Relationship Minute: What’s Your Conflict Style?

When arguing with your partner, do you have a signature move? Is there something you do or say often in conflict?

Perhaps, you find yourself making critical statements like: “You never listen to me” or “You always get your way.” Maybe, when you’re really upset, you resort to name-calling and mocking. Or, as soon as things get heated, you shut down completely and the silent treatment goes into effect.

Every couple fights, but not every couple knows how to fight in a healthy way. In the heat of the moment, you may be prone to rely on old communication habits, no matter how unhelpful they are.

Take time today to think about your conflict style. Ask your partner what you commonly do or say in an argument? They know the impact of your words and actions in conflict and have a unique perspective. For example, while you may think you’re pointing out objective facts, your partner feels attacked.

When you know how you fight, you can make the necessary changes and learn how to fight better.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: Are You Lonely in Love?

Many people enjoy being in a relationship for companionship and intimacy. You have someone with whom you can share your inner world.

But what happens when you’re in a relationship but still feel sad and lonely? Perhaps your partner feels distant even in the same room. When you talk, you don’t feel seen nor heard.

A myriad of reasons exists for unhappiness in couples (e.g., the presence of the Four Horsemen). One important factor many have in common, according to Dr. John Gottman, is that lonely people in relationships are not attuned to each other. They’re talking at one another— blaming and finger-pointing—rather than turning toward, showing empathy, and making understanding the goal.

In “The Science of Trust,” Dr. John Gottman tells couples that emotional attunement “is basically the skill they will need to create a relationship that really works for them.”

Are you emotionally attuned? Do you feel seen and heard in your relationship? Read more in the links below. Also, check out the latest from The Gottman Relationship CoachFeeling Seen and Heard is a new set of exercises, advice, and videos from the Gottmans explaining what makes a good listener and how to share your truth in a way your partner can understand.

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: Morning Greetings

When you wake up in the morning, what are the first words you say to your partner?

How you start your day in a relationship is important. If you begin with criticism (imagine a sarcastic “Oh, look who decided to finally get out of bed?”) or stonewalling (such as, still not speaking to each other after last night’s fight), you set a strong negative tone—not to mention inviting the Four Horsemen to breakfast!

Even addressing responsibilities first thing in the morning (“Hi, you need to walk the dog, make the kids’ lunches, and put gas in the car”) puts a strain on your connection.

Consider beginning your morning with fondness and admiration. When you wake up, greet your lover with a simple “Good morning, sweetheart.” Ask how they slept. If you’re up before them, prepare their favorite morning beverage or bring them a breakfast treat if you have time. Whether it’s a snuggle in bed or a kiss before you go to work, these morning greetings can make all the difference.

It’s understandable if this is difficult because your partner works night shifts or you have dramatically different schedules. It’s not about the timing as it is about being intentional about acknowledging each other and taking a crucial moment to express your love.

What can you do to greet your partner with fondness and admiration in the morning?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: Are You Stonewalling?

What does it feel like when you’re flooded? We know the signs of DPA (Diffuse Physiological Arousal) on paper, but feeling them in your own body is something else entirely. Most people don’t know the moment their heart rate exceeds 99 BPM.

But you might be more familiar with what it feels like to stonewall or what it feels like when your partner is stonewalling.

Stonewalling is the last of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and its presence can signal that the relationship is in trouble. It is what happens when one partner’s flooding causes them to withdraw from interaction (verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically).

As you become increasingly overwhelmed, your body is building that wall, stone by stone. Often, it’s a protective measure but it plays as a power move. It stops dialogue dead in its tracks.

Thankfully, there’s help! The antidote to stonewalling is to practice self-soothing. When you feel your body starting to build the wall, that’s the time to pause. Walk away (with a definite, verbalized plan to return) and give yourself a breather. Perhaps you need a code word or signal to ask your partner for a break.

Pay attention to the whole system. What are your thought patterns like when you’re overwhelmed? What are the physical sensations? What emotions lead to shutting down?

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The Relationship Minute is from The Gottman Institute. Visit their website.

Relationship Minute: Do You Keep Track of Your Partner’s Flaws?

“Forgot to take the trash again, I see.”

“They never ask how my day was.”

“This is the third time they overdrew our bank account this year.”

If you often mutter these phrases (or something similar) to yourself about your partner, you may think you’re avoiding conflict by keeping it to yourself. On the contrary, you unconsciously keep a running log of your partner’s mistakes and flaws, which can lead to a critical mindset. From there, it’s easy to slip into criticisms, such as, “You’re so inconsiderate” or “How can you be so irresponsible. You’re like a child.” Comments like these are hurtful and put your partner on the defensive.

Instead of building a silent case against your partner, communicate with them about what you want them to do. Change the negative critical thought into a positive need. So, “You forget to take out the trash all the time” turns into “I could really use your help taking the trash out.” Your need goes from negative to positive, and you will likely get a much better response.

Are you keeping track of your partner’s flaws? What can you do to change your negative need into a positive one?

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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: The Headless Horseman

The Headless Horseman is a character from folklore, traditionally depicted as a man on horseback who is seen either carrying his head or having lost it entirely. At times, he is depicted using a jack-o-lantern as a replacement (festive!).

Similarly, when you engage in one of the Four Horsemen (Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, or Stonewalling), you may feel as though you have lost your head and/or temporarily replaced it with a jack-o-lantern.

But just as spotting the Headless Horseman is a rare occurrence (no one in the folk tales encounters him at the feed store, offering his opinions in the comments section of a Facebook post, or struggling to assemble IKEA furniture), the Four Horsemen are not permanent states of being.

In most healthy relationships, a partner is not always critical, defensive, contemptuous, or stonewalling. Aside from Contempt, they are behaviors that even the happiest couples occasionally slip into.

The difference is that the “Masters” of relationships know how to keep the Four Horsemen at bay and maintain a high positive-to-negative interaction ratio, even in conflict.

So try to keep the Horsemen (Headless and otherwise) reined in to avoid any unnecessary scares.

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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: Practicing non-defensiveness

Responding and listening without getting defensive takes practice. It’s difficult! For so many, defensiveness is just a knee-jerk reaction rooted in the need to protect the idea of yourself as a “good person” with the right intentions. And it’s good to assume positive intent, especially when you’re interacting with your partner.

So it’s important to practice taking a step back and making sure you understand the situation before jumping to your own defense.

In the last Relationship Minute, we used this example:

“Did you remember to get toilet paper at the store?” 

So before you counterattack, respond with righteous indignation, or default to innocent victimhood, try taking a step back to assess.

I feel defensive because I did not remember to get toilet paper. Am I being criticized or am I perceiving this as an attack?
My partner isn’t criticizing me but I perceived an attack because I’m sensitive to the implication that I am lazy/forgetful/careless. Can I overlook that to keep this conversation on track? 

If you can’t overlook it, that’s fine, too. You could say, “I’m feeling defensive. I feel like you’re implying that I’m careless.” Then they can help clarify and together, you can get the dialogue back on track and the toilet paper back in stock.

Be patient with yourself as you practice. You may catch yourself reacting defensively often, but it’s catching yourself doing it that matters. If you note it soon enough, you could even ask your partner for a do-over.

“Did you remember to get toilet paper at the store?”
“Who are you, my mother?! …Actually, can I try again?”
“Sure.”
“I forgot. I can get some tomorrow if we’re not down to our last square.”

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: Forms of defensiveness

Defensiveness is one of Gottman’s Four Horsemen. So what does a defensive response look like? Usually, it takes one of three forms: counterattack, righteous indignation, or innocent victimhood.

“Did you remember to get toilet paper at the store?” 

Counterattack: An escalation of conflict through scorekeeping.
“No, but you didn’t remember to take the garbage out last night so I guess we’re even.”

Righteous indignation: Impulsive, offended response to a perceived attack.
“I don’t see why I always have to be the one getting toilet paper. You use the bathroom just as much as I do.”

Innocent victimhood:Often disguised as whining, a rush to shame oneself and make the other person feel bad for the perceived attack. 
“I have so much going on right now and going to the store is so stressful, especially the toilet paper aisle! How can you expect me to remember?”

Of course, it’s much more difficult to respond non-defensively to criticism and there’s a difference between reacting defensively to a perceived attack and protecting your own boundaries.

The key to catching your own defensiveness is to pay attention to when you are potentially misinterpreting a statement or question as an attack.

Though the knee-jerk defensive response may be the same, there’s a world of difference between “Did you remember to get toilet paper at the store?” and “You forgot to get toilet paper at the store again, didn’t you? You’re so irresponsible.”

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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: Self-soothing

Are you stressed out? Maybe your resting state just has a layer of anxiety on top of it now, making it easier for you to become flooded.

Flooding is another word for physiological overwhelm, which you may or may not even be aware of as it is happening. Flooding can lead to blowing up or shutting down. And shutting down—stonewalling—is one of the Four Horsemen.

Like the other three Horsemen, stonewalling has an antidote. The cure for stonewalling is self-soothing.

If you find yourself stonewalling, listen up! This antidote is on you to practice and employ. You can’t make your partner self-soothe, and vice versa.

What you can collaborate on with your partner is a signal that either of you can use to let them know you need to take a break to reset. It can be a code word, a hand signal, anything you agree on that means “I’m getting overwhelmed. I need at least 20 minutes.”

Then, take that break and breathe, walk it off, or listen to some music. Just avoid teetering into righteous indignation (ruminating on the conflict that overwhelmed you in the first place) or innocent victimhood (“I can’t believe they did this to me. This is all their fault.”)

After taking the time to wind down, you can engage with your partner again. You don’t even have to be ready to apologize (if that’s what’s in order). But once you’re no longer flooded, you’ll be in a better place to listen and empathize.

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: Stonewalling

You may already be familiar with The Four Horsemen (criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling) but now that our context has shifted on a global scale, it’s worth taking a closer look at each and how they might show up at home. 

What does it feel like when you’re flooded? We know the signs of DPA (Diffuse Physiological Arousal) on paper, but feeling them in your own body is something else entirely. Most people don’t know the moment their heart rate exceeds 99 BPM.

But you might be more familiar with what it feels like to stonewall, or what it feels like when your partner is stonewalling.

Stonewalling is the last of the Four Horsemen and it is what happens when one partner’s flooding causes them to withdraw from interaction (verbally, emotionally, and sometimes physically).

As you become increasingly overwhelmed, your body is building that wall, stone by stone. Often, it’s a protective measure but it plays as a power move. It stops dialogue dead in its tracks.

On the receiving end, you might feel the frustration of hitting that metaphorical wall. Maybe becoming louder is a way to get through? Or maybe you retreat. Either way, the devastation stonewalling creates in a relationship earns it a spot as one of the Four Horsemen.

But the good news about each of the Four Horsemen is that they have antidotes! The antidote to stonewalling is to practice self-soothing. Can you feel your body starting to build the wall? Do you have a code word or signal to ask for a break?

Pay attention to the whole system—what are your thought patterns like when you’re overwhelmed? What are the physical sensations? What emotions lead to shutting down?

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.