Conflict is part of a relationship. When couples are embroiled in conflict and the emotional temperature of the relationship is heightened, it is hard to determine if they are dealing with a solvable or a perpetual disagreement.
Did you know that you don’t have to resolve all your relationship issues in order to thrive?
“What? you may be asking right now? “but we keep fighting about the same thing and in the end nothing is resolved and we don’t talk to each other for hours, it is awful!”
Part of living happily with our partners and our incompatibilities means learning to understand our differences and resolve the ones that have a solution as well as learn to dialogue about those that are perpetual issues. Happy couples can learn to accept their partner’s perpetual differences as amusing foibles.
The following are some categories where couples can experience solvable problems:
Money and finances
Diet and food issues
In-laws and kin
Children (having children, raising children)
One example in the money and finances area can be:
Partner A: wants to save money for a long holiday whilst Partner B wants to spend money regularly on weekend dates and have a shorter holiday.
This is a solvable problem because this couple can discuss their desires and come to a resolution that satisfies both their wishes. Partner A can accept having a three week holiday instead of five weeks away and Partner B will organise dates that don’t always incur costs.
These problems may seem relatively simple compared to perpetual ones but they can still cause a great deal of pain between partners. When a solvable problem causes too much stress in the relationship it is because the couple haven’t found an adequate way to approach each other, and most probably a sense of lack of emotional connection and safety already exists between them making them see each other as ‘frenemies” not as two loving partners. The reality is that in every fight there is a conversation that the couple needed to have but an argument happened instead.
A safe emotional connection between partners is a pre-requisite to deal with solvable issues. This is created by an ongoing, mutual and intentional investment in the friendship with your partner that once upon a time started your relationship. Affirming the strengths each person brings rather than focusing on their weaknesses, makes loving people easier, regardless of the ‘peculiarities’ that they may have. Feeling accepted for who we are creates a safe bond between partners and it is then when we can apply Gottman’s suggestions to deal with solvable issues:
Soften the start of your conversations
Make and receive repairs for emotional disconnections
Remain emotionally regulated throughout the conflicted interaction
Learn to accept influence from one another in order to reach a mutually satisfactory compromise
This is all easier said than done, so if you are struggling in this area please remember that there is help available. Feel free to contact me (details on my website).
But remember that apart from solvable issues, all couples have 69% of perpetual problems to contend with.
What are perpetual problems? They are the big, heavy issues in the relationship that keep causing a lot of pain and hurt that if not dealt with properly can easily become gridlocked. These problems tend to exist in the relationship for a long time and frequently recur.
When we are gridlocked in an issue we can feel betrayed, hurt, dismissed, frustrated, alone and more than anything we feel that we are stuck with the problem. The danger of gridlock issues is that they can lead the couple into a downward spiral of emotional loneliness and disconnection where people end up living parallel lives.
Some signs of gridlock:
The conflict makes partners feel rejected
Both people keep arguing but make no progress
Both partners are entrenched in their positions and not willing to budge
Every time there is an argument frustration increases
The more partners vilify each other, the more entrenched each position becomes, and there is less willingness to compromise
Emotional disengagement is the final result
Perpetual issues can be fundamental differences in your personalities that constantly create conflict or fundamental needs in your lifestyle.
Examples of perpetual issues:
Differences in neatness and organization
Differences in wanting time together and time apart/alone
Differences in sex drives and frequency
Differences in handling finances
Differences in how to approach household chores
Differences in how to raise and/or discipline children
Differences in punctuality
Differences in preferred activity level
Differences in respect to the use of alcohol and drugs
Differences in values
Differences in ambition and the importance of work
So what do happy couples do in order to deal with these differences and live happily incompatiby? Because remember that it is a known fact that all of us will deal with 69% of perpetual issues in our couples’ relationships and there are many couples who succeed in managing these tricky differences.
To find out more, read the next blog on this series.
Adapted from “The Seven Principles that Make Marriage Work” John M. Gottman Ph. D and Nan Silver.