“When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.”  Daniel Wile, After the Honeymoon

Truer words have not been spoken.  Most couples have the same arguments over and over and over again. In his research, John Gottman found that these perpetual problems account for 69% of the issues couples face.  In long term studies, the date on the calendar was the only thing that changed.

Why do couples have perpetual problems?

The reason these hamster wheel arguments occur is because compromise fails to work on some issues.  Take religion for example.  When one partner is Catholic and the other is Jewish they may not have an issue before they marry and have children.  But once the kids come along they may deeply desire their children to practice their faith.  They dig their heels in because they think their views are correct and their partner’s are misguided.

Then the fighting begins.

Over time these hot button issues can become gridlocked.  When this happens both partners refuse to budge on their position and dig their heels in further. The more they defend their position on the issue, the more they feel criticized and disliked by their partner.

Just like deeply held convictions, personalities also don’t change over time.  An extroverted husband will never make his introverted wife morph into a social butterfly, no matter how great a case he makes that extroverts are better.

So what’s the answer? 

In a word, dialogue . . . talking with the intent to understand and accept your partner rather than fighting and criticizing in an attempt to make them see how deeply flawed they are.

Recently in our Art & SCIENCE of Love Couples Weekend Workshop we drove this point home by teaching several techniques to better understand one another.  It’s amazing what a little listening and understanding can do.  Here’s what they said on exit surveys:

1.  Came to epiphany on key area of conflict, which helped us move forward.

2.  It gave me the tools to address major conflict area and confidence to use them.

3.  Gave me hope that my husband will understand that he can have a perception of a situation and mine may be different.

4.  Perpetual issue discussion…we need improvements in this area and I think this helped us take steps in the right direction.

5.  Processing past regrettable incidents was very helpful in talking and being heard on an issue we had felt bad about for 2 years.  It gave us hope that we will be able to gently take out the garbage.

6.  More understanding on both sides of gridlock issue has been established.

When couples can accept one another’s differences, they tend to mellow over time and can often find amusement in the situation.  It’s like the movie When Harry Met Sally.  Throughout the movie it drove Harry nuts that Sally ordered everything on the side.  But by the end of the movie he came to accept it and said I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. 

 

Mary Beth George
Mary Beth George is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Gottman Therapist, Master Trainer for the Gottman Institute and co-owner of Couples Counseling & Psychotherapy Associates. She is an empty nester with a passion for rescue dogs, traveling and spending time with people that make her laugh.