gmhTODAY 24 gmhTODAY Feb March 2019 - Page 86

Vicki Minerva the RELATIONSHIP dance Vicki Minerva has lived and worked in the South County area as a Marriage and Family Therapist for over 35 years. Her education includes a M.Div. degree from Fuller Seminary and a M.A. Working Through the Conflict D id you know that 69% of conflict in relationships is never resolved? Even in healthy, functioning relationships there are areas in which two people will never see eye to eye and yet can maintain a loving relationship. The absence of conflict means someone isn’t communicating or has become “invisible.” How couples handle those differences is what John Gottman, a renowned researcher, says separates the “Masters” from the “Disasters.” He describes the relational Four Horseman of the Apocalypse: Criticism. Different than voicing a complaint. It attacks the core of the other’s character. Contempt Jumps to the next level with disrespect, mocking, and an air of moral superiority. Defensiveness A very human response to criticism but is rarely effective, putting up road blocks to productive dialogue. Stonewalling Often a response to contempt when the listener feels physiologically and psychologically overwhelmed. It shuts down all communication. There is more to be said about all of these and I encourage you to read Gottman’s book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work to learn more. I primarily want to focus on Contempt because it is so caustic to relationships and suggest more effective ways to get through conflict. Contempt is bad for your health. It elevates cortisol and adrenaline levels due to being in a fight or flight state. Your immune system is compromised causing vulnerability to infectious diseases like colds and flu. Beyond that, it treats the listener with hatred and disdain; the message is they are utterly worthless. The speaker communicates an authority and moral superiority, through that disdain, that blocks listening, understanding and resolution. We can see this at a macro level in our current political discourse. Regardless of your political persuasion, I encourage you to also consider your conversations, and perhaps consider changes in your attitude and approach as well, to gain understanding and find solutions. To start, it’s important to search for the important value, meaning or interpretation attached to the apparent conflict for both parties. You will have to genuinely seek understanding. Using a simple example, when your partner complains about socks on the floor, the significance may be in feeling unappreciated or anxiety with clutter. Understanding the core values or meaning behind each position gives clues to WHY there’s such a need to hold your positions, whether it’s at the personal or political level. Is there something in your past that has shaped the way this affects either of you? In the socks example, if your father was abusive and belittling to your mom, or your mom was obsessively controlling, it may affect your emotional response to current circumstances. Your discussion needs to be respectful. Put down your weapons. Give your counterpart credit for having good intentions. Most people don’t intend harm. However, contempt crosses that line and makes communication unsafe. If either of you are getting overwhelmed or the conversation degrades, take a break. Calm down. No one is going to listen well when you’re in fight or flight. Avoid an ‘us vs. them’ mentality as it shuts down the ability to empathize or have compassion. Continue to look for, and speak to, things you can affirm in the conversation. The ratio of affirmations to criticism found in the “Masters” is 5:1. Be patient. This may take many conversations over time to work. The goal here is understanding. Some disagreements won’t go away. Define those areas that you can agree to disagree, while also defining those areas where you can be flexible. If you understand the value or the need that stands behind the conflict, there will likely be more that you can actually support about the concerns. From there, respectful and purposeful compromises can be negotiated that honor both parties. Changing your attitude from contempt to respect will alter your tone and goals. It’s always easier to find common ground with understanding. Find where you can move towards the middle. Continuing with the socks example, knowing socks cause anxiety may make it easier to pay attention to picking up more, or cause you to express appreciation regularly. Changing from “You’re such a slob!” to “I’m feeling overwhelmed” will net a different result. It WILL take practice, but you should see changes in the outcomes. gmh TODAY . I’m taking my own advice to simplify some things This is my last article for and create more space in my life! I hope you’ve found the articles helpful. Thank you J. Chris and Larry for the opportunity! 86 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN february/march 2019