Meg Luce: Relationship Groundhog Day
Do you ever feel like it is Groundhog Day in your relationship? It’s bad enough that it seems like Groundhog Day in many other aspects of life. Waking up to find unending fire danger, poor AQI, continuing COVID, and snarky politics can feel like, really? Again? But must it also be that you and your spouse keep having the same old arguments?
The recurring issues which plague your relationship can make you feel like: What is the matter with us? Why can’t we get past this? Do other couples do this? The short answer is, yes, yes, they do.
Let me introduce a concept called perpetual problems, named by famous researcher and psychologist Dr. John Gottman. Gottman studied couples’ interactions in his “Love Lab” and then tracked which couples stayed happily together and which couples divorced.
In his book, “The Marriage Clinic,” Gottman cites that 69% of marriages experience problems with no resolution. Thus, most of us have issues that never quite get resolved. Instead, they are sticky and recurring because they reflect a couples’ differences in values and personalities.
Examples of perpetual problems are introversion v. extroversion; neat v. messy; punctual v. late; travel-lover v. homebody; saver v. spender; strict v. lenient parenting styles; spontaneous v. planner. Are you getting the picture? These types of differences open up the possibility of all kinds of Groundhog Day disputes with no end in sight!
The fact that most couples have perpetual problems (and I haven’t met many that don’t) is sort of a good news, bad news situation. On the one hand, since most of us deal with perpetual problems, they don’t mean that anything is wrong with your relationship. Yay! On the other hand, most of us have to deal with perpetual problems, which may likely include you. Boo!
Even though you don’t get to choose whether you experience perpetual problems in your relationship, you do get to decide how you interact over these differences. John Gottman’s research indicates that these problems don’t have to spell doom.
Gottman says that what makes the difference between, what he calls, the marital masters versus disasters is how they regulate conflict. A key takeaway from his longitudinal studies is the importance of exchanging viewpoints using gentleness and positive affect, rather than getting gridlocked in the disagreement. Are you in? Here’s how it works:
Bring some gentleness to the disagreement. It doesn’t mean that you can’t express your anger and disappointment, but let there be some good moments too. Can you let in something positive? Is your partner listening well to your complaint? Are they trying to figure out how to meet you partway? Find some way to bring positive energy into the room. In the moment, it might feel like it is going to kill you, but ultimately, you will be glad you did.
For the love of God, use some humor! If you can laugh at yourself once in a while, your partner will appreciate the heck out of it, and it will make your perpetual problems sting a lot less. If you are a clutter bug, own it! If you are often late, take your punishment! You can acknowledge that you haven’t been much on time since the early ‘90s.
Not A Right V. Wrong Thing
Your partner was not put on this earth to be just like you. This is a challenge for most of us married folks to keep in mind. Try not to make your differences a right v. wrong thing. That approach typically doesn’t create positive emotions, which de-escalates conflict and creates physiological soothing. THIS is the jackpot, not insisting that you are right about all the things. If you keep this in mind, there is more motivation to work on the problem and make it a little bit better.
Relationship Groundhog Day doesn’t have to cast a shadow on your relationship. As the weeds in the garden, perennial topics are just a part of life. You, yourself can become a marital master. Do it by adding a dash of humor and grace to those topics that keep popping up around the kitchen table.
Meg Luce, M.S., is a Marriage and Family Therapist in Grass Valley specializing in helping couples create satisfying relationships. You can find her contact info at https://NevadaCountyTherapist.com
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