Poems, Personal Stories, and Observations

Posts tagged ‘John Gottman’

Complaint versus Criticism

Complaints versus criticisms. Example:

COMPLAINT: “I was so worried when you didn’t call that I stayed awake all night.”
CRITICISM: “You should have called. You made me stay up all night worrying about you. Talk about inconsiderate. [or, You’re a jerk!]”

COMPLAINT addresses actions that cause upset. CRITICISM attacks the other person, or their character.

Which do you think the recipient will be more likely to respond to?

Some people might not see a difference here; however I think some would be more hurt by criticism, whereas complaint will feel more reasonable and they’d be less defensive.

Adapted from “The Relationship Cure,” by John Gottman and Joan DeClaire, Three Rivers Press, 2001, pp. 71-73

Blueberries and Junk Piles

“… most marital arguments cannot be resolved.”
How about that for a startling statement?  Read on …

Now that my husband is retired, we have more “opportunities” to learn about each other’s perspectives.

Many years ago, I did learn that certain of my husband’s behaviors were not deliberate attempts to hurt me, though they often felt like it.  Now I am learning that we truly do see things differently, which is why we often have (usually settled amicably) conflicts.

Take the case of the blueberries.

One day we were beginning our breakfast routine, and Tom said he was going to put some frozen blueberries in his bowl.  I said, rather harshly, “Please eat the fresh blueberries first.”  A little while later, he asked me, “Why was it so important that I eat the fresh blueberries?  I like the frozen ones, because then the milk (or half and half) I pour on them freezes a little and it reminds me of ice cream.”

So I had to explain that I hate for food to be wasted, and I wanted the fresh berries used up before they became rotten.  Why didn’t I explain that, instead of being harsh with him?  Maybe I assumed he would have the same perspective I have, namely, the need to not be wasteful.  But he was seeing blueberries in a whole different way.

Then there’s the case of the junk pile, or piles.

I came home and noticed that my husband had kindly put out the trash bins on the street in anticipation of the following day’s trash collection.  When we went for a walk the next morning, he mentioned that he had started breaking up some items in the side yard, to “clear up more junk,” and had put them in the trash collection.  I said, “What exactly did you you put in?”  He named some items, and I said, “Wait a minute, I was going to give those to Goodwill or freecycle.org.”  “But I’m trying to clear up junk like we agreed to, and it was in the junk pile.”  “But,” I said, “the junk pile is in [area A], not the area you were clearing.”  He replied, “I thought the junk area was the whole side yard, and those items have been there for months.”

Well, besides us never having explicitly defined the actual junk pile area, and me leaving items out for a long time (because I needed to clean them before giving them away and I had procrastinated on that task), I realized that we needed to have a lot more communication.  “Why,” I asked, if he wasn’t sure about throwing something out, “did you not ask me?” “Because you weren’t home and I wanted to get the task done.”  Anyway, I thanked him for his effort and rushed home, but the trash collector had already come.  [By the way, afterwards I did clean up some remaining items and most have been given away successfully.]

So my point is that many disagreements have to do with misunderstandings and assumptions.  They aren’t necessarily examples of people being mean to each other.  Perhaps my husband and I have not talked enough about our perspectives, priorities, and what values are important to us (in this case, my value of frugality or not being wasteful).

In the book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver (Harmony Books – 2015), on page 28 the authors state, “… most marital arguments cannot be resolved.  Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind — but it can’t be done.  This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values.  By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.”

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