What’s the worst part of working out? For me, it’s the warm-up. Yeah, the whole sucking wind and burning muscles thing is pretty bad, but I know it’s building strength. When I’m warming up, though, I feel uncoordinated, maybe a little creaky, and I know there’s hard work ahead. But I do it because it’s important to the success of the workout and to avoid injury.
What if we applied that same knowledge to conflicts in marriage? When there is constant fighting in a relationship, it’s time to ask if the fighting is productive and if you’re risking causing an injury. According to relationship expert John Gottman, the missing piece might just be a pre-conflict warm-up. Here’s what that is and how it can change your marriage.
When should you have a pre-fight warm-up?
Is this a trick question? It’s before the fight, right? Yeah, but I don’t know many couples who are controlled enough to feel a fight coming on and say, “Ooh, honey, let’s pause before this escalates and do a quick warm-up.” Sure, it’s possible, but the goal is actually to set aside time each week to talk to your husband about your relationship and any problems you’re wrestling with. Gottman calls it a “State of the Union” meeting. When there is constant fighting in a relationship, this can be a great way to address an issue before anger and frustration set in.
How do you have a pre-fight warm-up?
Each of you should grab a notebook and pen (yes, you should take notes), put your phones in another room, and go to a quiet spot where you have each other’s undivided attention. Then name five things your husband did for you over the past week that you appreciate. He does the same for you.
Why not just one or two things you appreciate? Gottman’s research found that happy couples maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions, even in conflict.
Why does a pre-fight warm-up help?
Starting from a place of feeling appreciated eases tension and creates a desire to cooperate. Imagine your husband saying, “Honey, you’ve been overspending and it’s getting to the point where I am afraid to look at the bank statement. We’ve gotta fix this.” OR “I appreciate how much you care about how our home looks. It makes me smile when I walk in after work every day.” I know I’d feel attacked by the first option and, well, appreciated by the second. And that was just one statement out of five!
Another key step is to thank each other for the words of appreciation. “Thank you for noticing the effort I put into our home.” When you’re anticipating conflict, you might skip this and leave your husband feeling like his appreciation didn’t matter, which will cause bitterness to enter in. If you’re doubting that this will work or feeling like it’s a lot of effort, remember this: How you start a conflict impacts how it will end.
What do you think of the pre-fight warm-up? Are you willing to give it a go?