Self Help

Fight Right How Successful Couples Turn Conflict into Connection - Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD & John Gottman, PhD

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Matheus Puppe

· 48 min read

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  • The book introduction tells a story about a married couple who divorced over a disagreement about getting a puppy. However, the real issue was deeper - they had differing views on commitment, responsibility, family, freedom, etc. and were unable to effectively communicate about these underlying differences.

  • The puppy disagreement escalated into other fights and resentment built up over time. They stopped spending quality time together and retreated into separate “foxholes.”

  • A minor incident with the puppy leaving waste under the husband’s desk became a symbolic line in the sand neither would cross, showing their unwillingness to compromise.

  • The authors wish they could have helped this couple learn better conflict resolution skills to address their fundamental philosophical differences and save the marriage. Their research since then has helped thousands of other gridlocked couples.

  • The book aims to teach readers new ways to fix how they fight so partnerships can last through challenges by addressing real underlying issues rather than superficial disagreements.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic placed enormous stress on many couples, as they were confined together in close quarters with work and home lives overlapping. This magnified existing issues and fault lines in relationships.

  • Couples who were already struggling before the pandemic tended to do much worse, as stresses overwhelmed their ability to repair cracks in the relationship. Data is still emerging on full effects.

  • The authors’ work involves studying couples scientifically over many years to understand what behaviors lead to lasting love and happiness. Conflict is seen as natural and necessary for intimacy, but most people are not taught how to fight constructively.

  • Avoiding conflict can create distance between partners as resentment and disconnect grow. The key is learning how to fight in a kind, empathetic manner to bridge differences and reconnect rather than withdraw or wound each other. Universal intervention tools are needed to help all couples improve their conflict styles.

  • The researchers studied couples through in-depth observation and analysis of their interactions during conflicts. They recorded conversations down to hundredths of a second and coded every behavior.

  • They found they could predict with over 90% accuracy which couples would stay together happily or split based on their conflict interactions.

  • The first 3 minutes of a fight could predict the relationship status 6 years later.

  • Couples needed a certain ratio of positive to negative interactions during conflicts to maintain long-term love and satisfaction.

  • Couples who frequently used behaviors like criticism, contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness (the “Four Horsemen”) were likely to split within 5 years.

  • Avoiding conflicts altogether didn’t guarantee success either - some couples divorced around 10 years due to lack of connection.

  • Successful couples had skills to view conflicts collaboratively rather than combatively and repair hurt when needed.

  • The researchers aim to provide practical interventions to help couples fight constructively based on their scientific findings. Addressing conflicts is especially important given increases in relationship distress and issues like domestic violence during the COVID era.

  • Conflicts between couples provide valuable insights into the health of their relationship when closely observed and “coded” using systems like Gottman’s Specific Affect Coding System (SPAFF).

  • SPAFF systematically codes facial expressions, tone of voice, language, physical cues and more during conflicts to identify patterns correlated with relationship outcomes.

  • Gottman and his colleagues developed reliable methods to code conflicts and track how interaction patterns aligned with whether couples divorced, stayed together happily, or stayed together unhappily.

  • Their research proved interactions between couples could be scientifically studied and were highly predictive of future relationship outcomes, contradicting prior beliefs.

  • Advances in AI now allow systems to code conflicts similarly to highly trained therapists, identifying toxic signs more sensitively. The AI system described observed a conflict and tracked physiological indicators like heart rate and trust levels declining rapidly.

  • Closely observing and coding conflicts provides opportunities for intervention to help struggling couples before issues escalate irreparably.

The summary focuses on how Gottman’s research validated studying conflicts scientifically through coding systems like SPAFF, and how advances in AI now enable similar coding of conflicts to help identify issues for couples.

  • The passage discusses how a couple’s relationship was analyzed using an AI system trained on a coding system developed by researcher John Gottman to analyze conflict interactions.

  • The coding system looks at verbal and nonverbal behaviors like tone of voice, emphasis, and physiological responses in great detail to understand emotion. It captures much more context than previous systems.

  • The AI was able to match and eventually exceed human coders in its accuracy. It analyzed a conflict between the couple about a fold-out couch, identifying it as a “textbook” argument that illustrated common relationship conflict patterns.

  • The argument escalated quickly, involved criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling. It had high negativity and few repair attempts. Analyzing conflicts can provide insights into relationships.

  • The passage suggests opposites attracting and differences in personality often underlie couple conflicts, as partners may have been initially drawn to each other’s differences but then criticize each other for them later. Analyzing conflicts can help couples understand and address recurring issues.

  • Conflict is a common and natural part of relationships, often sparked by life changes like having a baby, job changes, financial issues, etc. These changes cause stress that spills over into interactions with partners.

  • Research showed that on high-stress days, police officer couples had more physiologically aroused and negative interactions, showing how external stress impacts relationships.

  • John Gottman initially thought anger was a negative emotion and that more conflict early in relationships was a bad sign. However, his research disproved these ideas.

  • Couples who expressed more conflict early on actually had stronger relationships long-term, because women felt comfortable bringing up issues rather than suppressing them.

  • Gottman discovered anger itself is not predictive of relationship problems. It is an “approach emotion” that drives partners to connect and engage. The real issues are when anger includes criticism, contempt, defensiveness or stonewalling (“The Four Horsemen”).

So in summary, the key points are that conflict and anger are natural and not necessarily bad for relationships, but it depends how they are expressed - without criticism or hostility they can actually be positive. External stress also commonly impacts interactions.

  • People tend to feel most shame about their own tendency to feel flooded (overwhelmed by intense emotions). However, there is no shame in feeling anger.

  • Anger, especially female anger which has historically been more suppressed, is a natural and important emotion. It can lead to greater self-knowledge.

  • Unfortunately, many people are terrified of anger. But being more afraid of it makes us more polarized.

  • Broadly in culture, men are allowed to express anger but not vulnerable emotions, while women are allowed passive emotions like sadness but not more active ones like anger.

  • The author is glad his wife Julie feels comfortable expressing her anger, as it has helped their relationship because all emotions can be discussed openly.

  • Conflict and fighting are normal and necessary parts of intimate relationships. They help partners gain a deeper understanding of each other. Conflict is a “royal road” to greater knowledge.

  • Anger should not be treated as bad, and neither should conflict/fighting as long as it is not expressed with contempt, criticism or defensiveness. Curiosity is preferable.

  • Relationships involve negotiating individual needs and the collective needs as partners. This causes inherent tension that conflict can help navigate.

  • People have different “conflict cultures” or styles of handling disagreements based on what they learned growing up. Mismatches in styles can cause issues.

So in summary, the key message is that anger and conflict are natural and should not be feared or suppressed, as they can actually improve intimacy and understanding between partners if addressed constructively.

  • There are three main styles of handling conflict in relationships: avoidant, volatile, and validating.

  • Avoidant couples tend to avoid discussing issues and quickly change topics if disagreements arise. They have clearly defined roles and separate spheres. This can lead to loneliness but also stability.

  • Volatile couples openly express emotions during conflicts through heated debates and arguments, but often with humor. They enjoy the verbal sparring as a way to connect. Risk escalating negativity if humor is lost.

  • Validating couples will debate issues rationally and work on compromise. They take breaks to de-escalate tensions and prioritize staying positive. May give up too much to keep the peace.

  • Initially, validating style was seen as healthiest, but research has found all styles can work depending on the couple. How they handle escalation is most important.

  • A 1960s study found no single best style, as couples of all types adjusted well to parenthood depending on individual dynamics, not just conflict approach. How issues are discussed matters more than the style itself.

Here are the key points from the summary:

  • Psychologist Harold Raush conducted an early study analyzing patterns in conflict conversations between 96 married couples. He identified 3 main styles: avoiders, validators, and volatiles.

  • Raush concluded that validators, who balanced positive and negative interactions, were the most successful relationship model.

  • When researcher John Gottman reanalyzed Raush’s data with a more sophisticated coding system, he found that success had more to do with the ratio of positive to negative interactions, not the conflict style alone.

  • Gottman determined the “magic ratio” is 5:1 - for every one negative interaction, there need to be five positive ones to maintain a stable relationship. Outside of conflict, the ratio should be 20:1.

  • Later research at the Exploratorium museum found that only recently married/divorced people could accurately predict relationship success based on brief conflict videos, as they were sensitive to subtle negative interactions.

  • The key takeaway is that maintaining a positive ratio, not the specific conflict style, predicts long-term relationship success according to Gottman’s research findings.

  • Conger and Elder studied farm families in the Midwest during the farm crisis of the 1980s, when many farmers lost their farms and towns emptied out.

  • They found many couples had an “avoidant” conflict style, rarely openly arguing. But the crisis forced some into high-conflict discussions for the first time.

  • Couples who maintained a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions during discussions weathered the crisis well and grew closer. Those who did not saw the relationship suffer, with the husband physically distancing himself at the dinner table.

  • This mirrors the impacts of Covid-19 on relationships - stable couples pulled together while struggling couples suffered more issues. Conflict avoidance allowed problems to grow quietly in some relationships.

  • The researchers identified healthy conflict styles like avoider and validator, which can succeed with enough positivity. Hostile and hostile-detached styles, featuring constant criticism, contempt and defensiveness with little positivity, were never successful.

  • Couples needed to manage positivity vs negativity differently depending on their natural style, but keeping the ratio tipped positive was key to navigating conflicts well in any relationship.

  • The passage discusses different types of conflict styles in relationships - volatile, validating, and avoidant. It focuses on the problems that can arise when partners have a “meta-emotion mismatch,” meaning they have different beliefs about how emotions should be expressed and handled during conflicts.

  • A common mismatch is avoidant vs volatile. Avoidants want to avoid conflict and negative emotions, while volatiles want to engage and express emotions. This causes misunderstandings.

  • An avoidant-validator mismatch may not cause as many problems. Avoidants prefer little emotion, while validators take a calm problem-solving approach. Their styles are fairly compatible.

  • The passage gives an example of an avoidant (Hans) and validator (Beth) couple. Generally things go smoothly, but conflicts arise when their child runs into school issues and Beth wants more engagement from Hans to solve it.

  • Meta-emotion mismatches are common in couples seeking therapy due to conflicts, as they struggle to communicate effectively during disputes. Understanding each other’s styles can help reduce tensions.

  • The volatile-avoidant conflict style mismatch is very difficult as they have opposing approaches to conflict. Volatiles seek it out while avoidants want to avoid it.

  • Dave is volatile and seeks conflict playfully while Lila is avoidant and uncomfortable with it. When she doesn’t respond how he wants during teasing, he escalates which attacks her.

  • This mismatch is hard to reconcile as she finds his interaction cruel while he finds her cold and shut off. Their fundamental views of conflict are polarized.

  • Data shows people are usually not trying to purposefully hurt each other in conflict, even when being critical. A study had couples review conflicts and rate intent vs impact - overwhelmingly they did not intend to wound their partner even if impact was hurtful.

  • The farther apart partners are on the conflict style spectrum, from seeking it to avoiding it, the more likely rough waters and inability to communicate differently due to polarized beliefs about what conflict means. This is a culture clash that’s difficult without awareness.

Here’s a summary of the key points:

  • People in conflict rarely have truly malevolent intentions, but their impact can still negatively affect their partner if their intentions don’t match the impact. Understanding each other’s perspectives is important.

  • The three stages of a fight are building an agenda, persuasion, and attempting compromise. But different conflict styles approach persuasion differently.

  • Validators will lay out issues first but rush into persuasion too soon without deeper understanding. Volatiles leap right into heated persuasion without fully exploring the issues. Avoiders skip persuasion altogether and want to move on quickly.

  • Mismatching conflict styles can lead to miscommunications as avoiders see persuasion as attacks while volatiles see avoiding persuasion as rejection.

  • However, a mismatch does not doom a relationship. With awareness and understanding each partner’s beliefs and background, couples can learn each other’s styles and find effective ways to communicate across differences.

So in summary, it focuses on how intention and impact don’t always match in conflicts, the typical stages of fights, and how varying approaches to persuasion can both cause issues or be overcome with understanding each other’s perspectives. Understanding conflict styles is important for navigating disputes constructively.

  • Our conflict styles are shaped by what we experienced growing up in our families of origin. Things like how parents fought or communicated disputes rubbed off on us.

  • There are three main conflict styles - avoidant, volatile, and validating. People have a default style they tend towards.

  • It is possible to change your conflict style over time with work, but it’s also okay to stay the same. The goal is to understand your own and your partner’s styles and learn to communicate better.

  • Factors like culture and upbringing deeply influence our conflict styles. Over time, people may learn to incorporate aspects of other styles too. But the default rut remains.

  • Understanding each other’s styles builds empathy and allows fights to explore deeper issues instead of just emotions.

  • No matter the styles, most relationship issues arise because partners stop listening to each other during conflicts and talk past each other instead of understanding. The summary ends by discussing ways to improve active listening.

The passage discusses conflict and fights within relationships. It provides examples of couples arguing over seemingly trivial things like pizza, a plant, or wine. However, the author argues these small disputes are usually just triggers and the deeper issues fueling the conflict relate to values, unmet needs, and hidden dreams.

A key factor identified is failed “bids for connection” - the small gestures people make to get their partner’s attention or connect with them. Research showed happy couples tended to positively respond (“turn toward”) their partner’s bids, while unhappy couples ignored or reacted negatively (“turned away” or “against”) more often. This pattern of how bids were handled strongly predicted the future health of the relationship.

The overall message is that arguments within relationships are rarely just about the surface issue and usually stem from deeper underlying Relationship challenges like communication, meeting each other’s needs, and handling life’s stresses together as a united team. Small positive connections throughout the day are important for long-term satisfaction and reducing conflicts.

Here are the key points from the passage:

  • Couples who responded positively (turned toward) to each other’s “bids for connection” 86% of the time stayed happy and stable long-term. Troubled couples only did so 33% of the time.

  • Responding positively to a partner’s bids builds up “emotional bank account” goodwill that can help buffer conflicts. Ignoring bids drains this account.

  • Conflicts are more likely to escalate when the emotional bank account is low, as partners tend to interpret things more negatively.

  • The passage recommends intentionally turning toward a partner’s bids for connection through small acts of attention and care on a daily basis to replenish the emotional bank account.

  • Our conflicts fall into one of two categories - solvable problems that can be resolved, and perpetual problems stemming from deeper personality/value differences that we must manage long-term.

  • Perpetual problems make up about 69% of conflicts and will be reoccurring issues centered around core incompatibilities between partners. The goal is not resolving them but living well together despite differences.

  • A conflict may appear to be about a solvable issue on the surface, but may actually connect to a deeper, perpetual problem if it triggers themes that come up frequently in other fights.

So in summary, the passage emphasizes the importance of daily small acts of care and connection to build emotional trust that helps buffer inevitable conflicts, and differentiating between conflicts that truly can be solved vs ones requiring long-term management.

Based on the summary provided, some key points:

  • Couples fights can fall into either “solvable” or “perpetual” categories, with different underlying issues and goals for resolution.

  • The common factor in fights that go wrong is dismissing a partner’s negative emotions rather than listening empathetically. This leads to escalation through reactions like minimizing, defensiveness, criticism etc.

  • “Gridlock” describes when couples get stuck in repetitive, unproductive fights over the same issue(s), with entrenched positions and disconnection.

  • Gridlocked fights are often actually about deeper unfulfilled dreams or needs, rather than just the surface topic. Unaddressed underlying causes become a wedge.

  • An example is provided of a couple arguing about whether to accept a job offer, but their fight really stems from deeper fears, wants for career/financial progression, and anxiety about major life changes with kids.

The key takeaways seem to be understanding different types of conflicts, recognizing when issues are perpetual versus solvable, avoiding dismissing emotions to prevent escalation, and identifying underlying unfulfilled needs or dreams fueling repetitive “gridlocked” fights. Empathetic listening is positioned as important for constructive conflict resolution.

Here are the key points about potential deal-breakers in relationships according to the passage:

  • Abuse is a deal-breaker, especially characterological or patterned abuse where one partner is the perpetrator and victim. Situational violence that spirals out of control during fights can sometimes be overcome with treatment.

  • Refusal to seek help for addiction issues can be a deal-breaker, even though addiction itself is not necessarily one. Recovery is possible but requires acknowledgement and treatment.

  • Differing dreams about having children may not have a compromise if one partner wants them and the other does not. This core life decision could mean the relationship needs to end, though other dreams may have creative solutions.

The passage emphasizes that exploring “dreams within conflict” is important to determine if there is a path forward that respects both partners’ visions for their lives, or if irreconcilable differences mean ending the relationship. Most couples can find breakthroughs, but some fundamental mismatches may not be resolvable. Overall it presents potential relationship-ending issues to consider rather than absolutes.

  • This section introduces the top 10 common myths about conflict that can undermine relationships. Some myths discussed include the ideas that solving one fight will solve them all, conflict means you shouldn’t be together, and emotions should be avoided.

  • The reality is presented for each myth - things like conflict being inevitable, managing rather than resolving issues, both perspectives being valid, emotions not having gender, and expressing needs without justification.

  • It’s noted that the best couples process hurts and repair relationships rather than avoiding conflicts entirely.

  • The next part of the book will walk through the anatomy of a fight step-by-step, from start to finish to aftermath. It will point out where couples typically go wrong and offer better solutions.

  • Questions like how to bring up issues, get conversations back on track, compromise during high emotions, explore deeper issues, and process conflicts well will be addressed. Examples of fights will help illustrate these points.

This chapter discusses the first common type of fight that couples have, which they call the “bomb drop.” It provides an example of a real fight between Kristen and Steve while hiking in Sedona, Arizona. Their fight starts harshly when Steve expresses concern about the safety of the trail and Kristen lashes out at him in anger.

The key points made:

  • Fights are very hard to turn around positively if they start in a harsh, negative way. Research shows the tone is usually set within the first 3 minutes.

  • The lab studied couples’ fights and mapped them onto “cumulative sum graphs” to track positivity and negativity over time. Fights that started harshly were less likely to recover, even with repair attempts.

  • How a couple’s first 3 minutes of a fight goes tends to predict both the trajectory of that particular fight and the relationship’s trajectory over the following 6 years. A harsh start makes it very difficult to communicate constructively.

  • The ripple effects of a harsh start don’t stop once that fight ends - they can extend into the future success of the relationship. The chapter argues it’s critical to get off on the right foot within the first 3 minutes of a conflict.

Here is a three-minute summary of the key points:

The way couples start their first conflicts can accurately predict how happy they will be together six years later, around 90% of the time. However, this does not mean the outcome is set in stone. Behaviors can be changed.

The most common mistake couples make is a “harsh start-up” where they immediately criticize their partner, describe only their partner’s negative behaviors without acknowledging their own role, and “kitchen sink” by bringing up unrelated past grievances.

Criticism is never constructive and immediately puts the other person on the defensive. It’s better to describe how you feel and what you need from the situation rather than attack their character.

Starting by only describing their partner’s behaviors implies the problem is fully their fault. Both people should take responsibility for their own behaviors and needs.

Bringing up past issues during the argument overwhelms the immediate problem and prevents effective resolution. It’s better to address concerns one at a time as they come up.

Harsh start-ups often happen due to stress, built-up resentment from unmet needs not being communicated, or from a partner who doesn’t acknowledge bids for connection, leading the other person to feel they must yell to be heard at all. The goal should be resolving conflicts respectfully before resentments accumulate.

  • Kristen and Steve met while they were both married to other people. They had an attraction and eventually divorced their spouses to marry each other.

  • Kristen brought three children into the marriage. Steve was a cardiologist who worked long hours. They had two children together.

  • Their relationship fell into separate roles, with Kristen as the caretaker at home and Steve focused on his career. Fights would start harshly with Kristen exploding at Steve.

  • Kristen didn’t know how to express herself in fights other than harshly, as that’s what she learned from her critical and melodramatic single mother.

  • During a hike, Steve refused to hold Kristen’s hand crossing a cliff, terrified of risk. Kristen saw it as melodramatic abandonment while Steve had trauma around mortality from his work.

  • This triggered a huge fight that led them to seek therapy to learn healthier communication during conflicts. Their backstories helped the therapist understand where each was coming from.

  • The goal for Kristen and Steve is not to immediately solve their differences in risk tolerance, but to understand each other better through openly sharing their feelings, hopes, fears and triggers from the past.

  • When bringing up issues, it’s important to use a softened start-up without criticism or contempt, focusing on one’s own feelings and needs. Kristen practiced this.

  • When listening, the other person should understand the issue fully before discussing their own perspective. Steve needed to listen without planning rebuttals.

  • The couple practiced recognizing positive qualities in each other like loyalty and being quick-witted, to build fondness amidst conflicts over differences.

  • Receiving compliments was difficult for Kristen due to her past, so she expressed that difficulty instead of criticizing Steve. He in turn acknowledged feeling defensive rather than escalating further.

The key lessons are using a softened approach in both raising issues and listening, understanding each other’s perspectives fully before discussing one’s own view, and finding ways to recognize positives in the partner amidst differences and conflicts. Practice was needed to adopt new, healthier communication patterns.

Here are some softened start-up alternatives:

“Honey, I noticed there’s a new dent and scrape on the car. Are you okay? I’m feeling worried and stressed - can you tell me what happened? Road safety is so important to me.”

“Babe, it looks like the car got banged up. I’m feeling protective of our vehicle - would you walk me through what happened? No judgement, just want to understand and make sure we’re both being careful out there.”

“When I saw the car, my heart sank. I care so much about you and your safety. We’ve talked before about being more attentive on the road - can we sit down together and discuss how to prevent more accidents going forward?”

Here are some key points about flooding during conflict:

  • Flooding occurs when we feel overwhelmed emotionally during an argument. Our physiology kicks into fight-or-flight mode with increased heart rate, sweaty palms, etc.

  • In this state, we are less able to think rationally or listen to our partner. We default to defensive or withdrawn reactions like attacking, blaming, stonewalling.

  • Flooding often leads couples into a vicious cycle of criticism, contempt and defensiveness (the “four horsemen”).

  • Nearly all couples struggle with flooding sometimes during fights. It’s a normal physiological response but can derail problem-solving.

  • When flooded, repairing the discussion and owning our mistakes becomes very difficult. But repair attempts are important for de-escalation.

  • Couples presented show how flooding affects minor issues as well as serious problems. It’s a common challenge regardless of differences.

  • Learning to self-soothe and reconnect when flooded is key to staying collaborative during conflict and fighting constructively.

The takeaway is that flooding is an inevitable part of arguments for most couples. But being aware of it and having strategies to address it respectfully can help keep conflicts from escalating unnecessarily.

  • Susan and Stan were looking forward to time together when Stan came home from trips for his soccer matches, but it was often chaotic with their toddlers demanding attention.

  • Susan got a strange phone call from a woman asking for Stan, who said she worked with him. When Susan told Stan, he seemed frightened and guilty. He admitted to a year-long affair.

  • They had huge fights as Susan was shocked and betrayed. Stan got defensive and blamed Susan. Their arguments escalated violently as their physiological responses overwhelmed them.

  • They sought therapy and struggled to even check in with each other civilly in the session, quickly flooding and hurling insults.

  • Nora and Robbie, a married couple with teen kids, also had a flooding argument. Nora was sick but still responsible for the kids. Robbie snapped that he’d done enough and Nora shouldn’t expect more from him. Their conversation escalated angrily as well.

  • In both cases, the conversations started reasonable but physiological flooding took over, fueling defensive stances, criticism, and escalating conflict rather than resolution. The therapy aimed to help them manage these overwhelming emotional responses.

Here are a few key points I picked out from the summary:

  • Ism or contempt from one or both partners can lead to defensiveness, flooding, missed repair attempts, and rapid escalation of arguments. This makes it difficult to have a productive conversation.

  • The fights described escalated quickly with critical/contemptuous comments and defensiveness from both sides, indicating one or both partners were experiencing physiological effects of flooding (increased heart rate, feeling overwhelmed, etc.).

  • It’s important to recognize when flooding is occurring and stop the conversation to address it. Once flooded, it’s impossible to have a productive discussion or access higher cognitive thinking. Flooding needs to be dealt with before continuing.

  • To cope with flooding, it’s important to recognize early signs in your own body. Common signs include increased heart rate, shortness of breath, tight muscles, feeling overwhelmed mentally.

  • When flooding starts, stop the discussion and communicate needing a break. Remove yourself from interaction/thinking about the argument for at least 20 mins to let stress hormones decrease. Come back when ready to reconnect calmly.

  • Ruminating on or planning arguments during the break is counterproductive. The goal is to self-soothe and return in a calm, open state of mind to have a better discussion.

The key takeaway is recognizing flooding and stopping arguments promptly to address physiological responses, in order to have constructive discussions and avoid further escalation and damage. Taking breaks when needed is important for de-escalation.

Here are the key points from the passage:

  • Couples fall into different conflict styles - volatile couples, validators, avoidant couples. Each handles flooding (becoming emotionally overwhelmed) differently.

  • The goal during a conflict should be to “solve the moment” - make the interaction positive rather than negative. It’s not about winning or coming to a final solution.

  • Couples need a ratio of at least 5:1 positive to negative interactions to have constructive conflict. Self-soothing when flooded and expressing needs helps achieve this.

  • Many conflicts escalate because partners don’t clearly express their needs, assuming the other already knows. This leads to resentment.

  • Expressing needs directly is difficult but effective. One couple demonstrated this - once the husband clearly stated needs for affection, time together, his wife was happy to meet them. Articulating needs cools conflicts.

  • Tools like the “Expressing Needs” card deck can help couples identify and communicate their needs to each other to resolve conflicts in a positive way. Overall it emphasizes speaking about own feelings rather than attacking the other person.

  • The article discusses the importance of being able to identify needs and emotions in a relationship in order to effectively communicate during conflicts.

  • It introduces a “Expressing Needs” card deck that can help partners recognize and articulate their inner feelings and needs. Examples of need cards are given.

  • An exercise called the “Truth Exercise” is described to help people tune into their body’s physical responses to better understand their emotions. Lying about something loved elicits discomfort, while truth elicits relaxation.

  • “Repairs” are attempts to de-escalate conflict through apologies, empathy, validation or other positive gestures. Successful repairs depend more on how the partner receives them than the words used.

  • Connected partnerships with regular quality time are better able to align on repairs during fights. The article stresses the importance of routinely turning toward each other to better meet “in the moment” with repairs.

So in summary, it discusses tools to improve emotional awareness, de-escalate conflicts through repairs, and foster connection needed for effective communication when disagreements arise.

I apologize, but I do not have enough context to summarize or comment on the conversation about asking someone out. While repairing relationships after conflict is important, I think the best approach is to have an open and understanding dialogue with compassion for all involved.

  • Manuel and Shanae had been having repetitive fights about gift giving and money for years. They would come up with solutions but none of them stuck.

  • Shanae wanted Manuel to be more spontaneous with gifts to show his affection, but he would get upset about unnecessary spending given their tight budget and history of bankruptcy.

  • They tried agreements like only gifts on major holidays or sticking to a price limit. But the agreements always backfired.

  • On one Valentine’s Day, Manuel gave Shanae an expensive blender he knew she wanted, within their agreed price limit. But she seemed disappointed and thanked him flatly.

  • Manuel was upset, feeling he had followed the rules they set, but she was still not satisfied. They started fighting again about what would make her happy and the problem with their repetitive conflicts.

The key issue is that while they agreed on the surface topics of their fights, they were not delving deeper to uncover the underlying relationship needs, perspectives and triggers that were perpetuating the same repetitive conflicts.

  • Shanae and her husband Manuel got into an argument about a gift he bought her. She felt it was more of a necessity purchase rather than a gift.

  • When she tried to criticize the gift politely, he got defensive and yelled at her, accusing her of having secret rules. She cried and locked herself in the bathroom.

  • They have a pattern of volatile arguments over recurring issues where no progress is made. Their conflicts leave them feeling worse.

  • The authors explain that when couples get stuck in gridlock over an issue with no solution, it often means they need to slow down and get to the deeper root of the conflict rather than focusing on the surface problem.

  • There are signs that a conflict needs to be slowed down and deeper issues uncovered, like if discussions of a minor topic lead to big reactions, or the same topic keeps recurring in other fights.

  • The story is used as an example of how even a simple question can trigger deeper emotions if not addressed sensitively. Slowing down the interaction allowed them to discover an unresolved issue from her childhood was contributing to the conflict.

  • The authors discuss a method called “dreams within conflict” for uncovering deeper layers of meaning and issues fueling recurring conflicts when superficial solutions have failed.

  • John and Julie were a couple living in Seattle, but they had differing views on city vs. nature lifestyle preferences. John preferred the city while Julie preferred nature and wilderness.

  • They kept arguing over buying a cabin on Orcas Island, which Julie fell in love with. But John strongly opposed the idea, seeing it as unnecessary.

  • This caused ongoing arguments and resentment in their relationship over 6 years. They sought couple’s therapy but the therapist sided with John and told him he could just say no.

  • After a therapy session, John realized he didn’t want to be that kind of husband who just says no. They decided to fire the therapist and have their own discussion.

  • In their conversation, they opened up about their childhood experiences - Julie felt unsafe at home and found solace in nature, while John’s parents fled Vienna before WWII and he was afraid of accumulating property.

  • This led to deeper understanding. They compromised by buying a cabin on Orcas Island, and John ended up loving it after a year.

  • Encouraged by resolving their own conflict, they developed a technique called “Dream Catcher” using a series of questions to help couples uncover the dreams behind their disagreements.

The goal in this summary is providing insight into how having deeper, more understanding conversations about the underlying issues beneath surface-level conflicts can help improve relationships. Some key points:

  • The “dreams within conflicts” framework is intended to get past initial positions and explore the deeper motivations, fears, history and personal meaning each partner attaches to an issue.

  • Manuel and Shanae’s money fights were really about underlying issues of love, trust, abandonment from their pasts - gifts symbolized feeling cared for. Understanding this completely changed how they discussed the topic.

  • Taking turns speaking without interruptions, and asking the set of questions, allows each to listen and share vulnerabilities in a protected space. This builds empathy and understanding.

  • While the core conflict may remain, standing in the other’s shoes helps resolve arguments and prevents damage. The relationship becomes less defined by one problematic issue.

  • Even for touchy, recurring fights, exploring the “dreams within” can be a path to greater connection and intimacy between partners by bringing hidden feelings to light. The goal is improved understanding, not problem-solving per se.

So in summary, the goal is to use structured dialogue to gain insight into each other’s deeper motivations around an issue, in order to have more empathetic discussions that strengthen the relationship rather than damage it.

  • The passage discusses a technique called “dreams within conflict” that helps couples understand each other’s underlying needs and dreams that fuel their conflicts.

  • In workshops where this technique is used, it leads to major breakthroughs 87% of the time by helping couples move past gridlock and have more productive discussions.

  • Our deepest conflicts often relate to existential questions about purpose, meaning, and how we want to live our one life. These symbolic issues come out even in small daily disputes.

  • Partners aren’t always aware of their deeper dreams, so the technique may require reflection time to uncover them by thinking about past experiences and family patterns.

  • Sharing this reflection process with each other can help couples better understand each other’s perspectives and collaborate instead of fighting.

  • The example couple George and Marianne had a challenging financial time after marriage but were able to pull together by understanding each other’s deeper needs around providing for their blended family.

So in summary, this passage discusses how exploring “dreams within conflict” can help couples get past gridlock by uncovering the existential meanings and experiences fueling even mundane disputes. Reflection and understanding each other can strengthen relationships during difficult times.

Here is a summary of the key events:

  • George’s boss told him he was being given a promotion that would require extensive travel to expand his sales territory. While this could mean a higher salary, George did not want it.

  • When George turned down the promotion, his boss gave him an ultimatum to take the new role or quit. George chose to quit.

  • George immediately went home and told his wife Marianne that he had quit his job, surprising and panicking her. They had kids in school and financial responsibilities.

  • George explained that he wanted to prioritize his marriage and family over his career. He didn’t want to be away traveling for work like in previous roles.

  • Marianne was initially upset but understood George’s perspective. They told their kids about the job change.

  • Their son then suggested that George open his own motocross shop and racing track, playing to George’s passions.

  • With support from his family, George took out a loan and started his own successful motocross business.

  • Years later, George and Marianne had a strong relationship. George was still running the successful business he started after quitting his previous job to focus on his family over his career.

So in summary, George prioritized his marriage over a job promotion, started his own business with family support, and built a stable relationship and career focused on his family rather than extensive travel.

  • Vince and Jenny, a retired couple in their 60s, have been dreaming of what to do in their retirement but have conflicting dreams.

  • Vince wants to sell their home, buy a sailboat, and travel the world. Jenny wants to sell their home and move back to her family farm in Iowa.

  • They have been battling over this conflict for over a year without any compromise. Their dreams seem incompatible as one involves sailing the world and the other living on a farm in Iowa.

  • By the time they attended a conflict resolution workshop, they had burned through their stock of goodwill and friendship. Bitterness had crept into every interaction as they gave up hope on their dreams and resentment grew in their marriage.

  • The summary highlights how Vince and Jenny found themselves at an impasse with opposing retirement dreams and no clear path to compromise after over a year of fighting without resolution. Their relationship was hanging by a thread due to the lingering conflict and resentment.

  • Vince and Jenny are arguing about their retirement plans - Vince wants to sail around the world while Jenny wants to move to a farm in Iowa.

  • They are stuck in opposing positions and unable to compromise. Vince feels Jenny isn’t acknowledging his experience with boats, while Jenny feels the sailing plan is too risky and a “pipe dream.”

  • Their argument escalates as they accuse each other of being selfish, stupid, and dramatic. Vince says staying on a farm would be like being dead, while Jenny says sailing away would be like sailing away from her.

  • Research finds some couples have a “zero-sum” dynamic where one partner’s gain is the other’s loss. This leads to increased stress and health risks over time. Vince and Jenny appear trapped in this zero-sum conflict style.

  • Moving to a cooperative “yielding to win” model, where both partners accept each other’s influence, is important for finding compromise and sharing in the experience of conflict rather than oppositionally rating it. Accepting influence from your partner leads to greater capacity to influence them.

This passage discusses how accepting influence from one’s partner can be challenging due to deeply ingrained social conditioning, but observes that gay and lesbian couples seem to have an easier time with this compared to heterosexual couples. Some key points:

  • A long-term study found gay/lesbian couples were more open to their partner’s influence and less defensive during conflicts. They tended to use humor, affection and compromise more.

  • This may be because LGBTQ individuals face more rejection and want to avoid perpetuating misogynistic relationship dynamics.

  • Accepting influence can be difficult for heterosexual men due to messaging that it means being “weak.” This messaging is deeply embedded due to centuries of patriarchal cultures.

  • Women’s relationships to power and influence are affected by historical oppression, objectification, and the need to maintain vigilance against threat of violence.

  • For men, exploring how masculinity relates to being a “protector” rather than “dominator” can help with accepting partner influence in non-threatening ways like sharing childcare.

  • Examples are given of men protecting their partner’s humanity and dreams by taking on more caregiver roles and chores to support their goals and well-being.

In summary, it discusses how social conditioning can make accepting partner influence challenging, but gay couples seem to do this more easily, while examples are given of redefining masculinity and protection in heterosexual relationships.

  • The passage discusses expectations and pressures around traditional gender roles, and how refusing to accept influence from one’s partner can damage the relationship.

  • It argues that being willing to listen to one’s partner, understand their perspective, and compromise is important for a healthy dynamic where both people feel respected and influential.

  • A relationship exercise called the “Gottman Island Survival Game” is presented to illustrate how partners can practice accepting each other’s influence and working as a team.

  • The passage concludes by describing an example the authors witnessed of a couple arguing bitterly while kayaking together because they were unwilling to genuinely compromise and collaborate as a team. This led to their kayak getting stuck on some ice.

The overall message is that willingness to accept one’s partner’s influence, see issues from their point of view, and find true compromise (not just concessions) is vital for a relationship where both people feel respected and empowered. Rigidity and refusing to budge damages the partnership.

  • The Bagel Method is an intervention technique used to help couples in conflict find a compromise.

  • It involves drawing a bagel shape and identifying the inner circle (non-negotiable aspects) and outer circle (flexible aspects) of each person’s dream or goal.

  • This allows each person to express what is core to them while also identifying potential areas of flexibility.

  • It illuminated flexibility for Vince and Jenny that was previously unseen. They realized they could fulfill both of their dreams through compromising on details like timing, locations, budgets etc.

  • Two other examples are given: a couple disagreed on public vs private schooling but found flexibility in community involvement and the child’s preferences. Another couple disagreed on living locations but found flexibility in timing of moves and involvement of extended family.

  • In each case, the Bagel Method helped outline non-negotiables and uncover hidden areas of potential agreement through focusing on underlying needs, not rigid positions. It enabled win-win compromises for conflicting couples.

Here are the key points from the passages:

  • A young boy was having trouble deciding whether to go to school with his dad or stay in his current neighborhood school. His parents outlined the options and discussed it with him. Ultimately he decided to go to school with his dad but still maintain connections to his friends and neighborhood by joining an after-school soccer team at his current school. They agreed to re-evaluate after a year.

  • A couple, one living in Geneva and the other in Nigeria, fell in love but faced a dilemma of where to live once engaged. She wanted him to move to Geneva due to her son’s special needs and school situation, while he wanted her to move to Nigeria to be with his family and fulfill cultural expectations. They struggled to understand each other’s perspectives leading to resentment.

  • Through therapy, they came to deeply understand each other’s core needs and values around family responsibilities. They created a non-traditional living arrangement where they spent half the year each in the other’s home country, and communicated during time apart. This compromise allowed both to fulfill their responsibilities while maintaining their relationship.

  • The Bagel Method helps couples identify their core needs/dreams and find flexibility and compromise around them to resolve conflicts. However, some dreams are incompatible, like disagreeing on having children, where no compromise is possible without one partner feeling a loss of self. In these cases, the relationship may need to end for both people to pursue their dreams.

  • Finding the “Nash Equilibrium” means arriving at an outcome where neither partner can do better given the circumstances, so they are both satisfied. But relationships require thinking of what’s best for both people rather than opponents. Trust is key to successful compromise, trusting the other considers your perspective and has your interests at heart too.

Here are the key points from the summary:

  • Molly and Selena had a big fight when one of them needed to step away from work to help with their daughters’ remote learning. Hurtful things were said on both sides about each other’s jobs and parenting roles.

  • They tried to resolve the surface conflict by making a new schedule, but kept fighting about what was said during the original argument.

  • Selena feels Molly holds her non-biological status over her head and doesn’t see her as a real parent. Molly denies this and feels Selena doesn’t appreciate her parenting efforts.

  • They’re stuck in a loop of hurt feelings and defensiveness when trying to discuss the incident. If they can’t address it constructively, it will damage their relationship long-term.

  • Rebuilding trust after hurtful words are said takes open communication without defensiveness or accusations. They need to understand each other’s deeper feelings about parenting roles in order to move past this conflict.

  • Some couples try to “just move on” after a fight, but that is actually the problem. Unresolved conflicts fester and damage the relationship over time.

  • Memories of unresolved fights stay vivid and traumatic due to the Zeigarnik effect - unfinished tasks are better remembered. Reliving the memory makes it more distorted and biased over time.

  • Even if the fight was in the past, it remains emotionally raw if unprocessed. The fight needs to be addressed, feelings expressed, and understanding reached to properly heal wounds and resolve the issue.

  • Signs a past conflict needs addressing include continually relitigating the original fight, avoiding certain topics, feeling distant and disconnected, or becoming upset easily when small things remind you of the past incident. Unless properly processed, the negativity of unresolved conflicts can corrode the relationship.

In summary, the article argues that couples should not try to simply forget about past fights, but rather take time to fully discuss, understand each other’s perspectives, and resolve emotional issues in order to properly heal from conflicts and prevent lingering negative effects on the relationship.

  • The author describes how badly handled fights can lead to more fights as partners argue over who was to blame or whose version of events is correct. This becomes a pattern of continuous conflict.

  • Common responses after a bad fight include avoiding discussion of the issue, fighting about unrelated things where pent-up resentment leaks out, and overreacting to small things.

  • To process a fight properly, partners need to be able to talk about it without re-engaging in conflict. This requires specific skills.

  • The key is realizing both partners have valid subjective realities/perspectives of what happened. When discussing a fight, use “I-statements” to describe one’s own feelings and perspective without blaming the other.

  • Validate the other person’s perspective by saying their view makes sense given their experiences, even if you don’t fully agree.

  • Identify any triggers from the present fight that dredged up emotions from the past. Reflect on where those feelings came from previously.

  • Apologize only after both perspectives are understood to make the apology meaningful.

  • The author proposes a 5-step process for successful fight processing and resolution.

Here is a summary of the three key steps from the passage:

  1. Triggers: Share what memories or experiences from your past may have escalated the interaction. Discuss why these are triggers for each person.

This allows each person to identify personal vulnerabilities or past experiences that may have unintentionally triggered a stronger reaction during the fight. Understanding each other’s triggers can help prevent escalation in future conflicts.

  1. Responsibility: Acknowledge your own role in contributing to the fight.

Taking responsibility for one’s own words and actions, rather than blaming the other person, helps de-escalate tension and move toward resolution.

  1. Constructive planning: Together, plan one way each of you can improve communication during future disagreements.

Looking forward in a positive manner, by discussing specific strategies or behaviors each will work on, facilitates constructive problem-solving and prevents future conflicts from escalating in the same way. The focus is on learning and growth, rather than assigning blame.

The conversation describes realizations about triggers from each partner’s childhood that influenced a recent fight they had about their daughter’s health and independence.

Julie’s trigger stemmed from an experience as a child where her symptoms were dismissed by her doctor father, which later led to serious and lifelong health issues. This triggered her to be vigilant about any health concerns with her own daughter.

John’s trigger came from being bullied relentlessly throughout high school for being smart and different. He wanted fiercely to protect his daughter’s blossoming independence and college experience from anything that could derail it, as college had been transformative for him.

By sharing their childhood stories and identifying these underlying triggers, they gained a deeper understanding of why the recent fight escalated so intensely for each of them. Though they had discussed these histories before, making the direct connection to the present fight provided profound insight into how their childhood experiences still influenced and activated strong feelings in each other as adults. This revelation helped them feel genuinely validated and allowed the next steps in resolving issues to go much more smoothly.

As Molly and Selena took responsibility for their parts in the past fight by walking through each other’s perspectives and understanding the triggers that led to their strong reactions, they were able to process the incident almost a year later. Even though a lot of time had passed, understanding each other and feeling understood helped them address the growing distance in their relationship from that unresolved fight. They realized specific things each regretted from the incident and apologized meaningfully to close that chapter and move forward in a healthier place. Taking responsibility for one’s role when a misunderstanding occurs can help repair the relationship once both people feel understood.

  • The passage describes two people, Megan and Abdul, meeting on a bus ride in Kenya. Megan was a Peace Corps volunteer and Abdul worked as a law clerk.

  • They sat next to each other on the crowded bus and hit it off, conversing for the entire six-hour journey. Abdul made sure to sit next to Megan instead of his brother.

  • Though they come from different backgrounds, they connected through their conversation and interest in each other’s cultures/languages. Megan spoke some Kiswahili and Abdul spoke English fluently.

  • The anecdote is used to illustrate how meaningful interactions and understanding between two people can develop, even in unexpected places like a long bus ride. Their willingness to connect across differences formed thebasis for what became a relationship.

So in summary, the passage tells a story of an intercultural romance that blossomed from an initial chance encounter on a bus, where openness to learning about each other helped two strangers from different worlds find common ground.

The story discusses how Abdul and Megan met on a bus during Ramadan where Abdul was fasting. They hit it off and went on a second date where they talked about everything and knew they would get married.

They were married for 17 years but hit a bad patch after moving from Kenya to DC. Abdul felt overwhelmed and terrified by every interaction due to cultural differences. He took out his anger on small fights with Megan. Their constant fights were wearing them down.

One day they realized they weren’t enjoying their relationship anymore and needed to fix it. They talked through it for hours like their first long bus ride. They agreed to change how they engaged in conflicts by understanding what the real issues were beneath surface fights.

Though it wasn’t always linear, they learned to have “good fights” by describing themselves not their partner, explaining positive needs, discussing dreams, compromising without giving up too much, and processing past incidents. They were able to break out of old patterns and reconnect through changing how they fought.

  • The passage discusses Megan and Abdul, a couple who have learned how to have “good fights” through years of practice and trial and error.

  • Key to their success is stopping fights when they begin to escalate into anger or frustration. They talk through the issue to understand each other’s perspectives and reconnect.

  • Though they still disagree at times, fighting no longer strains their relationship. They feel closer even when in conflict.

  • The rest of the passage provides a “Fight Right Quick Guide” with tips and strategies for handling conflicts successfully. It offers advice on soft starts, active listening, recognizing when flooding occurs and taking breaks, staying collaborative rather than trying to “win,” and other best practices.

  • The goal is understanding each other better rather than winning arguments. With practice of these strategies over time, even experts still refer back to the guide to improve their conflicts. Managing fights well takes ongoing effort but leads to closer intimacy in the relationship.

Here are the key steps outlined in the prompt for processing a past fight:

  1. Share how you felt during the fight, without explaining why you felt that way. Describe emotions without blame or accusations.

  2. Listen actively while your partner shares their emotions from the fight. Reflect back what you hear to show understanding.

  3. Identify what each of you could have done differently, without criticisms of each other. Focus on choices and behaviors rather than character.

  4. Discuss lessons learned that could help you communicate better in the future, especially around the issue that caused the original fight.

  5. Express regret for any harm done through hurtful words or actions, not through defending past behavior.

  6. Affirm your care, respect and commitment to each other going forward. Agree not to rehash the past fight further.

The goal is to process the emotions, gain understanding and plan to communicate more constructively in the future, rather than reliving or assigning blame for the past conflict. Addressing it in this positive, solutions-focused way can prevent residual resentment or hurt.

Here are the key points that can be summarized from the prompts:

I was right and you were wrong:

  • There was a disagreement where the speaker felt they were correct and their partner was incorrect.


  • The speaker or their partner had a strong reaction of being shocked about something related to the disagreement.

I had no influence:

  • The speaker feels they did not have any ability to influence or impact the situation.

Both of us were partly right:

  • The disagreement was nuanced and both people involved had partially valid perspectives, neither was completely right or wrong.

Overall this suggests there was a disagreement or argument where both sides felt strongly but neither was fully right, leaving both people feeling shocked, powerless, and like the other did not understand their perspective. Recognizing elements of validity on both sides could help resolve conflicts when absolutes are not applicable.

Here are the key points about the Bringing Baby Home (BBH) and emotion coaching programs for TGI:

  • BBH is a program for new parents to help with the transition of bringing a new baby home and establishing parenting routines. It focuses on emotional connection within the family.

  • Emotion coaching is an approach to parenting that involves validating a child’s emotions, helping them understand their emotions, and setting limits in a caring way.

  • Both programs teach parents strategies for responding sensitively and appropriately to their child’s emotions. They emphasize nurturing the parent-child relationship and helping children develop emotional intelligence from an early age.

  • Katie Reynolds works on public and media relations for TGI and Gottman, Inc. to promote their programs and research.

  • Becca Sangwin focuses on marketing strategies for TGI.

  • Aziza Seykota directs product development at TGI.

  • Therese Soudant provides support for TGI’s couples department.

  • Janani Subramanian is the head of finance and accounting.

  • Weston Triemstra handles website development and technical support.

  • Keeley Trygstad assists with technical operations and support for TGI.

  • Linda Wright was an early director of the couples department at TGI.

Here is a summary of the source “York: Academic Press, 1979”:

This source appears to be a book published by Academic Press in 1979 located in York. No other contextual or bibliographic information is provided, so the summary is limited. The reference cites a book published in York by Academic Press in 1979, but without a title or author listed, no further insights can be gleaned from the source citation alone.

Here are summaries of the references provided:

BACK TO NOTE REFERENCE 2 Zeigarnik, “On Finished and Unfinished Tasks,” 300–314.

This source discusses Bluma Zeigarnik’s seminal research on the Zeigarnik effect - the finding that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed ones.

Bower, “A Brief History of Memory Research,” 3–32.

This chapter provides an overview of the history and major developments in memory research from the late 19th century to 2000. It discusses influential findings and theorists who shaped the field.

BACK TO NOTE REFERENCE 1 Gottman et al., “Gay, Lesbian, and Heterosexual Couples About to Begin Couples Therapy: An Online Relationship Assessment of 40,681 Couples,” 218–39.

This article presents research analyzing data from over 40,000 couples who completed an online relationship assessment prior to beginning couple therapy. It compares gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples’ relationships.

Here are summaries of the passages:

protector, role of, 237–238 This section discusses the role of the protector in a relationship. It says the protector helps soothe their partner’s distress and make them feel safe by listening, understanding, and validating their feelings.

puppy, fight over, 1–5 This section gives an example of a fight that a couple had over getting a puppy. The wife wanted a puppy but the husband didn’t think they were ready. They yelled at each other and didn’t make any attempts to understand each other’s perspectives. This set the stage for how they dealt with conflicts going forward.

questions, open-ended, 136 This section discusses how asking open-ended questions is important for understanding each other’s perspectives during conflicts. Open-ended questions cannot be answered with just yes or no.

Quick Guide, 281, 288, 294, 307, 308–328 This lists page numbers where the Quick Guide for managing conflicts is discussed in the book. The Quick Guide provides steps and strategies for handling conflicts constructively.

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