Later that night as the wife was cooking dinner, the husband began to act like a mime feeling the air. The wife looked at him with a What is wrong with you? kind of look and he responded, “I’m trying to find the elephant in the room. Can you tell me what you’re seeing so we can figure out what this elephant is together?”
She chuckled and they started working together to figure out what this particular elephant looked like and why it was awkwardly standing in the room of their relationship.
Check your jersey
The third perspective shift I like to tell couples is what I call the “Check Your Jersey” approach. Often in conflict, we feel like we are on different teams, trying to score points against each other.
When this happens, both partners lose. The goal of a conflict discussion is to find the best win-win for both partners. Sometimes this requires compromise—other times all partners need is to feel understood.
It’s helpful to imagine that underneath each partner’s clothes are a jersey of the same color. At times we forget and pass the ball to the wrong team, but if we check our jersey we can remind ourselves to pass to each other, work together, and score points against the team of misunderstanding.
If you struggle to respect your partner’s perspective, it might be because you see your partner on the other team. This is common.
We often highlight our positive qualities and label our partner with negative ones. This is what Fritz Heider calls the Fundamental Attribution Error. It’s pretty much like saying, “I’m okay; you’re defective.”
This competitive view stands in the way of resolving relationship conflicts. The way to handle this is to perceive the qualities in your partner that you perceive in yourself (which is just another way of being on the same team).
As Heather put it, “Yes, he’s being selfish right now, but so am I. Maybe we each need to be a little selfish so we can make our relationship work.”
These three shifts are helpful because they remind us to attune to our partner’s side of the story. One of the vital elements of Dr. Gottman’s State of the Union conflict conversation is to not persuade, problem solves, or compromise until both partners can state each other’s positions to satisfaction.
His 40 years of research on thousands of couples have shown that problem solving before partners feel understood is counterproductive.
Next week we are going to give you the secret recipe for asking for your needs to be met in a way that helps your partner meet them. Stay tuned.
By Kyle Benson