Kitchen Sinking is a combative strategy where you throw all the complaints you have about your partner in breathless run-on sentences, hoping to overwhelm them by sheer force of your moral authority. It’s inherently disrespectful, and it never works…but that doesn’t stop the behavior.
Gottman’s research tells us that effective complaining is a learned skill. There is one verbal habit that comes naturally that we need to correct quickly, and that is our tendency to engage in “Kitchen Sinking.”
The Problem With Kitchen Sinking
The problem with Kitchen Sinking is painfully obvious.
There are several things you can do during an episode of Kitchen Sinking. If an escalation is well underway, you can take a 20-minute time-out.
But after you have both calmed down, if the problems are present-day issues and not old resentments, perhaps they can be dealt with one at a time.
One of the problems with Kitchen Sinking is that it encourages a chronically defensive response.
They Want to Prevail Over Their Partner More Than They Want to Solve the Problem. Above all, Kitchen Sinkers want to win. They have a great need for acknowledgment and validation. This self-focus on winning can seem more important than the relationship. Many Kitchen Sinkers have a victim mentality.
Kitchen Sinkers Have a Lack of Communication Skills and Flood Easily. Kitchen Sinkers are often overwhelmed by their feelings. Physiological arousal negatively impacts their communication skills. And when you add a highly defensive partner into the equation, Kitchen Sinking becomes a toxic marital habit.
They May Have Deep Attachment Issues. Spouses with insecure attachment issues often kitchen sink. They are oversensitive during arguments and are easily triggered.
Trust May Have Been Violated Repeatedly. Let’s be fair to the Kitchen Sinker. They’re not making it up…they’re just pilling it on. Kitchen sinking is a significant indication that trust has been severely damaged in real and tangible ways. Chronic Kitchen Sinking is a hallmark of inconsolability. Unless real communication replaces Kitchen Sinking, there can be no lasting forgiveness or repair in the relationship.
A 2016 study that appeared in the academic journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggested that even thinking about past resentments, but biting your tongue, can also keep complaining spouses mired in Negative Sentiment Override.
Anne E. Wilson and Kassandra Cortes were the researchers at the University of Waterloo that uncovered this mental habit and coined the phrase Kitchen Thinking.
Daniel is a Marriage and Family Therapist. He currently sees couples at Couples Therapy Inc. in Boston, Massachusetts, three seasons in Cummington (at the foothills of the Berkshires...) and in Miami during joint retreats with his wife, Dr. Kathy McMahon. He uses EFT, Gottman Method, Solution-focused and the Developmental Model in his approaches.