Every relationship is going to encounter problems at some stage. However completely solvable problems can lead to the gradual destruction of a relationship when the partners are unable to successfully communicate and resolve their problems. Psychologist John Gottman outlines a 5 step process in his book The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work that is a simple and effective process to follow:
1. Start Softly
A soft startup when raising an issue is less likely to trigger resistance and defenses and more likely to lead to a positive result. Criticism and contempt should be completely avoided and replaced with a gentle approach. Simply describe what you feel is happening with out giving judgement for example 'I feel strongly that we need to spend more quality time together. This is important to me'. Be as direct as you can and state the action that you would like to resolve the issue if you know it. For example 'You always leave the living in such a mess' could be replaced with 'I would appreciate it if you would clean the living room'. A partner on the receiving end of minor small requests such as this would greatly benefit the relationship by complying as soon as they are able to. This prevents the overall quality of the relationship being bogged down by trivial disagreements. Do not attempt the conversation if you have been triggered by something and are very angry. Take some time out first to soothe yourself (further described in step 3) until you are calm enough to proceed gently. If your issue is that your partner is not doing something that they used to, first appreciate what they did in the past. For example 'You never take me out anymore' could be replaced with 'It was so much fun when we used to go out on proper dates I loved that time together, can we start doing that again?'. Always bring up issues as soon as you can, if you have been stewing on the issue you more likely to start angrily
2. Receive And Make Repair Attempts
A repair attempt is when you attempt to deescalate any building tension. Equally important is the receiving partner's ability to pick up on the repair attempt and respond accordingly:
Partner 1: Please would help me with the cleaning by hoovering the living room?
Partner 2: (Getting defensive) I hoovered a few days ago!
Partner 1: I know I really appreciate you helping out, we have guests over tonight though so I need your support right now
When making a repair attempt focus on the following areas:
How you feel, not what they have done wrong (I’m getting scared, I’m feeling unappreciated)
Calming the situation down if it has got heated (Please be gentler with me, This is important to me please listen,I’m feeling flooded lets stop for a while)
Apologising (How can I make things better, I’m sorry I really blew that one, Lets try that over again)
Compromise (Let’s find our common ground, I agree with part of what your saying)
Appreciation (I understand, that’s a good point)
3. Self-Soothing And Soothe Each Other
If you are emotionally flooded by an issue being raised it will be hard for repair attempts to be made or received. Your bodily will react, blood pressure rises, heart rate increases and thoughts will switch to fight or flight (men in particular feel the physical symptoms of flooding at an elevated rate). If either partner regularly has a hard time calming down after heated exchanges, wants to keep their distance, gets very angry or feels overwhelmed quickly than you have a problem with emotional flooding. This can be as a result of frequent emotional flooding in childhood especially if care givers did not provide you with a model of how to soothe and deescalate conflict). If emotional flooding has happened then the discussion needs to be put on hold for at least 20 minutes to allow the body to calm down. The flooded partner needs to spend the entire time doing something relaxing like meditating, deep breathing, listening to music or exercising. Then return to the discussion and the After the twenty minutes return to each other and allow or soothe your partner. This could be what ever they might need at the time, massage, physical touch, meditation.
Being in a relationship is about compromise, if one partner gets their way all the time this is not a relationship it’s a dictatorship. Each partner needs to be open to influence and accept the opinions and desires of the other (that’s why its important when choosing a partner that you share similar core beliefs). This means being open to considering an alternative position. Ensure you have asked enough questions so that you are able to see the issue from your partner’s perspective. Consider what part of the issue you are more willing to compromise on and if there is any part of the issue that you already agree on.
5. Tolerate Each Others Faults
You cannot change another person, and if that’s what you are attempting to do then you may need to consider why you are in a relationship with that person in the first place. If you have not accepted each other's flaws then you will not be able to find ways to accommodate each other. Ask yourself is this a fundamental part of my partners character, that may be why you are required to compromise on an issue more than you had anticipated.
With small modifications the above steps could be used to resolve issues in friendships, family and professional relationships.
John M. Gottman and Nan Silver, The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work - 4 January 2007, https://www.gottman.com/product/the-seven-principles-for-making-marriage-work/