Aug 28 2023


Healing Unresolved Conflicts from Past Experiences: A Gottman Method Perspective

Have you ever had a conversation with your partner, only to find yourself stuck in a whirlpool of past conflicts that seem to surface out of nowhere? This is a sign of unresolved conflicts, often tied to past experiences or incidents, and they can pose a significant challenge to the health and happiness of your relationship. But worry not, the Gottman Method can guide you toward better conflict resolution and understanding. So, let’s dive into it!

Understanding the Significance of Past Conflicts

In every relationship, conflicts arise. They are a normal part of sharing your life with another person. However, when these conflicts become ghostly specters from the past that intrude on the present, it’s a clear sign that they were never fully resolved. These unresolved conflicts can subtly chip away at the emotional bonds that hold you and your partner together.

Step 1: Recognize and Understand the Conflict

The first step to resolving unresolved conflicts is to identify and understand them. Reflect on the issues that repeatedly come up in your arguments. Are there particular triggers or patterns that you can identify? For example, does a discussion about spending habits frequently morph into a disagreement about a past, extravagant purchase? Recognizing these patterns is the first step to address them.

Step 2: Create a Safe Space for Dialogue

According to the Gottman Method, the key to resolving conflict is to approach your issues as “us against the problem,” not “you against me”. Creating an environment that feels safe, non-judgmental, and open allows both partners to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of criticism or dismissal. It may help to schedule a time for these conversations, so they don’t spring up unexpectedly.

Step 3: Understand Your Partner’s Perspective

Understanding your partner’s point of view is the cornerstone of the Gottman Method. Even if you disagree, it’s essential to validate your partner’s feelings. This doesn’t mean you have to agree, but rather understand where they’re coming from. For instance, if a past incident involved you cancelling a date for a work commitment and your partner still feels hurt, acknowledge their feelings by saying, “I understand why you felt neglected when I cancelled our date. It wasn’t my intention to hurt you, and I see how my actions had an impact.”

Step 4: Use the Gottman Conflict Blueprint

The Gottman Conflict Blueprint is a tool designed to help couples manage their conflicts effectively. It emphasizes the importance of soft startups instead of criticism or contempt, expressing your feelings and needs without blaming the other person, and soothing yourself and each other when the conversation gets heated. In the example above, instead of saying, “You always prioritize work over me!” (which may lead to defensiveness), you could say, “When our date was cancelled, I felt unimportant. I need to feel like a priority.”

Step 5: Reach a Compromise

The final step in the process is to work towards a compromise. This may involve finding a way to make up for past mistakes, or creating a plan to prevent the issue from repeating in the future. In our example, a possible compromise could be setting aside certain days or times that are dedicated to the relationship, where work or other commitments are off-limits.

Remember, it’s okay to seek professional help. Couples therapy, especially when grounded in a research-backed approach like the Gottman Method, can provide invaluable tools for navigating conflicts and strengthening your bond.

Above all, remember this: even the happiest couples have recurring issues that they may never completely resolve—and that’s okay. What’s most important is that you approach these issues with mutual respect, understanding, and a willingness to compromise. As Dr. John Gottman himself says, “In every relationship, there are solvable problems and unsolvable problems.” Embrace the journey of resolution where you can, and seek peace with the rest.

author avatar
Cristina Wood
I am a Psychotherapist with more than 17 years of experience. I've had the privilege of witnessing countless couples transform their relationships over the years. They've turned challenges into opportunities, differences into strengths, and communication hurdles into heart-to-heart dialogues. It's a beautiful process to see two people rediscover their connection and equip themselves with the skills to navigate future challenges with grace and understanding

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