Get Proactive in Your Relationship with a State of the Union Meeting
It can be quite common for long-term relationships to fall into a routine, start to stagnate, or switch to “autopilot”. Without bringing awareness to this pattern it can be extremely difficult to break out of, thus leading to resentment, unwarranted reactions, and painful conflict. Oftentimes, in order to keep the peace out of a fear of conflict, we tend to brush our feelings under the rug hoping that the issue will just disappear. However, conflict within a relationship begins to manifest when matters of the heart go unresolved or neglected. “By keeping ahead of issues – even small ones – couples can develop a kind of pressure relief valve that can prevent resentments from building up and festering over time” (EPI Center). That’s why it’s important to proactively set aside consistent, dedicated time to talk about how the relationship is going, rather than having to do so only when a problematic issue arises. Having proactive communication gives both partners the assurance that a problem will get the time and space it needs to be heard and understood in a productive manner allowing for hurt feelings to be healed.
To help couples navigate these conversations, Dr. Gottman created what he calls the “State of the Union” meeting. The purpose behind these meetings is to ensure that both partners feel heard and understood before problem solving together. In Dr. Gottman's research, he discovered that partners cannot compromise or reach a resolution until there’s mutual understanding for one anothers feelings and perspective. While it is important to problem-solve and accept each others’ role in the matter, active listening and empathy is critical before trying to fix the issue
Spending just one hour per week discussing areas of concern within the relationship has shown to transform the way partners manage conflict. Having dedicated time and space to discuss what is working well and what is upsetting us, gives couples the opportunity to have constructive conflict and freedom to express fears and concerns in a way that allows them to feel heard and loved. Hold you and your partner accountable by making a State of Union meeting a weekly ritual in your relationship that happens at the same time each week.
- Aim to meet when you’re not too tired or hungry.
- Find a quiet place and minimize interruptions.
- Sit facing each other and make direct eye contact.
-- Start by talking about what has gone well in your relationship since the last meeting.
-- Give each other five appreciations you haven’t yet expressed. Try to be specific and include examples. Research from Dr. Gottman’s Love Lab discovered that even during conflict, happy couples maintain a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in their relationship.
-- Then discuss any issues that may have arisen in the relationship. To make the conversation effective and run smoothly, take turns being the speaker and the listener. If you catch yourself becoming defensive or overwhelmed, take a 20-minute break then return to the conversation.
-- Lastly, end your State of the Union meeting by each sharing one thing your partner can do to help you feel more connected in the coming week.
Conflict is never easy and many people may feel extremely avoidant towards conflict altogether, making these conversations seem formulaic, unnecessary and even daunting. However, couples who regularly communicate proactively and respectfully about their feelings in the relationship increase their levels of satisfaction and understanding and decrease levels of damaging and unproductive conflict. It helps couples feel heard, understood, and appreciated in the relationship when they spend time on a weekly basis to check in with one another, as it prevents issues from building up. State of Union meetings give couples the space and time to practice solving problems together as a team.
Blog post written by Yasmine Ross, Certified Relationship Coach and Content Writer at An Elegant Mind Counselling in Vancouver