Gottman Gold

The pressure was mounting. Every second counted and the twists and turns were coming more quickly than anticipated. “Patience and timing…patience and timing…”, he repeated over and over again. “If only I had started off right”, he silently thought to himself, wishing he could start over.

No, I am not referring to Bode Miller, Bronze Medalist in downhill skiing at this year’s Winter Olympics. I am referring to Rob, trying to get through a difficult conversation with his wife. Unlike alpine skiing, where faster is better, conflict discussions tend to end better when they go more slowly, “Patience, timing…patience, timing”. Sometimes it takes an Olympian effort to keep the slower pace.

This week I met with Rob and Cheryl (not real names) and they gave me permission to share the following. They were reflecting on the impact of a very stressful year on their relationship; managing these external challenges left them little time or energy to talk about and deal with their relationship concerns. Conversations, like for the alpine skier, can speed rapidly downhill, with partners feeling the G-force of negative momentum, straining to get back on track.

It seems to me that Rob and Cheryl recognized that, like the Olympic athletes skiers, it takes many runs to get the feel for the course, to learn, to get better and more skilled. They validated to each other the difficult journey they have been on, how they have slipped off the tracks at times, and how they now wanted to turn toward each other.  We know that even the most disciplined, practiced, and skilled skiers fall, we also know that they get back up and go again.

What can help? Rob shared this insight. “I don’t think I have ever taken time to breathe, to take inventory…now I’m learning to exhale,  it’s a different feeling”. What does Rob mean by this? It is what Olympic athletes learn to do to enhance their performance: Relax the muscles, breathe regularly and deliberately, focus.

Try this experiment: Tense your stomach muscles, then breath in and briefly hold your breath. This is a state of tension. When we remember to (mindfully) exhale, we let go, the muscles relax, we slow things down. Next time a conflict starts, focus on exhaling slowly, work to relax the stomach muscles, patience and timing.

Bode’s remarkable efforts  led to the coveted Bronze, a wonderful achievement to be proud of, but Rob and Cheryl are on the platform with a Gold.

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