Today’s installment of the Sound Relationship Dungeon is all about managing conflict. Whenever we make the choice to connect or share intimacy with another human being, we run the risk of hurting someone and being hurt. It’s part of the whole “being human” thing. No ones’ feelings, core values, and perspectives ever match 100% of the time. The world would be a very boring place if it did, at least in my opinion. Gottman learned pretty early on in his work that it’s not a matter of whether conflicts arise (in fact, for most couples therapist a lack of conflict is more concerning than lot of conflict), but how conflicts are addressed and repaired.

This is where another core concept of Gottman’s comes into play: The Four Horsemen of the Relationship Apocalypse. (cue ominous music)
The horseman are as follows:

  • Criticism: “You always [insert grievance here]!”
  • Defensiveness: I don’t [insert grievance here]. You’re the one who’s always [insert second grievance here].
  • Contempt: Well, who needs you anyway?
  • Stonewalling: [This is where one or both people get overwhelmed and shut down.]

Incidentally, whenever there’s a heated argument on facebook, I sometimes find myself playing “Four Horsemen Bingo.” That cascade pretty much sums up every internet flame war ever. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself. (The Stonewalling phase is when someone rage-quits.) But I digress…

According to Gottman, there are 6 Basic skills for managing conflict:

  • Soften Startup: Used to disarm the horsemen of criticism. It often involves using “I” statements and non-violent style of communication.
  • Accept Influence: Disarms defensiveness. What can you own?
  • Make Effective Repairs: Disarms contempt. How can amends be made on both sides?
  • De-escalate: Also disarms contempt. See my post on rules for fighting fair.
  • Psychological Soothing of Self and Partner: Disarms stonewalling. It is generally a bad idea to hash things out when emotions run high. Learning how to stay calm and encourage calmness in a partner is an important element of diffusing conflict.
  • Compromise: Disarms any of the horsemen. Learning to find areas of flexibility in your position, and a willingness to be as flexible as possible.

In Playing Well With Others, Mollena and Lee Harrington elegantly sum up the importance of communicating issues and effectively mitigating conflict within the world of kink. The sentiment of this passage, however, is pretty universal.

If someone oversteps a boundary of yours, express this, advise them, and make sure they’re aware of the conflict. If nothing is said, nothing can be addressed. It can be difficult to take responsibility for expressing an issue or conflict, but in the long. run no one is served by your unwillingness to speak up. Air your grievances with compassion and respect for yourself, for your boundaries, and for the humanity (and fallibility) of others. This approach can go a long way towards mitigating difficulties and resolving conflict.

Managing conflict in the scene is so important, I have a class devoted to the subject. When you get right down to proverbial brass tacks, however, there is very little difference between troubleshooting kink and troubleshooting any other type of relationship.

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