Finding Common Ground: Homework Assignment

Here are ways to find common ground with your partner.

Here are ways to find common ground with your partner.

Here are ways to find common ground with your partner.

reconnect and nurture your relationship

Building on this blog post, here’s an activity to help you find common ground in your relationship. However, before exploring Shapiro and Fischer’s research on negotiation further, this is what makes it so important.

Self-aware individuals are all good at noticing when they are upset. People often feel controlled by powerful emotions. The activity below seeks to help you take back control. Applying Fisher and Shapiro’s work to your own intimate relationship can help you become more self-aware. If you can learn to identify the needs that lie beneath your in-the-moment feelings, you will be able to respond to yourself and to your partner more effectively.

The exercise is as follows:

Step 1

If you haven’t already, take some time to answer the questions posed here about each of the five “core concerns.” Make these answers simple and don’t be afraid to write them down on paper. Keep them to a few words. If you like, you can ask your partner to join you in this exercise. If you decide to complete this activity together, be sure to keep your own list and to work through the activity independently.

Step 2

Prioritize your main concerns, and choose the one that is most important for each of you. Again, this is to be done independently.

Don’t try to find fault in all five areas, because all problems cannot be addressed at once, especially those that are this significant and complex. You may not have any issues in some areas, but bringing up more than one at a time can create a risk of getting distracted and overwhelmed. When you decided which concern you want to focus on right now, think about what it would take for you to feel that this core need was being met. Make a list of ideas. Can you set a realistic goal for improvement in this area? 

Before you communicate about this with your partner, make sure that you get to step 3.

Step 3

Focus on the times your partner met your needs in this area. Here are some examples:

  • Appreciation: “I felt appreciated when you noticed my extra effort in planning our weekend.”
  • Affiliation: “It felt great when we came up with a joint plan for our finances. I was really glad I didn’t have to handle that alone.”
  • Autonomy: “Thanks for supporting me in my physical therapy goals. It made me feel great.” 
  • Status: “I really appreciated it when you did the dishes every night last week. That was sweet of you.”
  • Role: “Thanks for hiring the housecleaner so I can have more time to focus on work.”

When you approach your partner to talk about your area of concern, bring up a time in which it was addressed and made you feel good. Let your partner know how much you appreciated their actions or words, and explain how these actions or words made you feel.

In this way, you can avoid approaching a difficult issue with a negative perspective. If your approach begins with turning towards your partner, communicating genuine appreciation and gratitude for positive behavior, and letting them know that you believe in your joint ability to overcome the problem, you are much more likely to succeed in working together towards finding common ground.

Ellie Lisitsa is a former staff writer at The Gottman Institute and editor for The Gottman Relationship Blog.