Today on the Gottman Relationship Blog, we continue the discussion of Manage Conflict by introducing Dr. Gottman’s six skills of conflict management. Many of us connect all too well with comedian Mitch Hedberg’s feelings when he quips, “I got in an argument with a girlfriend inside of a tent. That’s a bad place for an argument, because I tried to walk out, and had to slam the flap!”
While his commentary on the frustrations all couples feel in the face of conflict may hit close to home, or deeply amuse us, we know that problems in real relationships are rarely solved through stand-up comedy. In the interest of finding more constructive solutions, we would like to direct you to a different quote, that lovely old adage: Love is saying “I feel differently” instead of “you’re wrong.”
Managing vs. Resolving Conflict in Relationships: The Blueprints for Success
In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman’s research proves that 69% of problems in a relationship are unsolvable. These may be things like personality traits your partner has that rub you the wrong way, or long-standing issues around spending and saving money. Their research findings emphasize the idea that couples must learn to manage conflict rather than avoid or attempt to eliminate it.
Trying to solve unsolvable problems is counterproductive, and no couple will ever completely eliminate them. However, discussing them is constructive and provides a positive opportunity for understanding and growth. Let’s look at three “conflict blueprints” to help you and your partner constructively manage conflict around unsolvable problems.
5 Steps to Fight Better if Your Relationship is Worth Fighting For
Conflict is inevitable in every relationship. Psychologist Dan Wile says it best in his book After the Honeymoon: “When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unresolvable problems.” However, Dr. Gottman has found that nearly 1/3 of all conflicts can be resolved with the right approach.
The popular approach to conflict resolution, advocated by many marriage therapists, is to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, listen to what they say, and communicate with empathy that you understand their perspective. It’s a decent method if you can do it.
But most couples can’t. Even happily married couples. After studying couples for the last 40 years, Dr. John Gottman has recognized that even happy couples do not follow the experts’ rules of communication.
By studying what these couples did, Dr. Gottman developed a new model for solving your solvable problems in an intimate relationship.