Let’s explore the 2 kinds of marital conflict that exist before going on to principles 5 and 6. Here, Gottman differentiates between two kinds of marital conflict.
“We have found that all marital conflicts, ranging from mundane annoyances to all-out wars, really fall into one of two categories: either they can be resolved, or they are perpetual, which means they will be a part of your lives forever in some form or another. Once you are able to identify and define your various disagreements, you’ll be able to customize your coping strategies, depending on which of these two types of conflict you’re having.” (p. 137)
2 Categories of Marital Conflict
Perpetual Conflict Category
According to his research. 69% of marital conflicts fall into the perpetual problem category. The key is couples who have satisfying marriages have hit upon a way to deal with their unmoveable problems so they don’t become overwhelming. They learn to live with it and approach it with good humor. It is a bit like living with chronic pain or a trick knee. They cope by avoiding situations that worsen them and by developing strategies and routines that help ease them. Some examples of perpetual problems might be: wanting children vs. not wanting children, the frequency of sex, shared housework, different religious orientations, or different parenting styles.
The problem is, that if a marriage is unstable, perpetual problems eventually will kill the relationship. “Instead of coping with the problem effectively, the couple get gridlocked (the term he uses) over it.” P. 140 He provides a checklist for readers to try and ascertain if they are in gridlock. #4 for example, When you discuss the subject, you end up feeling more frustrated and hurt.
But he goes on to say:
“If this sounds painfully familiar, take comfort in knowing that there is a way out of gridlock, no matter how entrenched. As you’ll see when we get to Principle 6, all you need is motivation and a willingness to explore the hidden issues that are really causing the gridlock. The key will be to uncover and share with each other the significant personal dreams you have for your life. I have found that unrequited dreams are at the core of every gridlocked conflict. In other words, the endless argument symbolizes some profound difference between the two of you that needs to be addressed before you can put the problem in its place.” P.141
Solvable Problem Category
Solvable problems on the other hand are not necessarily easy to handle either but Principle #5 tackles solvable problems head-on by:
- Making sure your start-up is soft rather than harsh.
- Learning the effective use of repair attempts.
- Monitoring your physiology during tense discussions for warning signs of flooding.
- Learning how to compromise and e) becoming more tolerant of each other’s imperfections.
The rest of the chapter helps readers, by sharing different examples, differentiate between solvable and perpetual problems. He follows this with a questionnaire for assessing marital conflicts – gridlocked or solvable – which will then help to know which strategies to use to cope with them.
Before heading into the solution phase, Principles #5 and #6, he offers some general advice:
Keys to Managing Marital Conflict
- Negative emotions are important. “Successful relationships live by the motto “When you are in pain, the world stops and I listen.” P. 157
- No one is right. i.e. you can be right or be in a relationship.
- Acceptance is crucial. “The basis for coping effectively with relationship issues, whether solvable or perpetual, is to communicate basic acceptance of your partner’s personality.” P. 157
- Focus on fondness and admiration. “For a marriage to go forward happily, you need to pardon each other and give up on past resentments.” p. 159
Next week I will take a look at Principle #5: Solve Your Solvable Problems. Look back to Principle 4 for a refresh as well.