4 Simple Steps To Save Your Relationship.
In one of the bazillion relationship books I read long ago (trying to save my ex-marriage), I have never forgotten Dr. Gottman‘s work.
He said he could predict with 91% accuracy whether a relationship would last or fail just by watching a couple argue for five minutes. His premise was that arguing makes little or no difference to your overall happiness and likelihood of staying together. It’s the way you argue that predicts how things will work out.
He spoke of four key warning signs: criticism (attacking the other), contempt (feeling disgust toward the other), defensiveness (seeing yourself as a victim or being attacked) and stonewalling (shutting down).
Additionally, one of the biggest mistakes I see my clients and students repeat time and again is that they avoid conflict altogether. They pretend and fake nice or they drink/eat/watch TV to distract themselves from the thing that needs to be addressed. They go focus on the kids, or the pets, or on cleaning the house.
They do whatever they can to not have to even have the argument in the first place. And this strategy always ends with disastrous results because all of that unprocessed anger, resentment and loathing can only be capped for so long. It will either blow up into some kind of apocalyptic argument or it will implode into a raging fury within you.
I’ve come to learn that you can completely avoid those four key warning signs by answering Yes to one simple question: Are you willing to keep your heart open?
The minute we close our hearts, we disconnect from one another and from ourselves. Once we’re disconnected, it’s easy to get lost in our story.
Here are four steps that you can take the next time you find yourself on the brink of a debacle:
- Be generous: Reach toward generosity and kindness, and let go of meanness and cruelty. Tap into your higher self, and see the person as your soul sees them. Ask yourself: Can I be generous in this conversation with my love, connection, empathy and compassion?
- Soften: Relax your body, your breathing and your posture, and let go of rigidity and edginess. Your attitude will follow your body’s cues. Ask yourself: Can I soften my heart, my opinions and my beliefs to allow some more flexibility into this conversation?
- Surrender: Remember that defense is the first act of war. If you want peace, you must relinquish all acts of war. Ask yourself: Can I drop all defense, and give permission for the other person to feel/act/think what they do?
- Stay: Remain present, physically and emotionally, and stay with the conversation even during a conflict. Ask yourself: Can I stay connected, right here, right now, and work through this without shutting down, retreating, pretending or hiding?
For the record, keeping your heart wide open during an argument is crazy-difficult. It means that you stay in the conversation, with receptivity, without defense, without attack, without judgment, and you just listen.
It means that you stay connected not only to the bigger and more enlightened part of yourself, but also to the bigger and more enlightened part of the other person.
From this connected place, it’s easier to sort fact from fiction. It’s easier to hear what’s really going on. It’s easier to meet in the middle and find a place of strengthened intimacy. This is the place from where extraordinary relationships are made. This is the place of love.