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Today's reading was on repair attempts. Apparently the emotion-based repair attempts are more effective than cognitive ones. Repairs are what you do when you miss a sliding door moment to calm your significant other back down and repair the disagreement.

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Reading more Gottman last night. I learned about the Gottman-Rapaport Model for Constructive Conflict. He recommends a weekly 1 hour exercise in attunement and conversation skills. You have to listen to your partner and repeat back to them your understanding of how they're feeling until they are satisfied that you have it right. I like how he recommends buying a pulse oximeter to monitor pulse rate and oxygen concentration for flooding and then you take a 20 min. break if necessary. Wish we had done this. Wish I'd read about this earlier.

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Gottman really emphasizes the importance of taking a break. He says that "taking a break can have a dramatic effect. In my therapy work, I find that partners return to the table looking and sounding as if they've had a brain transplant. Once more, they can be logical, neutral empathic and attentive. Their good humor also returns."

 

He recommends beginning each meeting with a review of what's been going right between you lately to accentuate the positive and diffuse tension. He suggests beginning by naming 5 things the other did in the past week that you appreciate. After each one the receiving partner should express gratitude. Next you decide together which area of discord to focus on for the meeting. Starting with something recent in the beginning is his suggestion and then with practice moving to something that occurred in the past if it still bothers one partner.

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During the hour, this is what the speaker and listener must follow:

 

Speaker's job:

A - awareness - Paying attention to your words and manner to avoid making your partner feel cornered, defensive or flooding. Be sensitive to the partner's triggers and childhood traumas.

T - Tolerance - Acknowledge that your partner's perspective is just as valid.

T - Transforming criticisms into wishes and positive needs

 

Listener's job:

U - Understanding - not problem solving

N - Nondefensive listening - He says this is a difficult one to master. He offers some suggestions - pause and breath, relax muscles, doodle, later write down your partner's words and your defensiveness. Try to separate this issue from your overall feelings towards the relationship.

E - Empathy

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I'm not advocating for it necessarily, but it is worth exploring the idea that my key mistake was in telling the full truth when she asked. Or in trying to be too much of a people pleaser when she initially asked me to tell her when I started dating again.

 

When she asked me to tell her when I started dating again, it was relatively soon after our last breakup. I couldn't even imagine dating again so it was easy to say yes. That was something far, far away that I didn't even want to think about. Of course I didn't even give a thought at all to how difficult that conversation would be, so I did not realize what I was agreeing to. Could I or should I have just said no. Perhaps I could have answered by just saying no, I am not going to tell you when I start dating again. She would have gotten very upset by this and may even have stopped talking to me entirely, which I did not want to have happen. When I was eventually introduced to someone, then it became vague. Was that a date? Do I even want to see this person again, probably not. So I didn't tell her. From there it was a slippery slope. Well I went on this date, but I don't really want to ask this girl out again anyway and if I tell her then she will never talk to me again and I'll lose all hope of making it work.

 

When she asked me if I had slept with anyone since, I had a brief moment of, how should I respond? I ended up deciding that being honest was the best policy. At first it seemed to be fine, painful but ok. Perhaps though I should have simply said, "no". Maybe we would have worked out in that case? Then she asked if I'd been in a relationship and I had the same moment of wondering how to best respond. I again decided that being honest was best. But that seemed to have been a horrible mistake. It was all downhill from there. Almost unrecoverable. Perhaps I should have simply said no. This probably does not fall cleanly under white lie territory. But guys tell little white lies all the time to save the relationship from discord. If I had simply said no, then perhaps we would still be together and everything would have worked out? The reason why honesty is thought to be the best policy is that something could always come out later that reveals the lie. But by that time we might have been together permanently or it wouldn't have mattered as much because we would have been in a less precarious situation. What's more important? Saving the relationship or sticking to some rule prescribed by society to never lie beyond little white lies? Worth considering.

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I read more and the example of a weekly conversation practicing attunement that Gottman gives is very helpful. It's hard to just listen and respond with understanding initially. It's hard to phrase your complaints as wishes or needs that are actionable, but it helps a lot. It's hard to respond to these with true empathy and understanding. But it just takes practice like any other skill. He emphasizes that both people have to feel heard and understood before you can begin to negotiate your differences. I think I often made the mistake of jumping straight into the negotiation. But I think even for me, I couldn't really start to compromise until I felt my concerns were really heard and understood. Probably it was the same for her. The hearing and understanding and empathy is an important first step that can't be skipped over. Gottman recommends mapping out the concessions that you absolutely cannot make so that you avoid overcompromising and then renegging later. He suggests keeping this list very short and including only the needs that you know are essential to your happiness and the relationship's success. You must use I-sentences to describe these.

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The latest reading was about Gottman's Aftermath Kit: Healing Previous Injuries and Hurt Feelings. This was a more advanced one but very useful I feel. She used to say that I needed to stop worry about preventing all unexpected explosions and learn how to live through them. This is the advice for how to live through old explosions and repair those unfortunate incidents. I will summarize the process next time when it's not so late.

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Step one is: Recall and Name the Emotions Out Loud

Don't debate the facts, let each person have their own interpretation but get the emotions out of what people actually felt.

 

Step two: Discuss Your Subjective Reality

Take turns talking about how you perceived the situation, what did you require from your partner to avoid a regrettable incident? I needed you to...

Once you feel heard, switch roles.

 

Step three: Identify Deep Triggers

Triggers are often enduring vulnerabilities from childhood. Put in your own words all of the triggers you experienced.

 

Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

 

The idea is that you use the weekly State of the Union meeting to first address current issues, then past issues. Then with practice you respond more with the sensitivity and skills that you've practiced in everyday life and the need for State of the Union meetings to be run formally diminishes.

 

I'd like to practice these ideas and maybe even working through this process by myself I can start to heal more from the past.

 

I think in a new relationship I have a plan and a framework for keeping it healthier. I'd like to research some additional relationship scholars and their frameworks. Gottman can't be the only one in this field. There must be some alternative theories.

 

But I think a daily happiness diary

A weekly "what I appreciate about you" and State of the Union meeting

A monthly "Life Dinner"

And other traditions could be a framework for a healthy relationship and maximizing the chances of avoiding divorce. Of course she would have to be on board with also doing these mechanisms and traditions as well.

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Obviously commitment is important in a relationship. But I think commitment can be increased over time. It seems that using these conversation styles and tools in Gottman's book, one could increase the commitment in the relationship by working out missed sliding door moments, increasing the happiness in the relationship and working out problems. Mostly I think it would build confidence that emotional moments and problems can be worked out without leading to horrible experiences and feeling terrible about myself all the time. I think with weekly state of the union meetings, daily happiness diaries, monthly life dinners, what I appreciate about you's, then commitment could be steadily increased over time rather than being a magical thing that you just have to suddenly have out of the blue when you're not certain that it can work. Instead, commitment levels can be influenced. When there are lots of emotional moments, missed sliding door moments and regrettable incidents, it erodes trust and commitment. But on the flip side, it's also possible to build up trust, safety, and commitment.

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This has been a rough week. Maybe because of our mutual friend talking about her, I had a dream that she was in the other night. I was trying hard to move on, learn lessons from my mistakes and move on with life. But I had this dream with a lot of the good times that we had together and then the scene shifted to many years in the future. I randomly ran into her somewhere with her grown-up daughter or son. Then her husband came and whisked them all away. It was very sad. Tears in my eyes even now thinking about it.

 

Then I was checking about a flight and logged into tripit. I'm still connected on there and saw she was planning a trip to Cancun. Of course it's unreasonable but my mind immediately went to some guy is taking here there for vacation. I remembered our trip to Playa Del Carmen just south of there and one night in Cancun. It was a wonderful trip, except for all the stress of the job market stuff. Maybe it's a trip with female friends or a conference. I just don't know why she has to go back there of all places? That was also the trip when she told me I should feel free to turn down the Wharton job.

 

Oh, I thought this was going to get easier with time...

 

This dream has been the first time in a while I've seriously felt like I should drop everything and go and try to get her back.

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Shoot, shoot, shoot. What should I do? I have this feeling that I would have severe regret if that dream scenario ever occurred. So maybe that means I should do something. But it doesn't change the experience that we had of not being able to get along. Gottman's method seems to indicate that with the right conversations and the right skills any marriage could be made to work. But then how do you choose a life partner? Just anyone that you're attracted to? I had always felt like it had to be about more than just physical attraction, that there had to be some chemistry. Anyone who you have chemistry with and then make it work from there? Gottman does note that differences over number and whether to have any children are one area that it's very hard to get couples to overcome. But maybe I'm wrong on the kids thing. Maybe it's due to some emotional baggage, esp. around the divorce that I could work on myself to work through?

 

Maybe I should first play out how some Gottman like conversations could go. Perhaps that will help with my healing process and then i'll be able to see things more clearly. I could play out the conversations with her first. Then go back and have fake conversations with my parents in case there's any emotional scars there. Right now I'm headed down a path of not having kids and seeing her in her dream with a child has shaken that view because I experienced such regret. But maybe that's more about her and less about the kid. Or maybe it wouldn't happen in real life?

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I guess mainly I want her to be happy and to feel secure and safe. If she's found someone who makes her happy where I could not, then that's good, I'm happy for her. I guess I should pursue the same thing. It's better for me to stay focused on healing myself and continuing to learn how to do better in a relationship next time and to be a better boyfriend and husband than I was in the past. I need to first figure out the kids thing and whether I would regret not having them when I'm older and see friends or anyone with grown children.

 

It seems unlikely this Cancun trip is a conference since it's international. I go to conferences internationally but it seems more rare in her field. Maybe it's a girls' trip, but it seems more like a romantic place. That's ok, I will just put it out of my head. I'll just interpret and think of it as a girls' trip and hope that she has a fun time there. She's the one who will have to deal with the memories from us being there, walking along the beach, going out to fun restaurants, etc. At least she's not going to Costa Rica or Monterey/Santa Barbara.

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I should practice Gottman's Aftermath Kit: Healing Previous Injuries and Hurt Feelings.

 

Here's how a conversation about Cape Cod/Nantucket might have gone:

Step one is: Recall and Name the Emotions Out Loud

Don't debate the facts, let each person have their own interpretation but get the emotions out of what people actually felt.

 

Her: We were having a good time until suddenly after dinner you told me that I was negative about work all the time. It just confirmed for me that you didn't understand or appreciate me and that you weren't committed and supportive. Besides I'm pessimistic about work and optimistic about family, but you're pessimistic about kids and optimistic about work.

 

Me: So what emotions did you feel that night?

 

Her: I felt insecure, unsafe, angry, sad. I felt like I needed some fresh air and to go for a walk. I felt like I needed to get out of that room with you. I felt trapped, suffocated and like I needed to get out.

 

Me: I understand now, really I do. I can see why you would have felt that way. It's understandable when you already might have felt insecure by me that my mean comments would have made you feel even more insecure and then you were trapped in a faraway place in a small hotel room with me and you needed to get out and go for a walk to get some fresh air.

 

Her: So how were you feeling?

 

Me: (Even just thinking about this conversation I'm starting to flood so probably would need to take a break already at this point.) Will come back to this later.

 

Step two: Discuss Your Subjective Reality

Take turns talking about how you perceived the situation, what did you require from your partner to avoid a regrettable incident? I needed you to...

Once you feel heard, switch roles.

 

Step three: Identify Deep Triggers

Triggers are often enduring vulnerabilities from childhood. Put in your own words all of the triggers you experienced.

 

Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

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Rather than thinking that gifts were shallow, or represented a materialistic waste of resources that could have been saved for experiences, investment, kids, retirement or philanthropy, I should have recognized that they make her feel valued and cherished and respected her love language regardless of what it is simply because I would want her to respect mine as well.

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Here's how a conversation about Cape Cod/Nantucket might have gone:

Step one is: Recall and Name the Emotions Out Loud

Don't debate the facts, let each person have their own interpretation but get the emotions out of what people actually felt.

 

Her: We were having a good time until suddenly after dinner you told me that I was negative about work all the time. It just confirmed for me that you didn't understand or appreciate me and that you weren't committed and supportive. Besides I'm pessimistic about work and optimistic about family, but you're pessimistic about kids and optimistic about work.

 

Me: So what emotions did you feel that night?

 

Her: I felt insecure, unsafe, angry, sad. I felt like I needed some fresh air and to go for a walk. I felt like I needed to get out of that room with you. I felt trapped, suffocated and like I needed to get out.

 

Me: I understand now, really I do. I can see why you would have felt that way. It's understandable when you already might have felt insecure by me that my mean comments would have made you feel even more insecure and then you were trapped in a faraway place in a small hotel room with me and you needed to get out and go for a walk to get some fresh air. You needed to feel secure and loved and that completely makes sense.

 

Her: So how were you feeling?

 

Me: I was first feeling anxious about finally expressing what I had been thinking for a while and getting it off my chest. But I was also feeling hopeful that I could be helpful. After the initial conversation I knew I hadn't done a great job, but I was at least glad I'd brought it up and we could talk about it. Then we went to sleep or at least I did. I was suddenly woken up later and at first couldn't remember where I was. I had been in such a deep sleep it was one of those times where you forget where you are and feel like you're in your own bed again. Except I felt like I had to rush to remember who and where I was and what was happening. All I knew was I could feel how upset you were and how strange/extreme the situation was. I felt like I had to keep you in the room where I knew you were safe but you desperately wanted to get outside. I felt like where we were staying was not in such a safe location and I didn't really know the layout of what was around us or how to get back. I felt like I either had to follow you outside or else I wouldn't know how to find you again or what had happened to you. But mostly I had the feeling it was not safe to be outside at that hour of the night/morning. I felt like something was terribly wrong in the way you were acting and talking but I couldn't understand what exactly. You kept saying that you couldn't breathe and so I felt like that was very dangerous and I needed to call someone for a medical emergency and quickly. I also wasn't sure if that was a metaphor or if you seriously couldn't breathe which is very dangerous or if there was some kind of a gas leak or problem in the room where we might be in serious danger quickly. Given your history I felt very afraid and desperate myself about what might occur. I remember feeling scared to death and shocked that for the first time I was seriously considering calling 911. You seemed to be having trouble breathing and I didn't know what that meant exactly. So I was trying to calm myself and you down while thinking through whether I should call the police or the hospital or who and what I would say to them exactly about why I needed their help. I was afraid to call them if it wasn't necessary but I didn't want to wait until it was too late and I wasn't sure I could keep you safe or keep you in the room or from putting either of us in danger. I just remember being very deeply scared and panicked that you couldn't breath, but trying to stay calm and think clearly about what the right thing to do to keep us safe was and at what point I would have to call for outside help to handle the situation. At the same time I was feeling guilt and regret and self-hatred for putting us into that situation.

 

Step two: Discuss Your Subjective Reality

Take turns talking about how you perceived the situation, what did you require from your partner to avoid a regrettable incident? I needed you to...

Once you feel heard, switch roles.

 

Me: So how did you perceive the situation and what did you need from me to avoid a regrettable incident?

 

Her: I needed you to let me outside for a walk, I needed you to make me feel secure and cherished and loved again.... (more later)

Step three: Identify Deep Triggers

Triggers are often enduring vulnerabilities from childhood. Put in your own words all of the triggers you experienced.

 

Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

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Step two: Discuss Your Subjective Reality

Take turns talking about how you perceived the situation, what did you require from your partner to avoid a regrettable incident? I needed you to...

Once you feel heard, switch roles.

 

Me: So how did you perceive the situation and what did you need from me to avoid a regrettable incident?

 

Her: I needed you to let me outside for a walk, I needed you to make me feel secure and cherished and loved again. I needed you to tell me that you loved me despite my weaknesses and flaws.

 

How did you perceive the situation and what did you need from me?

 

Me: At first, after I got my bearings again, my perception was that there was either something wrong with the building/room where there was a gas leak or you were having a major allergic reaction. Slowly, it started to dawn on me that it wasn't for physical reasons that you couldn't breathe, it was for emotional reasons. I felt more relieved for my own safety but still more concerned for yours. I felt even more strongly that I couldn't let you outside of the room/building under those conditions because you might hurt yourself, but I was not at all sure how to get you calmed down and felt that I needed help to handle the situation perhaps from someone, maybe from a professional. Under the circumstances, I'm not sure what you could have provided to me that I needed at that point. I felt like things were really out of control. I felt like I couldn't go back to sleep again that night because I needed to look out for you and make sure that you didn't leave the room/building and make sure that you were safe the rest of the night. I felt like you might be having a panic attack or a nervous breakdown or maybe some kind of hallucination and I wasn't sure whether I should call someone for help. I needed to know what to do to help you and whether it just required for some reassurance from me or whether it was a more serious medical or mental situation that needed help from the outside. I guess I needed to know from you what the situation was exactly and whether I alone was going to be able to handle it and keep you safe and calmed down again. If I knew that for sure then I think I could have done something, but as it was I was frozen trying to evaluate whether I'd be better off making a phone call for assistance/help.

 

Step three: Identify Deep Triggers

Triggers are often enduring vulnerabilities from childhood. Put in your own words all of the triggers you experienced.

 

Me: Where there any deep triggers or enduring vulnerabilities that I should know about contributing to the situation?

 

Her: More later ... I'm not sure what she would have said here.

 

Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

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Step three: Identify Deep Triggers

Triggers are often enduring vulnerabilities from childhood. Put in your own words all of the triggers you experienced.

 

Me: Where there any deep triggers or enduring vulnerabilities that I should know about contributing to the situation?

 

Her: I think I felt abandoned which is an enduring vulnerability for me. I felt like you were judging me and abandoning me and that made me feel very insecure. So I think that may have contributed to the situation. I think your withdrawal and abandonment trigger enduring vulnerabilities for me. What about you?

 

Me: I think my enduring vulnerabilities and triggers mainly come from my parents' divorce. I needed to know that we could bring up and discuss any issue in a calm way without it leading to emotional arguments that I fear lead to divorce eventually. I felt like we couldn't discuss and resolve an issue in a peaceful way. I felt in danger and flooded, probably from a history of my parents' always arguing and it eventually leading to divorce. I think this has led to a believe that two people have to get along really well and really lovingly, peacefully to be able to stay together perhaps. As a result that was the first time that I really felt like, oh, maybe this isn't going to be able to work out between us if a discussion leads to this level of emotion and conflict.

 

Step four: Recount the History of These Triggers

Explain where these triggers came from in your autobiography

 

Me: I think I've explained a lot of this already with the arguments that lead to my mom's cheating and lying to me about it and eventually to my parents' divorce.

 

Her: In my family arguing emotionally was always a sign of the love and passion shared. It was when the argument turned cool and quiet/withdrawn that it felt like we were really in trouble.

 

Step five: Take Responsibility for Your Contributions and Apologize

Don't make excuses or blame history. Own up to the role you played.

 

Me: I take responsibility for the role that I played in the event. I should have remembered your enduring vulnerabilities and reassured you and made you feel more secure. I should have recognized that I was flooding and been able to recover and engage with you to address the problem I created with the discussion.

 

Her: To be continued...

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

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Me: I take responsibility for the role that I played in the event. I should have remembered your enduring vulnerabilities and reassured you and made you feel more secure. I should have recognized that I was flooding and been able to recover and engage with you to address the problem I created with the discussion instead of freezing with indecision about what to do and whether to make a call for help.

 

Her: I take responsibility for the role that I played. While I don't regret and couldn't change my emotional reaction, I could have expressed more clearly and calmly what was happening before we went to sleep rather than waking you up and scaring you so deeply like that. The way that I expressed and communicated my emotions did not help you to be able to respond in the reassuring way that I needed you to and that was my responsibility.

 

Step six: Figure Out How to Make it Better Next Time

Use your new understanding of why the incident occurred to discuss one way each of you could make it better if there should be a repeat.

 

Me: If there should be a repeat I can immediately offer my reassurance and support that I am there for you and there to work out the situation and resolve it and that I'm not trying to reject you or run away. I would still not let you outside since I did not deem it to be safe, but I understand now the reasons for your emotional reaction and how I could address it better next time by showing my love, that I'm there and being supportive rather than afraid.

 

Whew. That was hard, but I think going through this is helpful for me in healing and understanding how to have better, more emotionally attuned conversations in the future. It takes practice but I can get better at it and it feels good to practice this skill. But I also worry about dwelling on the regrettable incidents and losing all of the positive, happy memories from my life, from our lives during that time. Perhaps I should add an element to this process that I am going through where in between processing the conversation around each regrettable incident I should also recall and write down two happy memories we shared to prevent "negative sentiment override" as Gottman calls it.

 

Two happy memories from that time are:

 

1) When we took the boat ride over to Nantucket and went biking/walking around and the lunch that we shared that I still have photos of there.

 

2) When we went to that ball/dance that I think was on that same trip together.

 

She must be getting close to or have gone through reappointment these days. It must be very stressful for her as she's going through things now that I was going through a year or so ago. I had never realized before how hard it is to go through a very sustained stressful time at work and also try to handle relationship problems and emotional situations. I guess that is one sacrifice I did not realize I was making in trying to make a bigger difference in the world. I hope she's holding up alright. It's emotional for me because I always secretly thought that if she didn't get reappointed then she might move out to California and we'd finally be together and be able to take a next step. That time that seemed so far away is rapidly approaching. Though I do hope that she will be reappointed as I can sense she likes it there and would prefer not to leave if possible.

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My previous relationships failed, not because I'm a victim of my parents or because I'm a bad person. They failed because I did not put sufficient effort and time in before on learning how to have good, productive conversations. I must learn this skill.

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