Anderson: Fight Lab. Better Ways To Argue To Improve Your Relationships.

Anderson CooperBecause every couple argues at some point and with the divorce at about 50%, Anderson Cooper felt that his guest, Dr. John Gottman, co-founder of the Gottman Institute and foremost researcher on marriage, relationships and parenting, would help arm couples with ways to fight better, relate better, and interacting better.  In his 3 hour marriage counseling  sessions where Dr. Gottman observes heart rates and other physiological data while couples are talking and interacting with each other, he says he can predict with 94% accuracy whether a couple is going to stay together or not. And he says that fighting can actually make us sick! What advice does he have for those of us who want to fight better to stay together and stay healthy?

Here are some negative patterns Dr. Gottman explain that can predict divorce or break up and even illness.

  • Criticism– Constantly pointing a finger at someone saying “you don’t do this” and “you don’t do that.” It’s not constructive in its purpose and only fuels the attack and escalates the conflict. What you’re saying is “I am perfect but you are defective.” Instead start the conversation with a positive need.  Talk about what it is that you need to make a positive change, the ingredient that you need for a recipe of success.  “I need more of your time.” “I need more of your interest.” etc.
  • Contempt– Contempt shows up many times in the mocking of the other partner. It has an air of superiority and arrogance that Dr. Gottman says is “sulfuric acid for love.” You need respect in a relationship and contempt is disrespectful. It is also a predictor of how many infectious illnesses the other partner will have in the next four years. Dealing with a contemptuous relationship erodes the immune system. Dr. Gottman states that studies from Ohio State University done by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser show that T lymphocytes do not proliferate as much and natural killer cells that are cytotoxic against tumors are not as effective in relationships where there is contempt and criticism.   Instead try to repair your relationship when it doesn’t go well. We can all screw up communications. So being able to say “I’m sorry”, to look at a regrettable incident and talk about it and understand what the problem was and to make it better the next time is essential to repairing.
  • Defensiveness– This is where the defensive partner is not taking responsibility for their part of the problem and so they defend their actions. 
    For better approach, Dr. Gottman says listen to your partner and then try to understand your partner’s point of view with understanding being the goal of talking about a disagreement. The partners should be saying “I’m starting to see your point of view. Tell me more.” When this dialogue begins to happen, then both partners become a team working on this joint problem together.
  • Stonewalling – This is basically the silent treatment. Communications are shut down. In this situation, the partner or partners are actually afraid to say anything for fear of making things worse. When faced with someone who is stonewalling, the other person tends to escalate the fighting. So the pattern becomes very destructive.
  • Nagging – A recent study says that nagging is more common than adultery and possibly as toxic. But Dr. Gottman says that nagging is only half of the equation. If your partner says “I really need help with the housework.” and you say “Okay let’s make a plan.” And you do the plan as agreed upon, then your partner doesn’t have to nag. Partners usually only nag when the other partner blows them off and doesn’t respond.

Dr. Gottman gives us this added advise…
Things to never say in a fight.
“You never…
“You always…
These are condemnations of your partner’s personality.
Don’t say any thing insulting or act superior to your partner. Talk to each other as equals. Treat each other with respect. Everyone has something valuable to offer. Just because a person may have some type of intellectual degree, does not mean that that person does not have their own limitations in other areas.

Dr. Gottman has a homework assignment for couples to see if you relationship may be in trouble. Visit Anderson.com  for Dr. Gotttman’s 10 Marriage History Questions.

Also enter to win Dr. Gottman’s DVD ‘Making Relationships Work’

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