To our readers across the country – from Seattle to Texas to New York – we hope you’ve had a safe and lovely Independence Day. The 4th of July is a wonderful time to reconnect with friends, family, and neighbors. To our international readers, we would like to wish you a very happy friday! Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’re excited to build on Wednesday’s posting by sharing an activity to help you find common ground in your relationship this weekend. However, before we explore Shapiro and Fischer’s research on negotiation further, we’d like to explain what makes it so important.

As you undoubtedly know, we are all very good at noticing when we are upset. We often feel controlled by powerful emotions, as if they were literally holding us hostage. The activity below seeks to provide ways in which to 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.

Without further ado, your Weekend Homework Assignment is as follows:

Step 1: If you haven’t already, we encourage you to take some time this weekend answer the questions we posed on Wednesday 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 risk of getting distracted and overwhelmed. When you have 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 has met your needs in this area. Here are some examples, written from one woman to her husband:

  • Appreciation: I felt appreciated when you noticed my extra effort in planning our vacation!
  • 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 craziness alone.
  • Autonomy: Thanks for supporting me in training for the marathon! All of that exercise made me feel great. 
  • Status: I really appreciated it when you told me I’d been working too hard and did the dishes every night last week! That was sweet of you.
  • Role: Thanks for hiring that housecleaner so that Naomi and I could have more mother-daughter time!  

When you approach your partner to talk about your area of concern this weekend, bring up a time in which it was addressed – when they 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.

Example (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 craziness alone, and really appreciate the amount of time you spent working together with me. These days I’m having some trouble keeping track of our spending – it’s stressing me out, and it would be a huge relief if we could allocate some time this week to looking over our expenses together – so we can hopefully feel good about our budget!”

In this way, you can avoid approaching a difficult issue with a negative perspective. If you approach your partner with a laundry list of times that they failed to meet your needs, you will follow your laundry down the chute. But if your approach begins with turning towards your partner – communicating genuine appreciation and gratitude for a 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 a solution.


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Finding Common Ground: Weekend Homework Assignment

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.