(Excerpt from “How To Keep Love Going Strong” by John M. and Julie Gottman, yesmagazine.org, Jan. 3, 2011)
Start with good manners when tackling your solvable problems:
Step 1. Use a softened startup:
Complain but don’t criticize or attack your spouse. State your feelings without blame, and express a positive need (what you want, not what you don’t want). Make statements that start with “I” instead of “you.” Describe what is happening; don’t evaluate or judge. Be clear. Be polite. Be appreciative. Don’t store things up.
Step 2. Learn to make and receive repair attempts:
De-escalate the tension and pull out of a downward cycle of negativity by asking for a break, sharing what you are feeling, apologizing, or expressing appreciation.
Step 3. Soothe yourself and each other:
Conflict discussions can lead to “flooding.” When this occurs, you feel overwhelmed both emotionally and physically, and you are too agitated to really hear what your spouse is saying. Take a break to soothe and distract yourself, and learn techniques to soothe your spouse.
Step 4. Compromise:
Here’s an exercise to try.
Decide together on a solvable problem to tackle. Then separately draw two circles—a smaller one inside a larger one. In the inner circle list aspects of the problem you can’t give in on. In the outer circle, list the aspects you can compromise about. Try to make the outer circle as large as possible and your inner circle as small as possible. Then come back and look for common bases for agreement.