Part of my personal journey toward becoming a therapist includes the four years that my wife and I lived in the state of Washington, and our decision to return home to California to enter graduate school. One of the things that we would need to do to allow us to move back was to sell our home. Part of the process was for us to complete the finishing our basement. Over the years I have acquired a few skills that would allow me to complete certain components of our basement remodel. Other items such as the plumbing, electrical, and drywall I am not so skilled at.
My wife and I decided that we would need to hire a professional for work that we could not do ourselves. Our resolve was that we would hire a professional to do the work that we could not do, and that we would “fix what we can fix”-which just happens to be our fifth ingredient in our recipe for a great marriage.
Fix What You Can Fix.
There are two kinds of conflict within marriage: Problems that can be solved, and problems that are perpetual and will never be resolved. Research shows that a whopping 69% of all marital conflict is perpetual and will never be resolved! That means that only 31% of all marital conflict ever comes to a resolution. So, lets discuss how couples find success in this area, and help you to fix what you can fix. We’ll get to the perpetual problems in another post.
Studies have found that successful couples employ five techniques that form a model which enable them to fix what they can fix. These five steps are:
- Soften start-ups. Wives are far more likely to bring up difficult subjects and push toward reconciliation than their husbands are. Husbands are more likely to avoid these topics and push away from their spouses when approached about these concerns. The antidote for this is a softened start-up. Soften start-ups include four components: 1) Shared responsibility. 2) Emphasizing one’s feelings. 3) Keeping it specific. 4) Explaining what is needed.
- They both give and accept repair attempts. Repair attempts de-escalate tensions when conflict resolution between couples takes a wrong turn. They serve as a tool for “damage control” when couples need help. Dr. John Gottman says: “In happy marriages couples send and receive repair attempts with ease… but you don’t have to wait for your marriage to improve before you start to hear each other’s repair attempts”. Repair attempts typically begin with “I statements” and can help couples to pull out of a negative spiral.
- They soothe themselves and each other. More often than not when one partner does not receive the other’s repair attempt it is because the listener is “flooded” and cannot hear what the other is saying. Flooding is a nervous system response that is marked when one’s heartbeat exceeds 100 BPM. The body is in the “fight or flight” stage and basic survival tendencies take over. Successful couples are keen to notice this, and will take action by taking a break from the conflict until the flooded partner has had a chance to calm down. The most successful couples will partner together to help the flooded one to soothe himself or herself.
- Find compromise. Love it or hate it, compromise is the only way that we can solve our marital problems. When couples struggle to reach compromise it typically isn’t for lack of trying, but rather for lack of approach. Compromise is most often reached only after the three steps above have been accomplished: Softened start up, successful repair attempts, and self-soothing. The next step is our fourth ingredient for a great marriage: Accept influence. Compromise won’t work if you aren’t willing to have an open mind to your partner’s thoughts and feelings.
- Addressing emotional hurts. Even successful problem solving can lead to emotional pain and scars. Successful, happy couples are more likely to talk through these issues together. When emotional injuries aren’t addressed they can become part of a greater issue down the road. Happily married couples are more likely to discuss these issues rather than sweeping them “under the rug”, hoping that they go away by themselves.
Couples who work to fix what they can fix report greater overall marital satisfaction.
You too can improve your marriage by employing these steps to fix what you can fix. A happy and healthy marriage is possible. Remember, these steps above work for “solvable” problems and aren’t as successful when dealing with “unsolvable” problems.
If you looking for help to “fix what you can fix” contact me at 714-675-4402 or Michael@IrenicCounseling.com