John Gottman notes that it is rare that couples are in sync with each other, no matter how good the relationship is. He illustrates this with the concept of tossing a coin. Of course, the heads and tails are statistically 50% each. In that “best of worlds” scenario that would mean that a couple is open and receptive to each other about 25% of the time. However, that is not the real world. From research, it is estimated the couples are only available to each other with both people open and receptive simultaneously about 9% to 10% of the time (and even that is somewhat generous according to Dr. Gottman). The rest of the time is ripe for miscommunication.
So what do you do? This is a quick lesson in how to fight.
Conflict is a part of life, and so exposure to it can be an important lesson in emotional literacy for kids if it is handled properly.
First, soften your complaints. Remember that the person you are talking to is (at the moment) your annoying friend and not the enemy. The way you do this is to treat disagreements like an object that is not related to either of you. It is an item of discussion, kind of like a piece of art that you are going to look at and comment about.
Next, when you feel yourself getting angry, take a break from the discussion. The research shows that it is important, particularly for men, to take some time to get their heart-rate down. That research showed that heart rates that exceed 100 bpm generally lead to an out-of-control conversation and significant emotional hurt. Taking a break of about 20 minutes, then coming back to the discussion helps tremendously.
Ideas for a break may include doing something you enjoy or meditation. The point is to allow yourself some space to calm yourself down. This does not work if you simply withdraw and get into a lot of “self-talk.” This only continues the negative conversation and will not allow that space to calm yourself. This is not a time out to make bullet points to open the next round. To the contrary, when you return to the conversation, if should be like a fresh start.
Third is to be open to the influence of your partner, even if you think he or she is being totally irrational. John Gottman notes in his research that a good first step if we want to reach an agreement, is to find elements of our partner’s position that you can agree with. Especially when both are doing this, common ground is quickly found and a win-win position becomes attainable.
This is not about being right. That is a dangerous posture and it leads to painful outcomes and a sense of arrogance and contempt – both of those lead down a destructive path. This a position of inclusion and consideration for all sides, including yours and theirs.
We note that this is not about giving up something that is critically important. When the conversation is open, positions tend to reveal higher meanings to positions. It is in these higher meanings – your values and beliefs – that true growth can be obtained and flexibility in outcomes can be reached. It is about acknowledgment.
There may not be a total solution. But there can be understanding. In fact, some positions are not areas where any agreement may be reached. Those perpetual disagreements do exist in relationships. Those are elements that add depth, diversity, and perspective to life together. When honored, these become bonding elements rather than points of division. As Steven Covey once put it, “…seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
With this being a holiday time it is important to remember these lessons. Rudolf Dreikurs noted that “children are great perceivers but poor interpreters.” They can observe and feel something deeply. But they cannot discern between themselves, their parents and the reason for the fight. They may even blame themselves for your fight, and that is not an outcome that anyone wants during a holiday – or any other day.
May this season be one of concern and deep interest in each other making your home a place of compassion and a place where you and your children learn true emotional intelligence.