Our Sunday mornings always include a few absolutes: coffee, a fancier breakfast than, say, Wednesdays, and the Sunday paper. As Tom and I were sipping coffee and enjoying blueberry pancakes this morning, our conversation was sprinkled with tidbits from the Sunday paper.
“The Blue Angels fly again at 1:30 today,” Tom informed me, and we decided to try yet again to see them, this time directly under the flight path.
We’d read and chat, read and chat.
And then I burst out with a sudden guffaw. It would have a been a mere chuckle a few months ago, before I began my work with The Gottman Relationship Institute. But this morning it was a full-blown (and very un-ladylike) guffaw when I came upon this comic in Parade Magazine:
Obviously this couple is in need of one of John and Julie’s Couples Workshops where they’d learn that there is no absolute reality when two people fight. Rather, if you want any hope of constructive conflict management in your relationship it’s important to acknowledge that, when a couple argues, there are always two “subjective realities” and both are right.
That bears repeating: When a couple fights, there is no absolute right or wrong. Both subjective viewpoints are right. The point is to understand your partner’s reality, not to argue for your own reality.
This can be incredibly difficult in the throes of conflict.
In the couple’s workshop, John and Julie (and a host of Certified Gottman Therapists) help couples process a recent fight or regrettable incident by considering five basic steps in dealing with their conflict:
- Each person discusses (without interruption) what s/he was feeling during the conflict. About 50 different possibilities are provided (from angry to powerless to sad to stupid, and beyond), but obviously there are many more possibilities – and each is true.
- Both subjective realities are then discussed – without interruption and without getting back into the argument. (I told you, this isn’t easy!) Take turns discussing the situation and what your own (subjective) perspective was. Talk about your feelings and needs. When it’s your turn to talk, talk (about only your feelings and needs)… and when it is your turn to listen, listen. Once you’ve each had a turn to talk and to listen, validate something (anything!) about your partner’s position. It might be as simple as saying “I can see why my tone might have upset you” or “I understand why my insistence made you feel unimportant.”
- Accept responsibility for your role in the fight. This as another hard one – and it’s almost impossible to do during a fight… which is why processing the aftermath of a fight is so important. Admit some factors that might have set you up, from being very stressed lately, to feeling unloved, to not asking for what you need, to… fill-in-the-blank.
- Next, discuss your own contribution to the fight. This is often directly related to #3 and it, too, requires you to acknowledge that you each have your subjective reality – and each is right.
- By this time, if you’ve opened yourself up to accepting influence from your partner and if you’ve acknowledged your own role in the fight, you should be able to discuss together how to make it better next time. What can you each do during future conflict about this topic to keep things constructive?
If the couple in the cartoon had attended one of John and Julie’s Couple’s Workshops or read one of their books (oh dear, now I’m sounding like a commercial for my employer!), the quote would have said something like, “Let’s just say, for the sake of argument that we each have our own subjective realities and each is right…”
Which really isn’t funny at all… but it is wise.