-mates.

What does PIT stand for?

P = Personal = what is going on for me, issues, feelings

I = Interpersonal = what is happening between us, what I might want or need, or what is happening with me in relation to the group

T = Task = what are the tasks I/we are working on, or need doing  and how I think we are doing on our tasks as a couple or as a group.

HOW YOU USE PIT

Each person shares one part alternately or for a quicker version each person shares all three parts at once while the other person just listens.

PIT RULES

1.      There is no dialogue or comments made during P.I.T. by the person who is listening. Listening involves really hearing what the other is saying and being a witness to them.

2.      No one is to interrupt the other while doing P.I.T.

3.      Any emotion can be shared while doing P.I.T.

4.      Any discussion or issues that arise during P.I.T. are to be discussed after completion of P.I.T. Ideally one can seek agreement to bring up issues after P.I.T. and time can be set aside to do so.

5.      P.I.T. is about what’s going on right now, keep it in the present.

Courtesy of Arla Sinclair Counselling Solutions adapted from J . Sellner