Relationship Storms

All couples have their differences. It is unwise to expect that it is even possible for mates to always be of one mind about their individual thoughts, feelings, opinions or desires. Yet, it is possible to manage needs while preserving each other’s esteem and intimate love.

At times, you may have felt strongly that your opinion, preference or wishes should not be open to negotiation or compromise. On other occasions, you may have felt that your knowledge, expertise, or life experience should justify you your mate’s automatic agreement without further exploration. In other instances, you may have viewed your partner’s insistence on his/her way as being self-serving and not focused on mutual goal fulfillment. All of the above and other interpretations are common for all of us when our needs or wishes are not automatically granted.

Not all couples deal with conflicts in similar ways. John Gottman, who interviewed and studied more than 200 couples for over 20 years, describes the three common couples’ conflict patterns: Validating, Volatile and Conflict–avoidant. Validating pairs compromise and arrive at decisions that are mutually satisfying to both. Volatile duos passionately argue about their needs and Conflict- avoidant mates rarely confront their differences. Gottman states, “Previously, many psychologists might have considered conflict-avoiding and volatile marriages to be destructive. But my research suggests that all three styles are equally stable and bode equally well for the marriage’s future.”

Since it is not the couple’s disagreement style that can harm or even doom the relationship, Gottman identified the use of Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling as habits that damage the marital bond.

In “Psychological and Physical Aggression in Couples”, K. Daniel O’Leary states, “Between 40 and 70% of couples who seek therapy at clinics report that there is some physical aggression in their relationship, such as pushing, slapping, shoving, kicking, hitting and beating.” He cites clients’ opinions that “acts of psychological aggression were more important than the physical aggression because they occur much more frequently.”

The psychological harm to individuals facing criticism, shaming, berating, mocking, disapproval or condemnation is so profound because it damages the fabric of one’s self-esteem and confidence. When it originates from one’s beloved it is even more devastating. It is the antithesis of the recalled euphoria of falling in love and the early unconditional affirmation that lovers experienced then and must continue to receive for their emotional stability.

In “Reconcilable Differences”, Andrew Christensen and Neil Jacobson state it so aptly, “It’s All Your Fault: Indictment and Conviction. More trials and guilty verdicts take place in the heads of married couples than in the courts of law.”

The communication style that psychologically harms partners must be extinguished in favor of using the theme I call: “All ice melts in the sunshine.” The more kindness, support, respect, appreciation and caring you use, even in times of disagreement, the more likely you are to resolve your differences while preserving for both partners your personal esteem, confidence and your long-term love bond.




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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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