Are you considering relationship counselling? The honeymoon is over and the sparkle of that perfectly choreographed wedding ceremony seems like a distant memory. It’s not that you don’t love each other any more, and in so many ways the future seems hopeful, but like a burr in your saddle, there are a couple of recurring issues that are taking their toll. “Why can’t he just get it?” “Why can’t she just let it go for once?”

Conflict. Maybe it’s about money. It could be parenting, or perchance it’s the in-laws. One might think that if you were really in sync with each other you would be able to, once and for all, get some understanding and put this issue behind you. The truth is that it’s the same for us all. Relationship research shows that not only is conflict a normal part of every relationship, 69% of the differences you face with your partner will never be completely resolved. Relationship counselling may be a necessary step.

Seeing things from a different perspective and being in conflict over these issues are pretty normal in marriage. Especially when there is an issue at stake you feel passionately about. Money can represent vastly different perspectives for each partner and so discussions about how to manage it can quickly become heated. Maybe you just can’t agree with your spouse’s view of disciplining the kids, or no matter how hard you try, you just cannot see eye to eye with how to relate to the in-laws. Likely you can relate to these issues, or others like them. In any event, none of us is unscathed by the scourge of recurring conflict.

But before you throw up your hands in desperation, there’s good news. The fact that these issues often go unresolved, does not actually pose a threat to your marital bliss. In fact, done right, conflict becomes a venue through which you and your partner can deepen your sense of trust and intimacy. Question is, how do you do it right?

Through 35 years of extensive research, the Gottman institute in Seattle Washington, has discovered that there are distinct conflict patterns that couples who manage their differences well follow pretty consistently, and a whole other set that are common to couples who struggle. This really is important information, because knowing what to do in a conflict can be the difference between happiness and divorce. Most couples don’t actually want to hurt their marriage, they just don’t know how not to.

Dubiously named “The Four Horsemen”, the Gottman institute has isolated the four most common mistakes couple make when working out differences. They are as follows:

Criticism.
Ever gotten into it with your partner and felt like you were being personally attacked? That’s not supposed to happen. Try keeping your complaints limited to how you feel, and express what you would like to be different.

Defensiveness.
Couples who are skilled at working out their differences learn how to share responsibility. Defensiveness is a desperate attempt to off-load guilt that deepens resentment and hopelessness.

Contempt.
Sounds like a strong word doesn’t it? But it’s astounding how a well-timed roll of the eyes or a little put down takes a bite out of your sense of fondness & admiration.

Stonewalling.
There comes a point in a fight gone awry when one or both of you simply becomes unreachable. This “shutdown” has severe implications on your sense of connection, not to mention your ability to solve problems.

Over the next few issues I plan to talk about each of these “apocalyptic horsemen” and what you can do to avoid them in your relationship. But before I sign off, there is one more thing I need to say: If you are in a relationship that includes violence, addressing the “horsemen” is not the place for you to start. You need to get support today. Talk to someone who can help you find safety. That may be the RCMP, your pastor, or a trusted family member. You deserve to feel safe, and if you don’t, your relationship cannot improve.

Henry Sawatzky is a professional Marriage & Family Therapist with over 20 years of experience. He provides marriage and relationship counselling in Kelowna, and can be reached at 250-878-6943.

Continue to part 1 ->

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