How many times have you started into a conversation with your spouse and thought, “Here we go again”? It’s not an uncommon process and highlights a repetitive dynamic in communication. Every couple has a repetitive dynamic and repetitive conflicts. John Gottman, co-founder of the Gottman Institute (www.gottman.com), reports in his research that every couple has conflict topics that never get resolved. Never! The “masters” of communication (Gottman’s phrase) find ways to successfully navigate these topics. They do so by having a dialogue, a discussion where both parties are understood.
It’s easy at this point to focus on being understood. This is where most couples go wrong. Each individual is so focused on communicating their perspective on the situation that they forget to understand. How clearly each person enunciates their words doesn’t mean much if the other isn’t focused on listening and offering to understand. The most important and most difficult aspect of a dialogue is to listen. Only through listening well can a couple navigate repetitive issues and avoid gridlock.
Common causes of gridlock:
- formulating your own response in your head as the other is speaking
- invalidation of the other’s perspective or feeling
- assuming what the other will say or what the outcome of the conversation will be
- negatively interpreting the meaning of the other person’s words
- escalating the situation with the volume of your voice
- trying to win the conversation
- withdrawing physically or emotionally
- dismissing the topic as unimportant
The masters of communication focus on listening because they know the impact their words and actions have on the other will determine how the conversation goes. Listening well doesn’t guarantee resolution (again, some conflict never gets resolved), nor does it mean the topic won’t resurface (again, some issues are repetitive). Listening well and offering understanding do provide an opportunity to make a positive impact on your spouse by communicating care and respect. That impact is a more significant predictor of marital success than coming away with a resolution to all of your differences.