Eight Dates Challenge – Week Two – Addressing Conflict

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.

WEEK TWO

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.

TAKEAWAY

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!

 

 

Eight Dates Challenge – Week One – Trust and Commitment

It almost never fails that when Joella and I are introduced to new people and they find out that we are both Marriage and Family Therapists either one of two lines will follow.  Either, “You guys must have the perfect marriage… I bet you never fight.”  or “Wow, I bet you guys can really duke it out!”  This always highlights for me that we live under the impression that relationships are either “good” or “bad”.  That either partners get along, or they don’t.

I believe that this oversimplification is what keeps a lot of couples stuck in a state of continual co-isolation and distress.  Couples therapy, the way we see it, often revolves around undoing that oversimplification and helping couples see the vast array of ways that we “couple.”  And yes… I’m using couple as a verb!

Joella and I had been considering using the Eight Dates to help couples build some of the principles into their daily lives.  But over time, we’ve developed a personal and professional value that we don’t ask clients to do things that we wouldn’t do ourselves.  So we’ve decided to do the series first, blog some of our reflections on the experience.  We believe that it is certainly worth purchasing the book, so we will refrain from getting too in depth regarding the specific exercises and keep it to a summary of our own experience.

WEEK ONE

LOGISTICS:

Week one required about 37 pages of reading on the introductory principles behind the work.  This primer is very helpful and sets the tone for the rest of the book.  Like a good therapist, it explains why it is important to do the work, and fleshes out the “how” on what it actually looks like to incorporate these practices and teaches some basic communication skills.  Once you complete the intro, you move on to the Chapter One that outlines the theme of the first week’s date, which is “Trust and Commitment”.

TAKEAWAY:

The most important thing that I took away from the first week’s Trust and Commitment Topic was that creating the habit of going on dates is a practical way to incorporate the practice of commitment and trust.  In order to even go on a date, you have to block out time on the calendar in order to prioritize your relationship, you have to select a location, you prepare yourself and then you show up.  Any guesses what gets built when you repeatedly create time and space for someone, intentionally prepare and actually show up?  It’s simple… Trust!

This date gave us an opportunity to review the ways that we had learned about the meaning of commitment and trust from our families-of-origin, from our education and from our life experience.  When you create space to review things like that, you have the opportunity to ask yourselves the question, “So we learned it that way… is that working for us now?  Is that the way we want to keep doing it?”

The first date also touches on a theme that we’ve been highlighting from the very first days of our clinical training and continue to say over and over again in session after session.  Commitment is more than the words you say at a ceremony.  Commitment is something that you make  choices about every day.  Effective commitment is the process of choosing your partner every day… choosing the life that you build together.

As Gottman, Gottman, Abrams and Abrams (2018) said in the first chapter,

“We choose it even when we are tired and overworked and stressed out. We choose it no matter what attractive person crosses our path.  We choose it every time our partner makes a bid for our attention and we put down our book, or look away from the television or up from our smartphone…to acknowledge their importance in our life.”

If I had to choose a single thing to frame from this chapter it would be the previous quote.  If we were unable to choose commitment on a daily basis, regardless of circumstances, it would be very difficult, if not downright impossible to build trust, or put together any of the pieces of the relationship puzzle that the rest of the Eight Dates book covers.

Even as an experienced couples therapist, I still enjoy being reminded that many of the events and dynamics that seem to perplex us in relationships can be traced back to choices that we make on a daily basis.  Holding on to this perspective shift really puts us in the driver’s seat in our own lives and relationships.

Speaking of driver’s seats… Next week, in the disagreement chapter, I get to learn how to take ownership of the fact that I drive way too slowly and that can be stressful for my partner 😉

See you all next week!