by Neil Rosenthal
Intimate relationships experience a certain number of differences that don’t go away, no matter what. But a failure to be able to dialogue and compromise on such conflicts can lead a couple to profound feelings of frustration, anger and resentment.
Relationship experts John and Julie Gottman, in their book “Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage” (Crown Publishers) have an exercise to help you understand, verbalize and talk about the dreams imbedded within your conflicts-the individual hopes and aspirations each of you have on a variety of issues.
Look through the following list of dreams, and circle any that are causing tension in your relationship with your intimate partner: a sense of freedom; the experience of peace; unity with nature; exploring who I am; adventure; a spiritual journey; justice; honor; unity with my past; healing; knowing my family; becoming all I can be; having a sense of power; dealing with my aging; exploring a creative side of myself; becoming more powerful; getting over past hurts; becoming more competent; asking God for forgiveness; exploring a part of myself I lost; getting over a personal hang-up; having a sense of order; being able to be productive; having a place and a time to just “be;” being able to truly relax; reflecting on my life; getting my priorities in order; finishing something important; exploring the physical side of myself; being able to compete and win; travel; quiet; atonement; building something important; ending a chapter of my life; saying goodbye to something; finding love; the frequency of lovemaking; what I need in order to be in the mood for sex; finances (spending vs. saving); socializing and spending time with other people; wanting more romance and passion.
Take one of the issues to talk with your partner about – and invite your partner to do the same with one of his/her issues. Designate one person as the speaker and the other as the listener. The speaker tells the listener all about his/her dream. The listener’s job is to draw the information out of the speaker using questions like these: What’s important to you about this dream? What’s the most important part? Why is this part important? Is there something from your life history that relates to this dream? Tell me the feelings you have about this dream. Are there any feelings you left out? What do you ideally wish for regarding this dream? What would be your ideal? How do you imagine things would be if you got what you wanted? Do you imagine some fear or disaster if this dream were to not be fulfilled?
When you’re the listener, don’t debate the issue or express your own opinions about your partner’s dream, don’t attempt to use this exercise to try to convince the other that your position in the conflict is the “right” position.
When the speaker is done, switch roles and explore the other partner’s dream. Then look for ways that you can be flexible in order to honor the letter and the spirit of your partner’s dream. Realize that this is an issue of compromise, and compromise never feels perfect. The important thing is that each of you feels that your dream is understood, respected and honored if at all possible.
These inner dreams are likely what’s underneath the conflicts between the two of you. Looking at how you can be empathetic and encouraging toward your partner’s dream – and how she/he can be supportive of yours – will hopefully reduce the conflicts, arguments and distance between the two of you.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com