What about these perpetual problems? Perpetual. Forever. On and on. Does that mean we’ll never solve them? That seems hopeless right? And two thirds of our problems are perpetual? Geez Louise, cut me a break!
Well, we’re in luck, Louise helped us out. And by Louise, I mean Dr. Gottman. His research shows that the issue isn’t that we aren’t solving these problems, it’s that we are mishandling them. Not only are we dealing with the four horsemen (covered in last week’s post, and here is the first post in the series, if you’d like to start from the beginning.), we are also missing deeper meanings and opportunities to turn toward our partners and see their dreams and their hidden selves.
Ahhh, sounds really nice, doesn’t it? Ok, but what do you do with that? Because usually, we’re pretty upset. And this isn’t the first time! Well guess what? This won’t be the last time either. These problems aren’t going away, in fact, we will see them come up again and again. The argument is usually never about the actual topic of the moment. So, the choice is yours. Are you going to use these perpetual problems as opportunities to build your relationship or tear it down?
What’s the opportunity? First, you have the chance to get to know your partner better. What’s really going on here? Why are they so upset? Why are you really upset? It’s not about the convenience store salad! So when you have that stupid fight where you fight about nothing, the goal is to increase understanding, perspective, empathy, and dialogue. To do that, ask open ended questions, explore the distant past and look for connections, try to really “get” each other. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Sorry. But good news, it’s not as cheesy as it sounds either. It’s actually paramount and can build incredible worth and meaning into your coupleship.
What perpetual problem in your own relationship are you tired of fighting about? What is it really about? Here’s an exercise you can use to try to gain some insight into how these fights about nothing reveal so much about who we are. Journal three reasons why this perpetual problem you just named really bothers you. What does it mean about your relationship? What does it represent for you symbolically? Then, write down three questions you can ask your partner to deepen your understanding of what it is really about for them. And if you’re feeling uber brave, ask them the questions, and listen, really listen. Then share.
Dr. Gottman said, “The #1 thing that couples fight about is NOTHING.” What are you going to do to make the nothing you fight about a more effective dialogue that gets you more out of your relationship this week? I believe relationships are worth investing in, restoring, and maintaining. What will you do to keep yours in great shape?
If you need more help on a personal basis working through some of these concepts, contact me, Jemma Coleman, a licensed Gottman trained therapist. I’d love to have you both in for a free half hour consultation and we can take it from there.