We have just completed a difficult political season. Many relationships have suffered as a result of taking sides with one candidate or another while others, even family members, disagreed. For some, the time has proven to be very traumatic.
Here are portions of a paper I wrote about marriages and families in conflict. It is also true of all relationships.
Relationship Insurance: Handling Conflict Effectively
Conflict can either strengthen or destroy marriages and other close relationships. The way we handle conflict is the most significant aspect of being successful or unsuccessful in keeping a marriage or family together. Those who handle differences appropriately will be able to make it through life successfully. We will not divorce or suffer other traumatizing problems. If, however, they cannot deal effectively with the differences which plague every group, we ccn separate and divorce/cut off.
Couples come to a critical path in the road of marital togetherness. If they travel along the positive path, their marriage will grow. If not, it will very likely dissolve. That fork in the road can be called attack or attend.
If the mates personally attack each other, the marriage is in real danger. If, however, they find a way to attend to each other when disagreements arise rather than attack, the marriage will grow.
Some people were reared in homes where verbal attacks were the only way to resolve conflicts. So, when a disagreement arises, they hone their verbal thrust and go in for the kill. The purpose of a functional partner is not to hurt or kill, however, but to get a loving response. An attack actually prevents loving relationships from occurring. However, when it is the only way we know, we do it automatically.
John Gottman’s research looks at the changes in a mate's heart rate, breathing, and other physiological manifestations of anxiety during a conversation. Other researchers have done similar studies but with less reliable self-reports and clinical observations. Thus, Dr. Gottman is very accurate in predicting present and future problems. After many years of research, he and his colleagues have gathered data from thousands of marriages and correlated it with marital satisfaction. They know when a couple is in trouble. Their insights can be used to prepare couples to avoid the attack marriage and emphasize attending skills.
Then in the following posts you will find a seven-point scale, adapted from Gottman’s research. It can be used to assess the level marital distress and danger. The scale is useful for understanding how to assess your level of resiliency and in understanding and handling the inevitable conflicts that occur in marriage.