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I Statements Not the Be All End All

A couple with their backs to each other

I statements are not the be all end all to resolving interpersonal communication and resolving the conflict.

Starting with an “I” instead of “You” is less critical and less likely to make the listener as defensive as “you,” statements.

The success of implementing the suggestion in the rest of this article depends to a large extent on how well you can manage your emotions under stress. I would encourage you to consider doing this online anger management course first.

According to the Einstein of love, Dr John Gottman, the number one thing that couples fight about is nothing.

He says that even happy couples do not follow the experts’ rules of communication. So, using I statements is only one suggested step in starting an awkward conversation.

Additionally, Dr Gottman and Robert Levenson did a study that allowed them to predict with 90% accuracy, which couples would divorce, and which couples would stay together.

Their study showed the difference between happy and unhappy couples is the ratio of positive and negative interactions during the conflict. This magic ratio is 5 to 1.

This means if there’s one negative interaction during the conflict, the happy couple has five or more positive interactions.

What Predicts Divorce and The Principals for Making Marriage Work (According to Research by John Gottman)

What Predicts Divorce

1: Harsh start-up of discussion of a disagreement

  • When the discussion starts up with criticism and sarcasm, (a form of contempt) – it has begun with a harsh start-up.
  • Ninety-six per cent of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation based on the first three minutes of the fifteen-minute interaction.

2: The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse – criticism; contempt; defensiveness and stonewalling

  • Criticism: There is a difference between a complaint and criticism. A complaint only addresses the action or behaviour. Criticism is more global – it adds some negative words about your mate’s character and personality.
  • To turn any complaint into a criticism, add “What’s wrong with you?”
  • Contempt: Sarcasm, cynicism, name-calling, eye-rolling, sneering, mockery and hostile humour are all forms of contempt.
  • Contempt conveys disgust.
  • Belligerence is a close cousin of contempt. It is a form of aggressive anger because it contains a threat or provocation.
  • Defensiveness: Defensiveness is a way of blaming your partner – saying in effect “The problem isn’t me it’s you.”
  • Stonewalling: Harsh start-up with criticism and contempt lead to defensiveness, which leads to more contempt and more defensiveness. Eventually, one partner tunes out. This person is the stonewaller.

Stonewalling is the result of flooding, a physical reaction including increased heart rate, hormonal changes (including the secretion of adrenalin, which kicks in the flight or fight response), and increased blood pressure.

The physical sensations of feeling flooded, make it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving discussion.

All you can think about is how to protect yourself from the turbulence your spouse’s onslaught causes. And the way to do that is to disengage emotionally from the relationship.

In 85% of marriages, the stonewaller is the husband.

Gottman’s research indicates that the male cardiovascular system is more reactive than the female’s and slower to recover from stress.

Since marital confrontation that activates vigilance takes a more significant physical toll on the male, it’s no surprise that men are more likely than women to attempt to avoid it.

3: Failed Repair Attempts

Repair attempts are efforts the couple makes to de-escalate the tension during a touchy discussion (e.g. “let’s take a break” or “I need to calm down”).

The failure of repair attempts is an accurate marker for an unhappy future. The presence of the four horsemen alone predicts divorce with only 82% accuracy. But when you add in the failed repair attempts, the accuracy rate reaches into the ’90s.

4: Pervasive Negative Thoughts About the Marriage

When a relationship gets subsumed in negativity, it’s not only the present that gets painted in a negative light; the past often gets re-written in a negative light too.

Signs That the End is Near

Four final stages signal the death knell of a relationship.

  • You see your marital problems as severe.
  • Talking things over seems useless. You try to solve problems on your own.
  • You start leading parallel lives.
  • Loneliness sets in.

The Answer: Divorce-proofing Your Marriage

The key to reviving or divorce-proofing a relationship is not in how you handle disagreements but in how you are with each other when you are not fighting.

The Seven Principles guide in coping with conflict, as well as strengthen the friendship that is at the heart of any marriage.

Principle 1: Enhance Your Love Maps

  • Emotionally intelligent couples are intimately familiar with each other’s world. (Having a richly detailed love map.)

Principle 2: Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration

  • The first test of this is how you view your past. Couples who put a positive spin on their marriage’s history are likely to have a happy future as well.
  • Reminding yourself of your spouse’s positive qualities can prevent a happy marriage deteriorating. The simple reason is that fondness and admiration are antidotes for contempt.
  • Just thinking and talking about them can exhume positive feelings that have been buried a long time.

Principle 3: Turn Towards Each Other Instead of Away

  • In marriage people periodically make “bids” for their partner’s attention, affection, humour, or support. People either turn toward one another after these bids, or they turn away.

Couples who characteristically turn towards each other rather than away are putting money in the bank. They are building up emotional savings that can serve as a cushion when times get rough.

The stress-reducing conversation reunites at the end of the day and talks about it seem to be the most effective in topping up the emotional bank account. On a typical day, spend twenty to thirty minutes on this conversation. Talk about anything outside the marriage. Use the active listening technique. (Okay to use when not airing gripes about each other).

  1. Take turns
  2. Don’t give unsolicited advice
  3. Show genuine interest
  4. Communicate your understanding
  5. Take your partner’s side
  6. Express a “we against others” attitude
  7. Express affection
  8. Validate emotions
  • Once your marriage is set at a more positive level, it will be harder to knock it off course.

Principle 4: Let Your Partner Influence You

  • Gottman found that men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives’ influence.
  • Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81% chance that the marriage will self-destruct.
  • Wives generally tend to let their husbands influence their decision-making - even in unstable marriages.
  • The research found that the happiest, most stable marriages were those when the husband treated the wife with respect and did not resist power sharing and decision making with her.
  • In analysing the data, Gottman found significant gender differences when an area of conflict was discussed. Although the wives would sometimes express anger or other negative emotions towards their husbands, they rarely responded to their husbands by increasing the negativity.
  • But 65% of the male respondents escalated their wife’s negativity. He did this in a way by trotting out one of the four horsemen (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling).
  • If the wife of one of these men said, “you’re not listening to me!” the husband would either ignore her (Stonewall), be defensive (yes, I am!), or be contemptuous (“why waste my time?”).
  • Using one of the four horsemen to escalate a conflict is a sign that a man is resisting a wife’s influence.
  • More than 80% of the time it’s the wife who brings up marital issues, while the husband tries to avoid discussing them. This statistic is accurate in happy marriages as well as unhappy.

Two Kinds of Marital Conflict

  • All marital conflicts fall into two categories. Either they can be resolved, or they are perpetual, which means they will be part of your lives forever, in some form or another.
  • Marriages can thrive when couples develop a strategy to deal with their constant problems.
  • When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a set of unsolvable problems that you will be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.

Principle 5: Solve Your Solvable Problems

  • Solvable problems are situational, and they don’t reverberate into other areas of their lives.
  • The basis for coping with either kind of problem is the same – communicating basic acceptance of your partner’s personality.
  • Human nature dictates that it is virtually impossible to accept advice from someone unless you feel that person understands you.
  • If either or both of you feel judged, misunderstood, or rejected by the other, you will not be able to manage the problems in your marriage.
  • To improve a marriage, we need to feel accepted by our spouse.

The steps for solving solvable problems are:

1. Soften your start-up.

  • To ensure a soft start-up:

    • Complain but don’t blame.
    • Make statements that start with “I” instead of “You”.
    • Describe what is happening, don’t evaluate or judge.
    • Be clear. Instead of “Would you look after the baby?” “Please change Emmy’s nappy and give her a bottle.”
    • Be polite. Use “please”, and “I would appreciate it if…”
    • Be appreciative. Instead of “You never spend time with me anymore,” say “Remember how we used to go out every Saturday night? I loved that. Let’s start doing that again.”
    • Don’t store things up.

2. Learn to make and receive a repair attempt.

3. Monitor your physiology during tense discussions for signs of flooding

Take steps to soothe yourself and each other. You need at least 20 minutes for the body to calm down.

If your heart rate exceeds 100 beats per minute, you won’t be able to hear what your spouse is trying to tell you no matter how hard you try.

4. Compromise.

The cornerstone of compromise is the fourth principle of marriage – accepting influence. You don’t have to agree with everything your spouse says or believes, but you must be honestly open to considering his or her position.

5. Be tolerant of each other’s faults.

Conflict resolution is not about one person changing. It’s about negotiating; finding common ground and ways you can accommodate each other.

These steps amount to having good manners – treating your spouse to the same respect

you would give to friends.

Principle 6: Overcoming Gridlock of Perpetual Problems

Perpetual problems

Unfortunately, 69% of marital problems fall into this category.

Examples of perpetual problems are:

1. Meg wants to have a baby, but Donald says he’s not ready yet – and doesn’t know if he ever will be.

2. Walter wants sex more frequently than Dana.

3. Tony wants to raise his children as Catholics. Jessica is Jewish and wants their children to follow her faith.

4. Angie thinks Ron is too critical of their son. But Ron thinks he has the right approach. Their son must be taught the proper way to do things.

The signs of being gridlocked over a constant problem are:

  • The conflict makes you feel rejected by your partner.
  • You keep talking about it but make no headway.
  • You become entrenched in your positions and are unwilling to budge.
  • When you discuss the subject, you feel more frustrated and hurt.
  • Your conversations about the problem are devoid of humour, amusement, or affection.
  • Eventually, you disengage from each other emotionally.
  • The way out of the gridlock is to be able to uncover and share the significant personal dreams you have for our life.
  • In other words, the endless argument symbolises some profound difference between you that needs to be addressed before you can put the problem in its place.
  • If you are hopelessly gridlocked over a problem you just can’t solve, the goal is not to solve the problem, but rather to move from gridlock to dialogue.
  • Gridlock is a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other.
  • Our deepest dreams are rooted in childhood. You may long to re-create some of your warmest memories of family life from your youth or feel the psychological need to distance yourself from painful childhood memories by not duplicating the same activities.

Steps to overcoming gridlock:

1. Become a dream detective.

2. Work on gridlocked issues by writing an explanation of the problem, the story of the secret dreams, where the goals come from and why they are important.

3. Then talk about the issue, using the speaker, listener technique. Each gets 15 minutes as the speaker and 15 minutes as the listener. Don’t try to solve the problem. Simply seek for understanding.

4. If you can, tell your partner, you support his or her dream.

5. Sooth each other.

6. End the gridlock – understanding that the purpose is not to solve the conflict – the goal is to try to remove the hurt, so the problem stops being a source of great pain.

7. Say thank you.

Principle 7: Create Shared Meaning

  • A crucial goal of any marriage is to create an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly about his or her convictions.
  • The more shared meaning you can find, the deeper, more productive, and more rewarding your relationship will be.
  • Happily married couples only devote an additional five hours per week to their marriages.

The magic five hours focus on:

Partings: 2 minutes per day x 5 = 10 min.

Reunions: Stress reducing conversations at the end of the workday – 20 min x 5 = 1 hr 40 min

Admiration and appreciation: 5 minutes x 7 days = 35 minutes.

Affection: 5 minutes x 7 days = 35 minutes.

Weekly date: 2 hours once per week = 2 hours.

Total: Five Hours!

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found it worthwhile. Again, if you want to gain maximum results from the information discussed above, I would encourage you to take this online anger management course.


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