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Written By
Linda Rinn

5 tips for resolving relationship conflicts, based on The Gottman Method

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Table of Content

Table of Contents

Navigating relationship conflict is a universal challenge, whether you find yourself entangled in disagreements with a partner, friend, or coworker. The Gottman Method, developed by renowned psychologists Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman, offers a systematic approach to addressing these challenges.

The highly impactful Gottman Method is the result of decades of comprehensive research involving thousands of couples. It is grounded in the belief that understanding a couple’s interactions can significantly enhance communication, conflict resolution, and overall satisfaction in the relationship.

Importantly, the Gottman Method is not confined to romantic relationships; it is applicable to various dynamics. In this article, we will delve into the five techniques for maintaining harmony.

1. Foster positive sentiment override

Ever heard the saying, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”? The practice of fostering positive sentiment override, which simply means giving your loved one the benefit of the doubt, exemplifies this.

Interpreting ambiguous statements or actions in a positive light is essential for maintaining a healthy relationship. It contributes to the emotional bank account of the relationship, creating a reservoir of goodwill for you to draw from during relationship conflicts.

What this sounds like:

Partner“I initially thought you were ignoring me, but I realise now that you were just busy. Let’s plan some quality time.”
Friend“I felt upset about what happened, but I believe there might be a misunderstanding. Can we talk about it?”
Coworker“I might have taken your comment the wrong way. Can I clarify what you meant?”

Self-assessment: What is your initial reaction to someone’s words or actions? Is it positive, negative, or neutral?

Exercise: Reflect on a situation where you may have interpreted your partner’s words or actions negatively. Consider alternative explanations and consciously reframe the situation in a positive way.

2. Respond to bids for connection

According to the Gottman Method, bids are the subtle or explicit ways we reach out to one another for affection, attention, and emotional connection. These can take various forms:

FormDescriptionBidResponse
VerbalExpressions of feelings, needs, or desires through spoken words, such as sharing personal experiences, expressing excitement, or seeking advice.“I had a challenging day at work today.”“I’m here for you. Do you want to talk about what happened?”
Non-verbalCommunicating emotions or needs through body language, facial expressions, or gestures, such as a smile, touch, or making eye contact.Making eye contact and smiling during a conversation.Smiling back and maintaining eye contact to reciprocate the positive connection.
Requests for attentionIndirectly seeking attention or engagement, such as asking for help or sharing a personal achievement.“Can you help me with this task?”Offering assistance and actively engaging in the task together.
Shared experiencesInviting others to share moments or activities, indicating a desire for a shared connection and mutual enjoyment.“Let’s grab coffee together.”
Agreeing to the plan and expressing enthusiasm about spending time together.

Acknowledging and responding to the other party’s bids for connection shows that you are willing to be present for them and that you are attuned to their needs and emotions. A relationship is a two-way street, and active engagement from both parties strengthens emotional intimacy, trust, and communication skills.

What this sounds like:

PartnerWhen a partner shares good news, say, “That’s fantastic! Tell me more about it.”
FriendWhen a friend reaches out, say, “I’m glad you called. What’s on your mind? Let’s catch up.”
CoworkerWhen a coworker asks about your weekend, say, “I appreciate you asking about it. How was yours?”

Self assessment: How do you react when a friend makes a small, seemingly boring remark?

Exercise: Practise recognising and responding positively to the other party’s bids for connections.

3. Understand and respect differences 

Whether you’re a believer that “opposites attract” or that “birds of a feather flock together,” we can all agree that humans are unique, and no two relationship dynamics are the same.

While similarities can be comforting and affirming, differences are equally valuable in helping both parties broaden their worldview and grow together.

Partner“I like how we complement each other. Let’s embrace our differences and learn from each other.”
Friend“I value our differences. Let’s agree to disagree and focus on what strengthens our friendship.”
Coworker“I see that we have different perspectives. Let’s combine our strengths and find a solution together.”

Self-assessment: If you’re told that you’re very similar to a partner, colleague, or friend, would you take it as a compliment?

Exercise: List three qualities that differ between you and the other party and discuss how they can be complementary.

4. Avoid stonewalling

When someone “shuts down,” what they’re really doing is stonewalling. During relationship conflicts, this harmful pattern of communication is linked to negative outcomes, according to extensive research conducted by the Gottman Institute.

Stonewalling is a defence mechanism people use when they feel overwhelmed or threatened by an emotional overload. They may disengage from the conversation to avoid relationship conflicts, protect themselves from perceived harm, and self-soothe. However, this comes at the cost of effective communication and understanding, leaving the other party feeling unheard and frustrated.

Partner“I’m feeling overwhelmed right now. Can we take a break and resume our conversation later?”
Friend“I value our friendship, but I need some time to process our conversation. Can we meet for coffee next week to talk things through?”
Coworker“I need a moment to gather my thoughts. Let’s schedule a brief meeting tomorrow to discuss this further.”

Self-assessment: In a difficult conversation, do you physically distance yourself or resort to the silent treatment because you feel numb?

Exercise: Set up a “codeword” that indicates a need for a break without completely disengaging. Practise using this in low-stakes conversations.

5. Take breaks when needed 

“Don’t go to bed angry” is only semi-good advice. Yes, it makes sense to resolve relationship conflicts before bedtime so tension isn’t carried over to the next day. However, Gottman’s research underscores the importance of taking breaks during conflicts, addressing the concept of “physiological flooding.”

Physiological flooding is the state of intense emotional arousal where our body’s physiological responses are heightened, making it challenging to think rationally, communicate effectively, or engage in a constructive conversation. By stepping away from the situation and allowing our physiological responses to return to baseline, we can re-engage with a clearer mind.

Partner“I sense that this conversation is getting heated. Let’s take a 10-minute break and come back to it.”
Friend“Let’s take a break and revisit this conversation later when we’ve both had time to cool off.”
Coworker“I think we need a short break to gather our thoughts before continuing this discussion.”

Self-assessment: During a conflict, do you experience a rapid heartbeat, shallow breathing, or muscle tension?

Exercise: Set up a “codeword” that indicates a need for a break without escalating a conflict. Practise using this in low-stakes conversations.

Resolving relationship conflicts with Intellect

The principles of the Gottman Method keep personal and professional relationships going strong, and if you ever need a hand, Intellect’s coaches, counsellors, and therapists have a wealth of expertise to offer.

Perhaps differing attitudes about money are causing strife in your marriage, or maybe you’re figuring out how to set boundaries with your work friends after a disagreement. Intellect’s mental health professionals can tailor strategies to the unique dynamics of your relationships and help you put them into practice, enabling you to live a more connected and fulfilling life.

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