cover image Fight Right: How Successful Couples Turn Conflict into Connection

Fight Right: How Successful Couples Turn Conflict into Connection

Julie Schwartz Gottman and John Gottman. Harmony, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-57965-7

Fighting is vital to healthy relationships, yet few couples know how to engage in it meaningfully, according to this persuasive and plainspoken guide. The Gottmans (The Love Prescription), psychologists and married cofounders of the Gottman Institute, an organization that studies marriage and relationships, seek to help readers use fights to “figure out who we are, what we want, who our partners are and who they are becoming.” In jargon-free prose, they outline three conflict styles—“avoiding, validating and volatile”—and discuss how couples can handle similarities or differences in their styles, including by seeking to understand the roots of the other’s approach to conflict (someone who grew up in a family where arguments led to a parent walking out, for example, might later become an “avoider”). Elsewhere, the authors break down disputes into five categories, among them the Bomb Drop (a fight that begins aggressively and is difficult to turn around) and the Shallows (in which couples “skim the surface” instead of getting at the real issue). The Gottmans’ key principles for fighting fair include compromising when possible and articulating a need in positive rather than negative terms (“Can we sit down together and plan how to cut some of our expenses?” rather than “You overspent again!”). While some of the advice is common sense—most couples will know they’re meant to be good listeners or focus on one issue during a conflict, even if that’s easier said than done—much is novel, and the Gottmans’ easy-to-remember tips (“Start softly, even if you’re upset”) will be especially useful in moments of heightened emotion. This is a valuable resource. Agent: Doug Abrams, Idea Architects. (Jan.)