Thursday, May 3, 2012

Darryl's reflection

Gottman’s interview raises some points that I think will be useful in my work with couples.

1) Being ‘gentle’ in the way they approach solving problems with a partner. Often couples take a conflictual/opposing mindset even before they approach each other to discuss an issue they disagree on. This leads to a defensive approach with minimal scope for genuine listening and understanding or compromise. Assisting couples to develop better ways to ‘disagree’ (i.e. still remaining connected or positive in your approach to your partner but being able to disagree about a specific issue/topic is very different to seeing yourself as disagreeing with the entire person in that moment). The ‘gentle’ approach of still respecting the other person (and hopefully loving them) can encourage more open and productive dialogue and maintain the friendship even during disagreements. Seeing the problem as the problem and not the person as the problem is important. I think it will be beneficial to teaching couples the importance of setting the tone of communications early in an interaction and not inviting trouble through a pre-determined negative mindset. Simple softenings in the choice of words, tone/volume of voice, and body language could assist them in keeping disagreements somewhat cordial.

2) Recognising and respecting enduring vulnerabilities in a partner. Clients I have worked with often know the specific topics/issues that upset their partner. This is a key issue when I discuss with clients whether they know how to ‘fight fair’ or whether their arguments drift into attacking each other (saying or doing things with sole the intention of making the other person feel worse). When reflecting during sessions, often clients recognise that their arguments start out ‘on topic’ but then become more about defending and attacking rather than a constructive discussion. Some clients have benefitted from recognising each others ‘no go’ topics and learn to look after each other better even during their heated disagreements.

3) The importance or repairing and recovering from disagreements. I think that if clients learn how to help each other ‘get over’ difficult conversations, instead of carrying the hostility within themselves well after the interaction has ceased, then they will be more open to communication and also start to build their friendship more. If they can show empathy and attention to their partner and nurture them back to a degree of calmness it helps build their bond and a sense of safety or comfort that disagreements are tolerable and do not necessarily result in an extended period of negative emotion or a fracture in the relationship.

4) The best way to effect change is to change behaviour. A common frustration for me and some clients is that as much as we can talk, show empathy and build understanding, if they do not do anything different between sessions then the initial positivity of feeling listened to and gaining insight can wear off. The couple in the Michelle Weiner Davis’ video highlighted how much emotions can shift if some specific behaviours are changed or introduced. An important part of my work with clients is to ensure that I don’t simply listen and build understanding but that I also challenge and encourage them to DO something different to create positive changes for themselves.


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