It would be great if all couples attended pre-marital counseling prior to getting married, but they don't. Most couples learn to argue and fight by watching their mentors argue and fight. If parents were successful at working things out together and resolving conflict, young couples usually follow their example, and they learn to separate chores and hold themselves accountable with tasks and financial matters. However, for the couples that didn't have good examples from parents or others who raised them, they may find their arguments growing more intense and offensive with the passage of years. This usually leads to a marriage wrought with contention or divorce.
Dr. John Gottman, PH.D, a leading marriage researcher, author, and lecturer, advises couples to determine which of their conflicts are solvable and which ones are irreconcilable. Gottman goes on to say that the reconcilable ones are the ones that are less painful and don't stem from a previous conflict. They are usually the ones that are situational as well. The irreconcilable problems are the ones each of us have in our marriage. They are deep and they must be accepted and made peace with in order for the marriage to survive.
This plan put in place by Dr. Gottman is five parts, and it can work if couples follow it diligently with their reconcilable conflicts. If the couple can afford working with a marital counselor in addition to working this plan, they will find the additional support and guidance invaluable with help in their marriage.
1. Begin by talking about the solvable problem without criticism or contempt. You are trying to establish a problem solving team instead of one person trying to win.
2. Make and receive "repair attempts." These are attempts that help lower the tension.
3. Self soothe yourself and then your partner when you feel the conversation is getting heated. A twenty-minute break can help a lot, as your body will grow calmer when your heart rate and breathing slow down. This is a good time to ask your partner what helps calm them down the most.
4. This is the step for compromise. Since you have worked as a team with your partner, the tension is down, and this is when you can become creative and begin offering solutions. Come together with what you agree on, and focus on that.
5. Most difficult is this stage, as you have to try and be tolerant of one another's faults. You cannot compromise unless you can understand your partner has faults and you do too. Make peace with the things you cannot change in your spouse.
Divorce is painful and difficult. Therefore avoiding one and learning how to argue with your partner in a constructive way is important and beneficial for your marriage. This plan can save your marriage, but it cannot save it unless you actually commit and put time into the five steps. If you feel so angry or so hurt that you cannot imagine sitting with your partner, let alone talking to them in a civil manner, then your first course of actions should be individual therapy. When we are able to be honest with what we are feeling, and why we cannot forgive our partner, we actually are beginning the first step to healing our marriage. Your partner has faults, and making peace with those first so you can solve the everyday conflicts will benefit everyone who relies on your marriage for their wellbeing. -Mary Jo Rapini
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