Relationship Minute: Who’s to blame

NOTE: The Relationship Minute blog posts and the Personal Work Life Program is moving to a new web site and Facebook Page. Please visit us at Ellsworthlifeskills.com or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ellsworthlifeskills/


When something goes wrong, most of us naturally respond by looking for someone to blame.

It always has to be someone’s fault, right? Not necessarily.

Trying to assign blame just results in a back-and-forth that leaves everyone feeling frazzled, defensive, and dissatisfied. And sometimes no one is to blame. It could have been a misunderstanding—a common result of two people interacting.

For example, let’s say you and your partner started watching a new show together. Your partner was on their phone the whole time, so later, you finish the show on your own.

The next day, your partner notices and says, “Hey! I wanted to finish that together!”

You have two options.

One is to agree that someone is to blame here and make sure it isn’t you.

“You were on your phone the whole time so I figured you wouldn’t care.”

The other option is to accept that there was a misunderstanding.

“Oops. I can see why you’re upset. I would feel the same way. Let’s find a new show we’re both excited to watch.”

No one is to blame here, so it doesn’t have to turn into a stressful conflict.

How would your next interaction go if you went into it believing that blame didn’t need to be assigned?

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 13 February 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Showstopper

Imagine you are watching a play—a serious drama. The cast, costuming, and set are minimal, the acting restrained. The audience is on the edge of their seats, captivated by the tension created by this quiet performance.

All of a sudden, the lights change, glitter cannons shoot out on the stage, and the cast breaks out into a rousing, buoyant musical number.

What?!

Why are they singing and dancing? Why is there a marching band on stage? Why am I covered in confetti?

Before you have time to figure out what’s going on, the number is over and the play resumes as though nothing happened.

Don’t let Valentine’s Day be an out-of-place musical number in your relationship.

When you go to see a musical, the audience expects the actors to sing and dance. There is an agreement that it won’t catch anyone off-guard when the music starts to play, even though that’s not how people behave in “real life.”

Every day is an opportunity to show your partner that you love them.

Every interaction creates context, which determines how out-of-place a big “musical number” might seem.

The key to lasting love is showing care and affection in the small moments. Over time, the little stuff sets the scene for grander gestures to have a bigger impact.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 13 February 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Never stop being curious about your partner

The big secret to creating a love that lasts and grows over time is simple.

Never stop being curious about your partner.

Never stop asking questions.

Don’t assume you know everything about them, even if you’ve been together for decades.

There’s always more to learn.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated  6 February 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Don’t ask. Do.

Chances are, with the best intentions, you’ve asked someone, “Is there anything I can do?”

People have probably asked you this question, too. But how often have you assigned them a task in return?

If you need help, you don’t always have the bandwidth to request it in the form of specific actions.

It might even surprise the person who asked if you told them, “Yes, actually, could you take my garbage out right now?”

A better way to show up for someone who is grieving, busy, in pain, or overwhelmed is to offer something specific and authentic to you. Ask yourself, “What can I give?”

In There Is No Good Card for This, Kelsey Crowe, Ph.D. and Emily McDowell write, “If you care, doing something is important. But doing something you like to do, and not something you would normally resist doing, is invaluable.”

“Would you like to go for a walk?”
“Do you want to talk about it? Or we can watch The Bachelor and put it out of your mind for a little while.”
“Here, I made you my famous mac and cheese.”
They might say no, and that’s okay.
What ways do you genuinely enjoy helping people? What do you have to offer that is special and joyful to you?
Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 30 January 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Anger simply is

In The Dance of Anger, Dr. Harriet Lerner writes,

Anger is neither legitimate nor illegitimate, meaningful nor pointless. Anger simply is.

To ask, “Is my anger legitimate?” is similar to asking, “Do I have the right to be thirsty? After all, I just had a glass of water fifteen minutes ago. Surely my thirst is not legitimate. And besides, what’s the point of getting thirsty when I can’t get anything to drink now, anyway?”

Anger is something we feel.

It exists for a reason and always deserves our respect and attention.

We all have a right to everything we feel—and certainly our anger is no exception.

All feelings, whether we label them as “good” or not, exist for a reason.Pain shows us what to pay attention to.

Pay attention to all your feelings, without judgment. They might hold some answers for you.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 23 January 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Your 2020 Vision

Happy new year! Resolution-making and change may be on your mind this time of year. As the chaos of the holiday season subsides, take a moment to think about what shared meaning you would like to create in your relationship this year.

Talk about your goals together.

What would you like to accomplish as an individual this year? How can you support each other in those dreams?

What would you like to accomplish together?

Focus on what is truly meaningful for you, and what is realistic.

What rituals or regular moments of connection would you like to implement together? What would you like to keep doing?

When couples share a dream or vision for their future, the inevitable ups and downs of any relationship are more manageable. Even when the sea gets choppy, there’s comfort in knowing where you’re going and that everyone is on board.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 1 January 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Give a Stress-Reducing Conversation

The holiday season is in full swing, which can mean extra stress, tension, and obligation to be “merry and bright.”

Treat your relationship to a Stress-Reducing Conversation and give each other the opportunity to vent about external factors without it affecting the relationship.

A few guidelines:

  • Take turns being the Complainer and the Listener.
  • When it’s your turn to complain, don’t complain about the relationship. Keep your complaints located in stressors outside of the dynamic between the two of you.
  • When it’s your turn to listen, take your partner’s side. Now is not the time to “play devil’s advocate.”
  • Stay in it. Tune in to your partner when you are the Listener and keep complaints from sliding into something personal when you are the Complainer.
  • Don’t try to solve your partner’s problems if they didn’t ask you to. Let it just be a time to vent.
  • Be kind. Offer affection and compassion to your partner with useful phrases like, “I can see why that would be stressful,” “That must have been hard,” or even just, “That sucks.”
A listening ear or a shoulder to cry on is a great gift to give your partner and something that could only come from you!
Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 12 December 2019. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.