Gottman: Date 2
Written by Katie Mitchell, M.A. Certified Sex Therapist
If you are just tuning into this new blog series, I highly suggest going back to read/complete the first date topic, trust and commitment. As a recap, Eight Dates is a date guide about 8 different beneficial conversations that help couples to connect and gain a better understanding of one another. Over the next couple of months, I will be completing overviews of each date conversation. If this information resonates with you, I highly suggest purchasing the book in order to garner more information here. The worksheets have been pulled from this book for your convenience to utilize at home; you can find them for free here.
This week we are on to date number two: conflict! I understand that it seems a bit counterintuitive to discuss how you and your partner argue, but bear in mind that there is a great deal of understanding that can be gained from having this conversation with one another. For this date, you and your partner will carve out time to discuss and explore the difference exercise that had been provided. Just as they did with trust and commitment, the Gottman’s and Abrams’ provided an at home exercise on the differences that we might have with our partner. They have provided 25 different topics to explore and discuss with one another (this can be found on page 76 of the book and page 8 of the free PDF document above). During the date, the two of you will take time to ask one another about these differences; discuss their importance; explore if there is a story behind any of these experiences; and/or discuss if there is a greater purpose for each of your positions on the provided differences. Remember that deeper understanding is the purpose of this activity – not bringing each other to your side or winning. Be curious about your partner’s responses and what they are trying to convey to you. The final portion of this date is focused on re-affirming your future together; an affirmation is provided for you two (in the chapter) and you will each take turns stating it aloud while maintaining eye contact.
As a couples’ counselor I love that this chapter takes the time to normalize conflict. One of my favorite quotes is “one of the greatest marriage myths is that if you never fight then that means you have a ‘good’ relationship.” The goal should not be to never have conflict, the goal should instead be to have healthier conflict that leads to greater understanding of one another. This chapter also does a great job in differentiating solvable and perpetual problems. Solvable problems are situational problems, where “the conflict is the topic and there is no deeper meaning.” Perpetual problems “center on fundamental differences you have in your personalities or lifestyle preferences.” Being able to understand the difference between these two types of conflict is helpful because the Gottman research shows that most relational conflict is not resolvable. This does not mean that you are your partner are destined to fight tooth and nail for the rest of your relationship, but it might be time to take a different perspective on conflict. As the Gottman’s are famous for saying, “within these perpetual problems that you can’t ever seem to resolve lie the greatest opportunities for growth and intimacy.” This chapter has an amazing review of how to fight fair and repair from a regrettable incident or argument (I actually love to use this in sessions with couples): discuss your feelings; discuss your realities and validate them; discuss your triggers; accepting responsibility; and how you might do things differently in the future.
As a reminder, this book gives lots of amazing recommendations for those who have the ability to go somewhere for a date, but also for those who need to do this date at home! In addition, if you and your partner struggle to communicate in an open manner, the first few chapters of Eight Dates also include helpful information on putting your feelings into words; asking open-ended questions; making exploratory statements; and expressing tolerance, empathy, and understanding. I highly recommend reading through this material as a refresher for even those who consider themselves the best communicators!
I hope reading this motivates you and your partner to carve out a date night to discuss what conflict (agreeing to disagree) looks like within your relationship! If this is something that the two of you struggle to do, reach out to our office today and we will get you set up with a counselor who can help you two have this conversation together.