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Couples: Do You Know How to Fight Fair?

  • Chris Woolston, M.S.
  • Posted March 11, 2013

It's a fact of life that nearly all couples argue. It's also a fact that many relationships manage to weather these storms, while others don't. How much do you know about resolving conflicts and protecting your relationship? Take this short quiz to find out.

1. Noted psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman, PhD, has identified what he calls the number-one rule for successfully resolving conflicts. Which of the following statements represents his advice?

a. Always stand up for what you believe in.

b. Always be willing to give in for the sake of the relationship

c. Always make it clear that you understand and accept your partner as a person.

d. Always keep your emotions in check.

2. Happy, successful relationships never dissolve into shouting matches. True or false?

True

False

3. Telling your partner exactly how you feel can quickly solve almost any disagreement. True or false?

True

False

4. No one is ever "right" in a marital argument. True or false?

True

False

5. As with any negotiation, you don't want to be the first one to tip your hand. After a big fight, you should let your partner make the first move toward reconciliation. True or false?

True

False

6. You should almost never resort to ultimatums, no matter how strongly you feel about an issue. True or false?

True

False

7. During arguments, regularly engaging in contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling can doom a relationship. True or false?

True

False

8. If your partner has hurt your feelings badly and then tries to make up, it's better to wait a while to respond or even to ignore him or her completely. True or false?

True

False

9. Some conflicts can never be resolved. It may be painful and frustrating, but you may have to agree to disagree. True or false?

True

False

Answers

1. Noted psychologist and relationship expert John Gottman, PhD, has identified what he calls the number-one rule for successfully resolving conflicts. Which of the following statements represents his advice?

The correct answer is: c. Always make it clear that you understand and accept your partner as a person.

Personal attacks have never solved an argument or led to a compromise. "It's just a fact that people can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted as they are," writes psychologist John Gottman in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. "So the bottom-line rule is that, before you ask your partner to change the way he or she drives, eats, or makes love, you must make your partner feel that you are understanding."

2. Happy, successful relationships never dissolve into shouting matches. True or false?

The correct answer is: False

Even happy couples may lose their tempers every once in awhile. If the volume got a little high during your last fight, don't despair. As long as you still respect and value one another, the occasional shouting match won't wreck your relationship.

3. Telling your partner exactly how you feel can quickly solve almost any disagreement. True or false?

The correct answer is: False

When it comes to settling an argument, it doesn't necessarily help to blurt out all your feelings -- however sincerely felt. After observing hundreds of couples, Gottman has found that happily married couples don't tend to express every passing resentment. Laying out a comprehensive laundry list of your partner's faults and misdeeds may feel like "honesty," but it's more like marital sabotage.

4. No one is ever "right" in a marital argument. True or false?

The correct answer is: You answered: True

Even when you feel 100 percent right, try to understand your partner's point of view and consider how you may have contributed to the problem.

5. As with any negotiation, you don't want to be the first one to tip your hand. After a big fight, you should let your partner make the first move toward reconciliation.

True or false?

The correct answer is: False

According to psychologist Clayton Tucker-Ladd, PhD, too many arguments fester because nobody wants to be the first to raise the white flag. Go ahead and make the first move: You may be surprised to discover how eager your partner is to make up.

6. You should almost never resort to ultimatums, no matter how strongly you feel about an issue. True or false?

The correct answer is: True

Psychologist Tucker-Ladd writes that ultimatums always meet with resistance. Even if it gets the desired result -- no more late nights out with friends -- an ultimatum will make your partner resentful. It's much better to explain your requests -- "I want to spend more time with you" -- than to back them up with threats.

If you're dealing with an alcoholic or abusive spouse, however, an ultimatum may sometimes be necessary. ("If you don't go into treatment by x date, I will have to leave you.") Just be prepared to follow through.

7. During arguments, regularly engaging in contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling can doom a relationship. True or false?

The correct answer is: True

Gottman calls criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse," which, left unchecked, will kill a relationship. Anger itself is not necessarily destructive, he says, but withdrawal and unrelenting blame, sarcasm, and negativity can induce emotional shutdown and distancing. Given enough time, this is likely to lead to a parting of ways.

8. If your partner has hurt your feelings badly and then tries to make up, it's better to wait a while to respond or even to ignore him or her completely. True or false?

The answer is: False

Gottman says that one of the most crucial keys to a good relationship is the willingness of partners to respond to each other's small peace offerings during or after a fight. Continually rejecting your partner's "repair attempts," or "bids," puts the relationship in danger. According to Gottman, "A bid can be a question, a gesture, a look, a touch -- any single expression that says, 'I want to feel connected to you.' " It doesn't necessarily matter whether couples argue a lot, he says; what matters is how they repair the relationship and respond to each other's bid for connection.

9. Some conflicts can never be resolved. It may be painful and frustrating, but you may have to agree to disagree. True or false?

The correct answer is: True

No matter how much you love and respect one another, you'll never settle all of your differences. As Psychologist Dan Wile writes in his book After the Honeymoon, "when choosing a long-term partner... you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you will be grappling with for the next ten, twenty, or fifty years." You may not be able to completely ignore these problems, but you don't have to let them constantly eat away at your relationship, either. Accept that the conflict exists, realize that it gives you insight into your partner's way of thinking, and move on.

References

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. John M. Gottman, PhD, and Nan Silver. Three Rivers Press.

Psychological Self-Help. Clayton E. Tucker-Ladd. (Mental Health Net, 1996-20010).

University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Fighting Fair in Marriage.

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