Dec 09

Managing Couples Conflict: John Gottman, Michelle Brody

Two of the newest books that deal with managing couples conflict are presented below.

I. You might recognize the bestselling The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by John Gottman, PhD, and Nan Silver, as, in fact, a not-so-new book—it was originally published in 1999. But did you know it came out in a completely revised version this year?

Although the newer book still addresses a myriad of relationship issues, I’m concerned in this post only with managing couples conflict. The following pertinent info is taken from their new blurb: “Conflicts will inevitably arise between partners, and this edition offers more detailed advice and exercises on how to work through issues that might otherwise derail couples. Exercises guide couples in progressing past arguments in a way that strengthens their relationship rather than letting anger and hurt fester.”

Relevant articles are also accessible on the Gottman Relationship Blog, on the types of conflict couples face, for example, and the skills needed for dealing with them.

Michael Fulwiler poses an important question on the blog: is a particular problem experienced by a couple “solvable” or “perpetual”?:

Our research has shown that 69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems…In our research, we concluded that instead of solving their perpetual problems, what seems to be important is whether or not a couple can establish a dialogue about them. If they cannot establish such a dialogue, the conflict becomes gridlocked, and gridlocked conflict eventually leads to emotional disengagement.

What’s behind the “gridlock” he mentions? Per Ellie Lisista, Gottman Blog: Unrequited dreams! “In other words, the endless argument symbolizes some profound difference between the two of you that needs to be addressed, before you can put the problem in its place by openly communicating about it.”

Dr. Gottman’s six skills of managing couples conflict, per Lisista:

  1. Soften Startup–the beginning tone is crucial
  2. Accept Influence
  3. Make Effective Repairs During Conflict
  4. De-escalate
  5. Psychological Soothing of Self and Partner
  6. Compromise

Refer to the book for more info on what these are all about and how to develop them.

II. Brand new this year is clinical psychologist Michelle Brody‘s Stop the Fight!: An Illustrated Guide for Couples: How to Break Free from the 12 Most Common Arguments and Build a Relationship That Lasts. 

The 12 chapters, provided below, list the 12 types of common fights. (When I’m not so sure the label suffices, I paraphrase the author’s explanations.)

  1. Partner improvement (trying to fix the other)
  2. Proving your point (each feels right)
  3. Nagging-Tuning out (one nags, one tunes out)
  4. Escalating (from trivial to major)
  5. Household responsibilities
  6. Birthday (and other holidays) (and how they go wrong)
  7. Bad reputation (being stuck in certain judgments)
  8. You-don’t-care-about-me
  9. Sex
  10. Money
  11. Parenting differences
  12. Difficult relatives

Stop the Fight! has garnered some good reviews. For example, Dani Klein Modisett, author of Take My Spouse, Please, says it made her “feel oddly exposed and greatly relieved at the same time.” She adds, “Her understanding of how couples irrationally attack each other under stress is eerily familiar. So much so, I hoped my kids weren’t reading the accompanying cartoons over my shoulder, for fear they’d scream, ‘Mom! That’s just like you and Dad!’ A great read for any couple ready to break bad habits but don’t want the earnestness of most prescriptive books on improving your marriage.”

For further info, check out the blog on Brody’s website, which is full of helpful illustrations, and the following book trailer: