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Couples and Clutter: Conquering Stonewalling

gull-talk

Here’s more on the topic of helping couples manage clutter in a shared space using the wisdom of relationship researcher, John Gottman. This time we explore stonewalling and its antidote.

The other 3 culprits we’ve looked at are criticism, contempt, and defensiveness. Stonewalling happens when a person gets so overwhelmed – flooded – by the negativity of an interaction that they shut down. Rather than continue to confront the situation, they disengage completely- becoming unreachable.

Stonewalling is a reaction to escalating negativity. Stonewalling includes not making eye contact, not responding verbally or physically; giving someone the cold shoulder. The shutting down and turning away is a natural protective response to feeling flooded.

Example: Messy Bedroom

Partner 1: You never put your clothes away. I’m so sick of having to walk around your stuff all the time. Why do you have to be so messy all the time? (Criticism)

Partner 2: “I’m not the one who leaves my shoes all over the place. You’re always blaming me for everything” (Defensiveness)

Partner 1: “I can’t believe I’m married to someone who lives like this. You’ve been a mess ever since I met you! What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get it together?” (Contempt)

Partner 2: Turns away, picks up their laptop and starts doing some project even as Partner 1 continues to try and talk to them. Everything about their body language says, “I don’t hear you and I’m not listening to you.” (Stonewalling)

Antidotes: Timeouts and Self-Soothing Activities

It is important to remove oneself from the interaction, take a timeout and do some self care in order to calm the flooding response. It helps for the overwhelmed person to state, “I’m overwhelmed, I need a timeout.” Take a walk, listening to music, going into a quiet room – anything that lets your body reset and allow you to come back to the interaction with a calmer perspective.

The combination and interplay of criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling are destructive to genuine communication and problem solving. Building awareness of these patterns can lead to healthy interactions and…eventually, to harmoniously organized homes.

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Couples and Clutter – Conquering Defensiveness

agreement

Here’s more on the topic of helping couples manage clutter in a shared space using the wisdom of relationship researcher, John Gottman. This time we explore defensiveness and its antidote.

In our post about criticism, we addressed how blaming inhibits a couple’s communication and ability to work together to create a home that supports them both. Next up was contempt, which takes criticism to the next level. Defensiveness is the third common behavior, which sabotages relationships.

When one is faced with criticism and/or contempt, defensiveness is a natural reaction but rarely works to resolve the issues being discussed. More often, defensiveness escalates the conflict because it is actually a form of blaming.

Here’s an Example:

One person likes to park their car in the garage. The other person is working on a project and because of the weather, is staging the items in the parking spot.

Partner 1:

You left your stuff all over the garage and I can’t pull the car in! You’re such a slob.

Partner 2:

Well if I had some space in the house to work, this wouldn’t be an issue! Can’t I do anything without you harping at me?

Note that Partner 1 is launching into the exchange with criticism and contempt, and Partner 2 immediately responds with defensiveness and adds some criticism for good measure.

Antidote:

Partner 1:

I tried to park the car in the garage today and found it blocked up. I was frustrated because I had to park outside in the rain.

Partner 2:

I’m sorry, I forgot that you would be coming home before I cleared it out. I could have let you know that I might not have been finished before you got home.

The antidote for defensiveness is taking responsibility for your own actions. Resist the urge to blame outside forces or your partner and think about what you can own yourself. What set you up for the miscommunication? What do you want to apologize for?

Here are some ways to communicate that sidestep defensiveness:

  • I’ve been overwhelmed lately and I’m sorry that I was so negative
  • I’ve not asked for what I needed and I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you
  • I’ve been overly critical lately and I’m sorry I was really grumpy

Defensiveness, criticism and contempt rarely show up alone, often they work together as a tag team, dragging down the good intentions of having a productive conversation. Next up we explore the final culprit which interferes with creating a comfortable and organized home, stonewalling.

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Couples and Clutter – Conquering Contempt

marble-couple

Here’s more on the topic of helping couples manage clutter in a shared space using the wisdom of relationship researcher, John Gottman. This time we explore contempt and its antidote.

In our post about criticism, we addressed how blaming inhibits a couple’s communication and ability to work together to create a home that supports them both. Contempt takes criticism to the next level.

Contempt is poisonous. It is so threatening to communication because it comes from a position of superiority. It displays disgust. Contempt is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts.

If your goal is to get someone to change their behavior, you’re not going to get very far by putting them down.

EXAMPLE: Misplaced Items

Contemptuous Approach

Partner A: Where’s the packing tape? It’s supposed to be in the kitchen drawer!

Partner B: I left it in the office where I was using it.

Partner A: That’s so stupid, why did you put it there?! It belongs in the kitchen! You really like to make my life miserable (said with a sneer), don’t you?

The antidote is to describe your own feelings and needs. Actively use positive affirmations, building a culture of appreciation and respect. If you find yourself tearing down your partner in response to some transgression, stop yourself and consider how to turn that around.

Collaborative Approach

Partner A: I can’t find the packing tape in the kitchen drawer where we keep it, do you know where it is?

Partner B: I left it in the office where I was using it.

Partner A: It’s most convenient for me to find the packing tape in the kitchen. Would it be helpful to get a second roll of tape and keep it in the office where it would be more convenient for you to put it away? (said in a genuine tone of voice without irony)


Your desire to make your home functional and organized is legitimate. Modifying your approach may be more effective to get your needs met … and to meet the needs of your partner at the same time. Next up…Defensiveness.

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Couples and Clutter – Conquering Criticism

birds-communicating

As Valentine’s Day approaches we are reminded of the challenges couples face managing clutter in a shared space. “Clutter” is incredibly subjective. One person’s state of chaos is another’s state of total harmony. Do a quick Google search on “couples and clutter” and dozens of articles and statistics come up. You’re not alone if you’re feeling frustrated.

What to do when your styles and thresholds for clutter don’t match up?

Relationship researcher and expert John Gottman identified 4 key behaviors that undermine relationships and are barriers to communication: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Each has an antidote. In our next 4 posts we are going to illustrate how each one can show up when navigating clutter between couples. First up…Criticism.

Expressing a legitimate complaint is different than launching into a criticism. Criticism uses blame which can backfire and hinder communication. Talk about your feelings using I statements and then express a positive need. What do you feel? What do you need?

The antidote to criticizing is to state your complaint in a gentler way. A complaint focuses on a specific behavior, while a criticism attacks the character of the person. The antidote for criticism is to complain without blame.

Example: Messy Bedroom

Criticism: You never put your clothes away. Why are you so lazy and messy?

Complaint: The laundry on floor is making it hard for me to move through room. You said you would put them away today – what happened?

Example: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

Criticism: Who told you you could move my stuff without asking me? You’re such a neat-freak!

Complaint: I’m having trouble finding things after you clean up. I was late today because I couldn’t find my work bag. I want to be part of the process for deciding where my things live. Can we choose a dedicated spot for my things?

Example: Paper Issues

Criticism: PG&E is going to shut off our electricity! Are you so busy that you don’t have time to take care of this simple task?

Complaint: We just got a late notice from PG&E. You are in charge of the bills and this isn’t the first time they didn’t get paid. Can we talk about how to resolve this?

Relationship conflict is natural and has functional, positive aspects. Successful couples learn how to manage and live with differences by honoring and respecting each other.

Our next post is about Conquering Contempt.

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What Motivates Us To De-clutter?

Motivation can be generated ... here's some tips!

Where do you find the motivation to do the right thing?

When the overcrowding problem in your home is so overwhelming that you can’t find anything and you can barely open the front door, it may be easy to find the motivation to take action.

Once we “hit bottom,” we are more open to getting help…any help…to make changes in our lives and our living spaces.

But, what can you do to “raise the bottom” and find the energy to tackle the accumulation of unsorted stuff before it causes you too much suffering?

 Motivation can come from the inside or the outside.

–EXTERNAL MOTIVATORS–

Deadlines. Taxes due–April 15th is always a prod that can give you a boost.  It’s a reliable deadline to which most of us adhere to get our paperwork in order. And the deadline comes reliably every year.  A yearly purge of unwanted possessions and paperwork is a good habit. Think of it as “spring cleaning.”

Self-imposed deadlines. How about making a date to have the rugs cleaned?  Or inviting a contractor in to research a kitchen remodeling project?  Sometimes just having a fresh set of eyes looking at your spaces can help you see what we have in stark reality.

Impending house guests. Do you look forward to your family visiting?  Having guests come usually triggers a fresh look at what we have and how we are storing stuff. Even if the guest room isn’t overloaded with stuff that we’ve been putting off making decisions about, the idea of someone coming to stay helps us to see how our home is functioning…or not.

Relocation. The cost of moving stuff you don’t care about is a great motivator.  If knowing that the less the movers have to transport, the less it’s going to cost you, that could be an impetus for making some tough choices.

Family changes. The addition of another family member (sweetheart, parent or child) can provide a level of alarm that requires a fresh look at your living space. The transitions when children grow up provide natural prompts to do space overhauls.  And, when your child moves out (for real) repurposing a room is often what’s called for.

Job transitions. The need for home office space can prompt whole house revamp.

–INTERNAL MOTIVATORS–

Therapeutic insight. A session with a therapist, coach, or professional organizer may remove roadblocks to the organizing process.

Medical diagnosis. An organized space becomes necessary for your health:

  • Allergies – clutter makes it hard to clean dust and pet hair
  • Disability or other medical condition which requires accommodations in your living space
  • Nutritional plan which relies on an efficiently appointed kitchen

Motivation of unknown origin. Some people suddenly just “see the light” and the goal is clear, along with the method.

Since you’ve read this post to the end, you’re probably not one of these “I’ve seen the light” people… So, what can you do?

Light your own fire!  Invite a friend over to stay, meet with a coach, make an appointment with a contractor or architect and take a small step toward a goal.

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