Relationship Minute: Fire needs friction

Conflict is uncomfortable and many avoid it at all costs. Yet however it manifests, conflict in relationships is inevitable. All couples have problems, disagreements, and friction—that’s the result of putting two different people together. It’s how couples manage their conflict that makes the difference.

Every disagreement has the power to transform the relationship. If you can view it as a shared experience that you made it through together, and emerged from stronger, you can use conflict as an opportunity to grow.

Flint needs friction to start a fire. Sharing your opposing viewpoints and being vulnerable enough to say, “this matters to me,” is an act of intimacy.

Emerge from conflicts closer to each other—forged in fire.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Good vs evil

Some of the most-loved movies tell epic tales of the battle between good and evil, in which a relatable hero (“the good guy”) fights against a despicable villain (“the bad guy”).

Often it serves the story best if these characters lack nuance. We can’t always dig into the fear or trauma history that might be driving the villain’s decision-making, for example. It wouldn’t serve the central narrative of the Star Wars franchise to include any scenes of Emperor Palpatine in individual therapy.

But when you cast yourself and your partner in the roles of hero and villain, you rob yourself and your relationship’s story of much-needed nuance and clarity. As uncomfortable as it may be, embracing ambiguity may be the way forward.

If you find yourself casting your partner as the villain, it may be due to Negative Sentiment Override (NSO). NSO prevents you from giving someone the benefit of the doubt, and even causes you to perceive otherwise objective or uncharged actions as negative.

Let’s say your partner doesn’t respond to your text with their usual promptness. What story do you create around that (“They’re ignoring me on purpose,” “They’re mad at me. I did something wrong,” or, “Their phone must be off,”)? Do you make assumptions and go with them or do you check in about that story?

When you view your partner, or anyone you love, from a binary perspective, it forces them to tip into the role of “all good” or “all bad,” when in reality, nobody is just one thing.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Gridlock

Gridlocked conflict does not simply occur spontaneously. There are five phases a conflict conversation generally passes through on the way. According to John Gottman, those stages are:

1. Your dreams stand in opposition

2. Entrenchment of your opposing positions

3. Increased fears of accepting influence from your partner

4. Vilification (Four Horsemen)

5. Emotional disengagement from each other

All couples will face some forms of perpetual conflict. But those recurring issues do not need to become gridlocked. What you need to create movement or even a little wiggle room, is the willingness to explore the other person’s side of the conflict and what dreams are beneath their position.

For example, let’s say the conflict is about letting the dog sleep in the bed. One partner wants the dog in the bed and the other does not.

“I want the dog to sleep in the bed.” 

  • What it might be about: comfort, security, nurturing, protection, a feeling of family, care. 
  • What it’s not actually about: where the dog sleeps. 

“I don’t want the dog to sleep in the bed.” 

  • What it might be about: cleanliness, order, boundaries, respect, comfort, intimacy. 
  • What it’s not actually about: dog hair in the sheets. 

So what’s underneath each position in a gridlocked conflict? Is there room for understanding? Room for movement?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.