Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Valentine's Day Gift: Dreams within Conflict

I'm in a "Practice with Couples" class in my graduate program, and I have been sitting on my hands these past few weeks to keep from coming home and telling you all of the things I am learning. Yes, it's that exciting. My "Family Policy" course? Nyeh. "Brief Treatment"? Nyeh. But "Practice with Couples"... I just can't think of anyone who wouldn't be fascinated by learning about how to do couples and marriage therapy. I get to take notes and pretend that I'm learning how to be the therapist, but secretly, I plan and plot how to use the interventions and exercises in my own marriage.


And so this week because love is in the air, I've decided that I am going to gift you with a few simple exercises to hopefully boost your love life and arm you with a few new ideas to try out when the same old issues come up. I am fully aware that I am preaching to the choir, but I suppose anything that has to do with strengthening relationships is a sermon that just can't be outpreached.

Dreams within Conflict

John Gottman developed a theoretical framework for approaching couples therapy called the "Sound Marital House". All of his exercises and interventions are based on his extensive research with couples, and the one I'll share with you today is called "dreams within conflict". The word "dream" can be a little misleading, but it basically refers to any sort of lifetime goal or vision, or something that has great meaning for the individual.

Gottman distinguishes between "solvable" and "perpetual" problems; the first being regular day to day annoyances and the second being the issues that are emotion laden, gridlocked and that are not easily solvable by a couple. Dreams within Conflict deals with the perpetual problems, or conflicts that create tension and have no obvious "out". The aim of the exercise is for the couple to explore the reasons, or history, behind each person's firm stance on the issue. The aim of the exercise is not to problem solve, or reach a compromise, but simply to understand where each member of the relationship is coming from and learn to respect the other's dreams.

So how do you do it?

Next time a heavy-hitter issue comes up, instead of jumping back into unsuccessful patterns of communication, try a new approach. Ask your love bug to tell you about what it is that makes them so passionate about their position on the issue. Suspend judgment, let them talk, and ask gentle questions to help them explore their "dream" (or if that sounds to airy fairy, use words like "goals"). We all have dreams behind the things we feel passionately about, and yours and your loved-one's may be one of the following, or may be something not listed:
  • Justice
  • Protecting family
  • Building something
  • Adventure
  • Being able to be productive
  • Having a sense of freedom
  • Getting priorities in order
  • Being able to truly relax
  • Knowing family members
  • Having a sense of power
  • Becoming more competent
  • A spiritual journey
  • Being known and loved as an individual
  • Overcoming a challenge
  • Saying good-bye to a chapter in life
Often the bigger picture of our unwillingness to budge has to do with certain childhood or previous experiences that lead us to believe that families, or marriages, or communication, or finances, or cleanliness or punctuality should be a certain way. Gottman observed that couples who understood each other's dreams behind the conflict were able to then approach perpetual problems with more empathy and respect. When it comes to gridlocked issues, it's easy to attribute irrationality to the other's point of view, but when understanding is introduced to the equation and the conflict is reframed as two people's dreams being at a crossroads, it is more likely that couples will find a peaceful resolution.

Now if only I could remember all of this when the topic of video/computer games comes up...

1 comment:

Da.. said...

You are the perfect marriage counselor.. The day i choose a partner, you might be the first one to meet her.. :)