Trust and emotional resiliency

What’s the number one thing couples fight about? Nothing.

Kyle Benson writes at The Gottman Institute:

In an interview with Anderson Cooper, John Gottman reveals that the number one thing that couples fight about is exactly that: nothing. …

What matters is not the fight itself, and especially not what it is about. What matters is how partners respond to negative emotions in the relationship. If couples see the conflict as an opportunity for growth, they can attune to each other and increase their understanding of one another, which deepens their trust in each other and in the relationship. …

Negative events will always happen in relationships, and couples will always fight, but that isn’t what drives couples to separate. Relationships fail when the Story of Us—a couple’s history, shared beliefs, and overall attitude toward their relationship—is focused on the problems partners create, not the love partners offer, and the overall attitude becomes negative.

What couples need to buffer against that kind of negativity is a “positive perspective” on the relationship. You need to remind yourself of the good things you share in your relationship, how much you admire and appreciate your partner, and how much you accept and understand their flaws despite whatever conflicts arise from them.

However, if you have a negative perspective, you slowly disconnect, sometimes without even realizing it. …

Regrettable incidents like fights, arguments, and interactions that are primarily negative will happen in all relationships. According to our research, both partners in a relationship are emotionally available only 9% of the time. This leaves 91% of our relational interactions ripe for miscommunication.

While many see conflict in a relationship as a sign of incompatibility, it should be seen as a sign that the relationship needs growth and understanding. Conflict is really an opportunity to learn more about your partner. So, when it feels like you’re fighting about nothing and it goes nowhere, there’s likely a lack of understanding. Perhaps you need to discuss how to compromise and share decision-making, or how to recognize and realize deeper life dreams, or how to address core needs that aren’t being met. The fight itself—like arguing about where to have dinner—is about nothing. …

Typical conflicts are merely a reminder that a relationship is two different people working together to understand differences and love each other despite flaws. And the reason why all couples fight is that we’re all a bit different from each other—personalities, needs, likes, dislikes, preferences, life dreams—and many of those differences (69%, to be precise) cannot be resolved.

So, we fight. But that’s okay, because the trick is to learn how to fight in a way that doesn’t cause harm and that increases understanding. …

When conflict occurs in a relationship, partners need to come together to understand each other better. Often times, that means taking a step back and saying something like, “What do you really need from me?” or “What does this mean to you? Tell me more.” It also means that, before you think of a response, or before you want to dismiss something your partner says that you disagree with, you need to really listen to your partner so that you can understand their perspective.

Trust is built when there’s a positive perspective—that, despite the flaws, disagreements, and differences, it’s a good relationship and that each partner is there for each other. Those fights about nothing won’t happen as often when partners can really open up about their needs, concerns, and dreams. They know that they can work through it, even if negative interactions happen here and there. And for that to happen, couples need to intentionally try to understand each other’s perspectives. When understanding happens regularly, connection is built and a positive perspective blossoms.

I’m also thinking of Jordan Peterson’s clinical perspective, which intersects to with the question of how to “fight better” in relationships:

“Most people who trust are naive—and [to be] naive is not a virtue, it’s a fault. It’s partly a fault because if you’re naive, and you run into someone who’s malevolent—including you!—they night do you incalculable damage so that you never recover. That’s not a good thing, so you don’t want to be naive. If you’re not naive, that means you’ve been burned once or twice—or three or four times. And once you’ve been burned in that manner, well then it’s hard to trust! Because you think, ‘Well, why would I trust you or me for that matter, knowing full well that I can be betrayed?’ So then you’re cynical, and you [incorrectly] think that’s an improvement over being naive. You think you’re more mature.

How do you get out of that conundrum? This is crucial to note: You trust people because you’re courageous. It’s the same reason that you’re grateful. It’s a mark of courage. It’s a mark of commitment. … I don’t think there is any other natural resource than trust. And for trust you need courage, and not naiveté. And you’ve got to overcome your cynicism, so that you trust.”

You don’t want to be naive. You don’t want to be cynical. You choose to trust because you’re courageous. It’s a mark of courage.

Because love is an act of the will more than an expression of the sensual emotions (we choose to love, we choose to will the good of the other), we need this courage and we need to regret the critical, negative tendencies of our hearts in our relationships with other people, especially those nearest to our own hearts.

And with respect to ourselves, and our self-judgments, we’ve got to walk the same path between a false naiveté and a toxic cynicism, in order to reach a place of trust and positive perspective where a permanent sort of love and relationship continually takes shape.

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