Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Two Simple Words That Are Greatly Improving My Marriage (and, No, They're Not "I'm Sorry")

If you’re anything like me, just hearing the word
“conflict” sends you running to the hills. I’m a
people-pleaser to the highest degree, so dealing
with folks who aren’t pleased with me causes me a
lot of anxiety. Giving someone bad news, boldly
stating my opinions when I know they differ from
others’, and having hard conversations aren’t really
strengths of mine. Usually I just fake it until I make it.
Unfortunately, when it comes to marriage, one can only
fake it so much.
John Gottman, PhD., a world-renowned marriage
researcher, theorized three types of conflict styles that
people tend to exhibit when in relationships with one
another: avoidance, validating, and volatile. Avoiders,
like me, resist conflict like the plague. People who are
volatile are highly expressive with their emotions and
have no problem discussing their differences in opinion
with loved ones. Lastly, validators fall somewhere in
between, expressing their emotions and opinions in
steady and calm ways.
I first learned about these three conflict styles in
graduate school during my couples’ therapy class.
Slowly I began to understand why my husband and I
struggle so much during conflict: I’m a conflict avoider,
and my husband is volatile, which is a significant
mismatch. Any time we disagree, I want to run and hide,
while he wants to talk it out—sometimes loudly. I
couldn’t help but wonder how in the world we’d actually
work through this and learn how to productively resolve


A few months ago, however, I found hope. In a meeting, I
was introduced to an exercise called “Ouch and Oops,”
not knowing it would have any kind of impact on my
marriage. Everyone at the meeting was told that if
anyone became offended by something someone else
said, he/she should say, “Ouch!” Immediately, the
person who made the offensive remark was to respond
with “Oops!” and apologize for their mishap. The two
individuals involved could later discuss the incident
further, if appropriate. Instantly I was intrigued and
wanted to tell my husband more about this exercise.
So many times, when I unintentionally say something
hurtful, my husband reacts the way most volatile people
usually do—loudly and emotionally. Instead of
apologizing (as I should, since I did something wrong!), I
can be quick to avoid the conversation altogether by
being defensive.
Defensiveness is never helpful during a disagreement
and as a result, my husband would often feel
disregarded by my attempts to deflect his feelings.


“Ouch and Oops” works really well because it gives my
husband a way to gently initiate conflict. As soon as I
hear him say it, I know to immediately say “Oops!” and
tune in to his feelings, rather than disregard them. It
starts the conversation on the right foot before it gets out
of hand, which also helps me feel less anxious.
Honestly, it’s been a win/win for the both of us.
I still remember having a quiet yet intense disagreement
with my husband a few months ago. As soon as I heard
him say “Ouch,” I stopped in my tracks, said “Oops,” and
prepared myself to listen to his perspective. It almost
didn’t even feel like conflict but rather a really intense
conversation. After we worked our way through it, I
remember thinking, Wow…I think that helped. Prior to
that evening, we had only really used “Ouch and Oops” in
a joking manner. During that conversation, however, we
actually respected each other’s differences and found
ourselves on the other side, completely unscathed.
If you and your partner really struggle to initiate conflict,
perhaps because of differing conflict styles, I definitely
recommend trying the “Ouch and Oops” method. It may
sound silly, but in my experience, it works. I’m not going
to guarantee that all your arguments will be smooth
sailing here on out, but learning how to initiate conflict but
in a nonconfrontational manner certainly won’t make
matters worse.

Is your conflict style avoidance, validating, or volatile?
What about your partner? Do you think something like
“Ouch and Oops” could help you and your man argue
more effectively?


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