Welcome to the second week of our progress in the Gottman 8 week couples challenge!
Quick recap: Joella and I have decided to read and participate in the activities featured in the Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by John Gottman, Julie Gottman, Doug Abrams, and Rachel Carlton Abrams and then share some of our reflections on the experience. Last week, we addressed trust and commitment. This week, the topic moves on to addressing conflict in our intimate relationships.
This week’s reading assignment was lighter than the first, with a total of about 21 pages or total reading (including the practical exercise and week two date guide). Reading time is a factor that many couples don’t consider when they get on board with a plan like this. If you and your partner are thinking about participating in this, or a similar program, remember that you will need reading time scheduled in addition to your date activity. Luckily, the authors of Eight Dates are efficient at communicating the underlying principles and how these principles impact our relationships. This makes the reading prep time very easy to plan and complete.
As we started into week two, I really appreciated the vignette that kicks off the chapter. Without getting too deep into gender narratives or biases, I think that most readers (myself included) would benefit from reading the introductory vignette and then taking a few minutes to reflect on how the dynamics around conflict affected each of the partners. From the language that I hear couples use in therapy, I have deduced that many of us have been trained to adhere to the “might makes right” philosophy… but I often notice that many of the couples that we see in couples therapy have been trained in the even more destructive philosophy of “right makes might.” Simply put, they seek out correctness, winning arguments or being right as the primary goals in all of their relationships. This chapter does a great job of showing where this path leads, and how to change direction and reshape the way that conflict occurs in the context of committed relationship.
I agree completely with the position that they take from the very beginning… that discussing conflict with your partner should not be attempted in the midst of conflict. This chapter provides a brief guide for how to navigate the challenge of this date without getting bogged down in a “meta-conflict” regarding how they discuss handling conflict. This it is bound to happen for a number of couples… if you find yourself in that situation, follow the instructions and stick to the program!
I feel like the most powerful perspective that came from this chapter was how it guides couples to begin the process of learning to perceive conflict as an opportunity to get to know your partner more deeply, and opportunity to try to understand the world as they experience it. In my opinion, this is a critical skill and the couples who actively work on it experience much greater relationship satisfaction.
There is also a focus on one of the Gottmans’ core principles from previous books, which basically asserts that the majority of conflict in an intimate relationship is unresolvable, meaning that the partners will continue to disagree on the specific matter for as long as they are together. They appear to have the research to back up this assertion and Joella and I definitely see this at work in our own lives and in the lives of the couples with who we are lucky enough to work. It really drives home the importance of being able to reframe these unsolvable problems into opportunities for intimacy!
My favorite part of the chapter was the practical exercise called “We All Have Issues.” in this section, the authors outline 25 common topics that can lead to conflict in a couple… and all of them are spot-on! Each one of these is well-thought out and can lead to deeper understanding and intimacy if discussed in an open-minded state of curiosity about your partner’s experience. That said, I do think that some of these topics might be easier to discuss in the presence of a therpist (or two in the case of our couples work).
I really appreciated the way that this second week’s date allowed us to use conflict (past, present and future) in order to increase intimacy and feel closer than ever. This is a valid skill for all couples… even the married therapists!
Stay tuned for week three, where the book dives into Sex and Intimacy!