John Gottman divides marital conflict into solvable problems and perpetual problems. Perpetual problems will probably be with a couple in one way or another for the rest of their lives. Principle 5 specifically, deals with solvable problems, whereas Principle #6 will deal with overcoming gridlock, the perpetual issue. If you are going to be successful at resolving conflict in any form he suggests implementing the following 5 steps:
5 Steps to Solvable Problems
- Soften your start-up.
- Learn to make and receive repair attempts.
- Soothe yourself and each other.
- Process any grievances so that they don’t linger.
In reality, none of these 5 steps are necessarily difficult; we tend to use them all the time. “To a certain degree, my fifth principle comes down to having good manners. It means treating your spouse with the same respect you offer to company.” (p.161) As in previous chapters, there is a questionnaire for each of the five steps. Readers can check how well they are doing and then there are exercises to improve your start-up or how you self-soothe or soothe your partner. How skillful are you, for example, at finding common ground and then being able to compromise or at processing a previous emotional injury so it doesn’t recur?
7 Solvable Problems
He then devotes a whole chapter to coping with 7 typical solvable areas of marital conflict
- work stress
- internet-fueled distractions
- having a new baby
A key, and for me, it is the key; couples have to feel safe in the relationship. Safe to be able to express differences and be respected. “When the issue is solvable, the challenge is to find the right strategy for conquering it.”(p.196) He lists the 7 hot spots, the tasks they each represent for marriage, and specific advice for addressing the solvable disagreements they often trigger.
Hot Spot: Money
Money, money, money, for example, is one hot spot. The TASK is balancing the freedom and empowerment money represents with the security and trust it also symbolizes. The SOLUTION is to be able to “work as a team on financial issues and … express your concerns, needs, and fantasies to each other before coming up with a plan.”(p.208)
Gottman’s Advice in 3 Steps
John Gottman’s SPECIFIC ADVICE includes 2 steps for this particular area of conflict:
- Itemize your current expenditures.
- Manage the everyday finances and
- Plan your financial future. “The point is that whatever your disagreement over finances, you’ll defuse the tension by working as a team to devise a plan you both can accept, even if it doesn’t give you everything you want right now.”(P.212)
Up Next: Principle 6
Gottman ends the chapter and leads into Principle 6 with “Sometimes, no matter how diligently you try to end a conflict, it just can’t be done. If that’s the case, you are dealing with a perpetual problem. Avoiding or breaking out of gridlock over such a problem is one of the chief challenges all couples face. My next principle will show you just how to save – or protect – your marriage from your irreconcilable differences.”(p.235)